The role of incapacity benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by M Turner


I am a disabled person with a degenerative condition, among other problems, that is never going to improve and will only ever get worse. Over the last few years my support and care needs have increased greatly to the point that I can no longer look after myself. I can only walk a few steps and have to use a wheelchair pushed by my carer. I am currently receiving Incapacity Benefit and am one of those that are about to face the WCA and its possible repercussions to my life and to be perfectly honest I am terrified.

1.  To start with I have great concerns about the private company that will be carrying out the WCA. I have had a Medical Assessment with Atos in the past and the whole experience left me feeling degraded and miserable and in severe pain for three days due to spending so much time in my wheelchair and being bounced around trying to get to and access Atos's offices.

2.  The staff were polite enough, apart from the fact that they were surprised I was in a wheelchair, but the building its self was completely inappropriate and unsuitable for the purpose it was being used for.

3.  The building is an old office block on a busy road junction halfway up a very steep hill. It is not on any bus route and there is no parking of any sort. The nearest car park is about half a mile away. To gain access to the building you have to ring a door bell to be let in. The only problem is that the door is at the bottom of a flight of steep concrete steps with no ramp. My carer had to leave me on the pavement to let them know I was there and we were redirected to another door to enter the building. Once in the building my carer had to fight the wheelchair past various tables, chairs and plants, through three sets of doors and down a narrow corridor with two sharp turns. The really big problem though was when I had to enter the actual examination room. The doorway was so narrow my wheelchair would not actually fit through. Surely at least Atos should be made to make the buildings they use easily accessible to all.

4.  I fully accept that there are some sick and disabled people who are capable of and would benefit from work but I feel that the WCA is not capable of giving a clear picture of a person's actual ability to work and/or sustain work. It is far too simplified and does not appear to take in to consideration basic facts such as the effect of pain on someone's day to day life, fatigue, whether working would make a person's health or disability worse, variations within a condition or even if a condition is permanent or degenerative. It appears to be nothing more than a snapshot of how a person is at that particular moment conducted by someone who does not know the medical history of the person before them and who has never met them before. It is even possible that the Healthcare Professional conducting the WCA may not have even heard of some or all of the conditions they are meant to be assessing.

5.  Considering this is designed to be a Work Capability Assessment it doesn't even consider a person's ability to get to an interview or job or the amount of help they would need to sustain a job if they managed to get one in the first place. Simply ticking a few boxes in isolation of an overall picture and telling someone they are fit for work based on their ability to pick a pen up, even if they are unable to use that pen for more than a few minutes, is totally out of touch with reality. Simply telling someone you are fit for work does not make it so.

6.  I can see many of those told they are fit for work and told to claim JSA will find themselves ineligible simple because one of the criteria for JSA is you must be, "capable of work". How many will end up unable to work but totally unable to claim any kind of out of work benefit?

7.  The whole WCA seems set up to ensure as many people as possible will not pass and is just an exercise to push as many as possible on to cheaper benefits or off benefits altogether. I feel it has all been rushed through far too fast and no consideration has been given to what will actually happen to those told to find work via JSA or the Work Related Activity Group, especially since research has shown that, despite legislation, the percentage of disabled people in employment has not changed in over 20 years and in some areas has actually decreased.

8.  Employers are not keen to take on people who could need a high level of support just to carry out their job and who could be absent on a regular, and possibly long-term, basis due to an illness or disability whether that is due to a conditions variability or for regular medical tests and treatments. A far as most employers are concerned sick and disabled people cost them money to employ. When there are so many able bodied people looking for work the sick and disabled do not stand a chance.

9.  Put in simple terms, when it comes to employers taking on more sick and disabled people employers will always go for the most cost effective option for their business and that is an able bodied person.

10.  My biggest concern is the time limiting of ESA. Presently I receive IB and as I have a working partner who works full time, who is also my carer, we receive nothing else. No free prescriptions, no housing or council tax benefit and no free dental care. It may surprise you that we are just fine about that. We have enough to take care of ourselves and we get by. My benefit pays for my medication, the small bits of equipment I need to keep me in my own home, the extra heating I need and, since I can no longer use public transport, the petrol to get me to medical appointments and to allow me to just have a life outside the four walls of my home. Because of my IB we don't ask for help from any outside agencies.

11.  Because I have a hard working and caring partner I face the real prospect of completely losing my benefit and hence a third of the household income. If this happens the effects would be nothing less than catastrophic. I would struggle to pay even for basic pain relief let alone any other medication, would be unable to access health care, would become totally housebound and would struggle to pay my rent and face possible homelessness. My partner and I would end up in the ridiculous position of being better off if my partner stopped working and we relied totally on benefits which would end up costing the Government about three to four times more a week than the IB that I currently receive.

12.  My partner and I want to take care of ourselves using my partner's income and the support I already get. We do not want to ask for any more help but we could be forced to and I believe there would be many, many other people in the same position.

13.  At the moment the whole section of the benefit reform aimed at the sick and disabled feels like a massive social engineering programme designed to dump the most vulnerable, and least able to stand up for themselves in society, off benefits and to force them back behind closed doors where they will not show on any government figures and where they can be ignored and neglected.

April 2011

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