Migration to ESA

ESA 50

Written evidence submitted by Disability Alliance

Disability Alliance and this response

Disability Alliance is a UK charity which aims to break the link between poverty and disability. We have over 250 members and 36 years of benefits and welfare experience. Our Board of Trustees contains a majority of disabled people. For further information please visit: www.disabilityalliance.org

We welcome the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into the migration of people from Incapacity Benefits to Employment Support Allowance, including using the Work Capability Assessment. We are unable to respond in full due to the significant level and pace of change to the range of welfare services disabled people require which results in increased demand for our services at a time of reduced DWP funding and urgent need to work constructively with Government to ensure the negative effects of some proposals for disabled people and their families are mitigated as far as possible.

However, we have chosen to submit this short briefing as disabled people are disproportionately reliant on the welfare state – including out of work support such as unemployment benefits and are likely to be affected by ‘migration’ from incapacity benefits using the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

We believe there are fundamental problems with the current migration plans, processes and likely outcomes for disabled people which will significantly increase disability poverty for thousands of families across the UK.

Summary

Disability Alliance supports welfare reform which genuinely delivers opportunities for disabled people to contribute in work. However, we believe the current migration plans, using the evidenced problems of the Work Capability Assessment will:

- fail to ascertain disabled people’s needs effectively;

- generate costs to Government through avoidably high appeal rates (40% of which are successful costing £8 million in 2010);

- not deliver ‘welfare to work’ but will shift many disabled people from one source of support to an alternative, lower value benefit or even cut people off from out of work support altogether; and

- increase hardship for some disabled people and their families (with a third of all disabled people already living in poverty).

We believe the WCA process, timeframe and individual descriptors also require significant improvement to ensure it is more effective at identifying needs and allocating appropriate resources.

Sadly, the independent review of the WCA was not fully implemented before national migration began. Only a quarter of the recommendations appear to have been fully accepted prior to national transfer of roughly 10,000 people per week from incapacity benefits. This is despite the conclusion of the independent review that: "the WCA is not working as well as it should" and represents a significant missed opportunity.

Several further independent reports [1] have demonstrated the failings of the WCA in particular and its negative impact for many disabled people and their families. Given the evidence failings of the testing system, the known barriers to work for disabled people and the current economic climate, it is even harder to comprehend the failure of Government to act on an area known to cause such significant disadvantage for disabled people and their families.

Background

In planning for the introduction of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA; accessed through the WCA) in 2008 the former Government estimated that 49% of people undergoing the WCA would be found ‘fit for work’ – ie allocated Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA).

However since the introduction of ESA:

- around 69% of new claimants have been signposted to JSA after being found fully fit for work;

- only 9% of new claimants have been placed in the ESA support group (not required to undertake any work-related activity); and

- 22% have been placed in the ESA work-related activity group.

We do not believe that any Government has deliberately intended to use an assessment which routinely failed to accurately identify disabled people’s potential support needs. But the WCA statistics demonstrate:

- a disparity with the original Government estimates for how many people would access ESA;

- a difference between disabled people, their personal healthcare provider and the broader public’s expectation of the WCA compared with the outcome from DWP decision-makers; and

- a systemic failure requiring regular appeals at considerable (but avoidable) public expense.

In August 2010 the Government laid new regulations which DWP estimate will increase the number of people found fully fit for work by a further 5%. This means an even greater number of disabled people likely to be found fully fit for work – including people with visual and/or mobility impairments.

Welfare reform as a barrier to work for disabled people

The inefficacy of the WCA in ensuring an accurate assessment is made for disabled people also:

- delays the provision of work-related support to people who have a limited capability for work and require additional help to get or keep a job; and

- places considerable and avoidable stress and anxiety on disabled people, their families, Jobcentre Plus and Tribunals staff. For disabled people, this can exacerbate mental or physical health problems and have further knock-on costs to individuals as well as public services (if people require GP/NHS treatment for example).

This undermines the aspirations of welfare reform and increases the accusations that reform is motivated not by genuinely seeking greater numbers of disabled people in work, but by more simplistic reductions in overall welfare expenditure without accounting for the consequences for disabled people and their families.

We believe that disabled people’s pathways post-WCA should be monitored closely and reviewed to ensure that groups of people experiencing greater difficulty in accessing work be either reclassified into the ESA work-related activity group to help overcome barriers to employment, or receive additional help from an alternative part of the Work Programme for example.

If, for instance, people with learning difficulties are routinely being found fully fit for work but monitoring reveals that they remain out of work after a year (or again after two years) it would seem prudent to better support this group into work to tackle benefit dependency and ensure everyone is able to contribute – including through National Insurance and income tax.

Time-limiting ESA support and overall timeframe concerns

Current Government plans include time-limiting ESA payments to just one year for disabled people in the work-related activity group who have previously made National Insurance contributions. This not only penalises people who have worked and contributed, but will directly cause an increase in disability poverty.

The aim of the Universal Credit is to tackle poverty but this policy directly contradicts that objective. The means-testing which will prevent some disabled people losing all support will result in a disabled person with a partner earning £135 per week after tax (ie under the National Minimum Wage for a full-time position) not receiving alternative support (from income-based ESA). This also puts huge pressure on partners of people losing support and could result in family breakdown, carers leaving work and further costs to government at both local and national level.

The Government estimates roughly 400,000 disabled people will lose all out of work benefits as a result. Disability Alliance does not accept that:

- a year is long enough for newly disabled people to adapt to a health condition/impairment and (re-)enter work;

- one year is enough for someone with a significant impairment to find suitable employment – especially in areas of lower work availability;

- evidence has been provided to suggest one year is a suitable timeframe for people to find work; or

- disability poverty is an acceptable direct outcome of Government policy.

For disabled people being moved onto contributory-ESA in the work-related activity group from April 2011 there are further challenges due to the full Work Programme not being operational until June. This may mean someone losing benefit after less than twelve months support has been provided – especially when the initial assessment phase has been taken into account and any subsequent time spent appealing an initial DWP decision.

For disabled people in areas where there are backlogs in the Tribunals system, the effect could be a twelve week assessment period, six month appeal and only accessing ESA work-related activity support for under three months before the time limiting takes effect and ends out of work help.

The next review

Professor Harrington’s first review of the WCA made recommendations which are being considered for the second independent review. Recommendations 19-25 all relate to the next review of the WCA for instance.

We are very concerned that disabled people who have not had needs identified including people with fluctuating conditions and mental health problems arte likely to be disproportionately over-represented in incapacity benefits recipients. Many disabled people will be amongst the 10,000 people expected to undergo assessments under national migration and will be very surprised that no action has been undertaken as a result of the initial review despite evidenced failings to appropriately assess needs.

April 2011


[1] Including Citizens Advice, Macmillan, the National AIDS Trust and the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion .