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Emma B BS: No longer Great Britain? (220* d) RE: BS: No longer Great Britain? 14 Aug 10

In October 2008 the previous government introduced employment and support allowance (ESA); new sickness benefits claimants were subject to a work capability assessment (WCA), replacing the personal capability assessment test for incapacity benefit, and designed to determine how able people are to work.

More people were being deemed ineligible for sickness benefits and fit to work under this new system and, by mid October 2009, the Department for Work and Pensions statistics showed that over twice the proportion of applicants for employment and support allowance (ESA) were being assessed as fit to work than under ESA's predecessor, incapacity benefit.

This meant that they were being put on to jobseeker's allowance which at 64.30 a week is worth 25 a week less than ESA and involves less support


The then Lib Dem shadow work and pensions secretary Steve Webb (now 'promoted' to Minister of State for Pensions in May 2010 under the new coalition government) said:

"The government is shunting large numbers of ill or disabled people onto a lower level of support by deeming them 'fit to work'. This scheme may simply disguise the problem instead of dealing with it."
He urged the government to track those deemed ineligible for ESA to ensure "they are not left to rot on a benefit with a different name".

Ironically, the DWP figures came out on the day that the NATIONAL AUTISTIC SOCIETY released a report warning that autistic adults were being failed by the benefits system, and that their particular needs were not being picked up by the assessment, leaving them ineligible for ESA.

A PARKINSON'S DISEASE SOCIETY survey of 40 working-age adults with the condition, found 40% had been deemed fit for work - and hence ineligible for ESA - and placed on the lower value jobseeker's allowance or "forced" into early retirement while a further 22% were placed in the "work-related activity group", which means they are required to attend job centre interviews and improve their employability.

ESA represented the 'brave new world' of benefit entitlement, with heavy emphasis being placed on "not writing people off", encouraging "work-related activity" and involving the private sector in providing the support people would need to get into work.

However, the reality was that Jobcentre Plus and the private partners (paid largely by results) trying to operate this new regime in an unfriendly economic environment struggled to cope with the 90% of claimants in some of the most deprived areas of the country who failed this new tougher eligibility test

By March 2010 Jobcentre Plus staff felt many people who pass work capability assessments were not actually fit for work, according to a study by the Department of Work and Pensions.

They believed this was especially damaging for clients with mental health problems and exacerbated their symptoms.

Neil Coyle, director of policy at the Disability Alliance, said he sympathised with jobcentre staff's frustration. In his experience, many were unable to deliver support they felt clients needed because the assessment made them ineligible for ESA

The study also confirmed a large backlog of appeals against work capability assessment decisions

And now Conservatives - with Lib Dem support - want to further cut benefit bills for the long-term sick by getting more into work with even stricter medical tests.


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