Migration to ESA

ESA 22

Written evidence submitted by CarerWatch

This evidence is presented by CarerWatch – a group of unpaid family carers. We also have many members with long term disability. We are an internet group and continually consult with our members. In particular we have written this evidence in open consultation with our members.

Firstly we would like to state that we have never seen such anxiety and distress amongst our members as that being caused by this migration from IB to ESA. The government has caused this distress and we ask the Select Committee to use their best offices to get the government to relieve this distress with extreme urgency . We are sure you understand that u ndue stress is detrimental to most health conditions.

You ask that we focus on certain questions.

1. The Department’s communications to customers going through the assessment and whether the information, guidance and advice provided by the Department and Jobcentre Plus

2. Our members have not yet experienced assessment. We can only say that our members are terrified by the reports that they hear from the media. The government has caused this perceived threat and we cannot understand why no government minister either in the last government or this government steps forward to offer reassurance to our members. This seems a complete failure of the duty of care.

3. The Work Capability Assessment including the assessment criteria the service provided by Atos staff the suitability of assessment centres and customers’ overall experience of the process.

4. Again our members have not as yet experienced this assessment. From what they have heard it fills them with dread.

5. The decision-making process and how it could be improved to ensure that customers are confident that the outcome of their assessment is a fair and transparent reflection of their capacity for work.

6. This is the crux of the problem. Our members perceive the WRAG to be a nasty group where people are bullied and harassed and effectively required to work. Our members need help back to work if they want it but they also need safety and security. They do not understand why threats and sanctions will be put on them. Their fear is of the WRAG which they do not think meets their needs.

7. The intrinsic nature of the WRAG is never clearly defined or explained. Professor Paul Spicker says in his recent book that the WRAG was originally intended as a rehabilitation group for people with conditions that were expected to get better.

8. But our members will not get better and rehabilitation is not appropriate for them. It says clearly in the Welfare Reform Act that anyone who is allocated to ESA has a condition which makes it unreasonable to require them to work. Our members have long term conditions and so will always have a condition that makes it unreasonable to require them to work.

9. And yet if they are allocated to the WRAG the time limit, the conditionality, the pressure in the WRAG is effectively requiring them to work. A DWP impact statement actually says - http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/esa-time-limit-wr2011-ia.pdf

"It was never intended that ESA for those in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) should be paid for an unlimited period to people who, by definition, are expected to move towards the workplace with help and support. Government intervention is required to help ensure that ESA is paid for a temporary period for those placed in the WRAG, thereby encouraging a return to work and stopping people being trapped on benefits for a lifetime."

10. So people in the WRAG are actually only in a halfway house on their way to being required to work. This is illogical as they have been assessed as having a condition that makes it unreasonable to require them to work. Is the WRAG for people who it is unreasonable to require to work as it says in the Act or is it a group for people who will be forced to work? This has to be clarified before a test can be devised to allocate people to the WRAG. The problem is not with the test. The problem is with the unclear nature of the intrinsic concept of the WRAG.

11. What is worse is that getting back to work is to be achieved by means of time limits, threats and sanctions. This is causing the fear.

12. People with long term disability will never be the same as fit unemployed people. Mr Grayling continually tries to equalise conditions between JSA and the WRAG on grounds of fairness but this is not fair. People with disability have extra difficulty and need extra consideration.

13. They will always have barriers to work – physical, social, emotional, practical. That does not mean that they cannot work and hopefully many of them can. The idea of supporting them with help to work is excellent and ESA could have been an excellent program of help. Unfortunately by introducing threats, sanctions, conditionality and time limits ESA is now riddled with fear.

14. The Support Group does not rule people out of work. People with even the severest of conditions may be able to find and keep work. Stephen Hawkins comes to mind. Help should be offered to absolutely every one with disability. But not threats and sanctions. No contractor or advisor has walked in the shoes of the person with disability whom he is advising. Any perceived non compliance may always be due to the condition. No sanction can ever be known to be fair. The idea of conditionality and sanctions being applied to people who are not fit for work can never be fair.

15. In conclusion - the allocation to the WRAG for long term conditions is therefore illogical and until it is made clear why some people are to be harassed and not others we can’t discuss how to manage the allocation in a way that is clear and transparent. We simply do not believe that any government minister in this government or the last has given a convincing explanation as to why someone who is never going to be fit to be required to work should be harassed and threatened and effectively required to work.

16. The appeals process, including the time taken for the appeals process to be completed; and whether customers who decide to appeal the outcome of their assessment have all the necessary guidance, information and advice to support them through the process.

17. If the grounds for treating the two groups differently are not clear to us then the allocation is not transparent and the grounds for appeal are also not transparent.

18. The outcome of the migration process and the different paths taken by the various client groups: those moved to Jobseeker’s Allowance, including the support provided to find work and the impact of the labour market on employment prospects; those found fit for work who may be entitled to no further benefits; those placed in the Work Related Activity Group of the ESA, including the likely impact of the Department’s decision to time-limit contribution-based ESA to a year; and those placed in the Support Group.

19. We do not accept that the WRAG is a safe place for anyone who has a long term condition where it is not reasonable to require them to work for the reasons given above. It’s no wonder when less than a third of existing IB claimants made it to the support group in the pilots that there is a climate of fear about the WRAG.

20. The time-scale for the national roll-out for the migration process, including the Department’s capacity to introduce changes identified as necessary in the Aberdeen and Burnley trials.

21. We don’t believe the division into Support and WRAG is logical or meaningful for long term conditions so obviously we don’t think that ESA should be rolled out until it is made fit for purpose. It would take so little to make ESA fair and transparent and an excellent program of help. Simply place every one who has a long term condition that meets the criteria of ESA in the Support Group and offer them help. Concentrate the help on people who want it whatever the severity of their condition. If people were not so terrified of being allocated to the WRAG they would have the confidence to try things that might fail. Currently they will be frightened to ‘have a go’ in case they are moved to the WRAG or JSA. Fear and threats are just no help to people with disability. Fear of the WRAG is demotivating and counter productive.

Leave the WRAG as a rehabilitation group.

Summary

CarerWatch are dismayed by the alarm and fear the roll out of ESA is causing our members. CarerWatch do not think ESA is fit for purpose and think the roll out should be halted until it is made fit for purpose. The Act says that any one allocated to ESA has a condition which makes it unreasonable to require them to work. If this is a long term condition they will always have barriers to finding and keeping work and they should be allocated to the Support Group.. The WRAG is a half way house to being time limited and sanctioned and forced off benefits. It is effectively requiring people to work which is illogical. The WRAG should revert to its original role of a rehabilitation group for people who will get better

With this one change ESA could become an excellent initiative to help people work and once the fear is removed people with long term disability  might take a more positive approach and take a few risks to try and work.

April 2011