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Who's afraid of Welfare Reform?

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The Goldfish | 10:56 UK time, Monday, 31 March 2008

Recently, in response to the statement that disabled people would get "No Special Treatment", the author of Benefit Scrounging Scum discussed her experiences of being on benefit and wrote of the coming reforms to Incapacity Benefit:

I don't think about what might happen to me if the government's proposed threats/changes actually materialise. I firmly push it to the back of my mind, burying it as deep as I can so not to be overwhelmed by panic and fear about a situation I can do nothing about.. [...] The kind of fear that is hard to describe. The type that sits, deep in the pit of your stomach and travels up in to your throat where if you let it it will clench it's fist and take hold starving you of breath.

A lot of people seem to be similarly afraid. Over at the Ouch Messageboard there have been a number of threads about the new benefit, Employment and Support Allowance which will eventually replace Incapacity Benefit. There will be two categories of claimant to ESA, those unemployed disabled people who need a extra help and support to get them back to work (the "Employment" category) and those whose impairments mean that they are unable to work (the "Support" category).

There's nothing wrong with these reforms in principle. The trouble is with the rhetoric. All the press coverage has been about getting people off their backsides and the politicians have done no better, trotting out all those familiar Myths about Incapacity Benefit. Anne McGuire reckons that just 20% of overall claimants will belong to the "Support Group" of the new benefit, i.e. people who are not expected to take part in work-related activities, an estimate which strikes me as very low indeed. That would be about 600,000 people, a figure lower than the number of people on Invalidity Benefit in 1980, at a time when we had a lower population, lower life expectancy (much lower for people with certain impairments) and far fewer women having paid sufficient National Insurance contributions. This is blue skies thinking through rose-tinted spectacles.

But am I afraid? Well a bit. However, the worst thing that could happen to me is if it was thought I might be able to work. But even then, I would struggle a great deal even to attend "work-based activities" and no sensible employer would look twice at me. They're not going to drag anyone from our beds and chain us up in call-centres, applying red hot pokers should anyone doze off. Nobody, disabled or otherwise, can actually be forced to work. All we can be subjected to is yet more hassle and insecurity - not good, but not disasterous.

Perhaps most importantly, the political success of Employment Support Allowance depends on a decent turn-around of people in the "Employment" category. The government need to be able to say that they've got X number of disabled people, or X percent of the people in this category, back into work. Since many employers are reluctant to take disabled people on as it is, either having the wrong people in this category or failing to provide them with the right help and support will make for some very uncomfortable statistics.

What's more, however angry people feel about scroungers, most people object to the idea of sick people being bullied by government agencies.

Therefore, the proportion of people in the "Support Group" will only remain low if the aims of ESA are actually successful. And, if they are successful, then nobody will have anything to complain about; a load of disabled people will be in work who wouldn't be otherwise, and those of us who are more ornamental than functional will get a bit more cash. Plus, the political need to make ESA work will hopefully make the government apply a great deal more pressure to employers who don't take access seriously and fail to consider disabled candidates, thus benefiting all disabled people, including those who were never on Incapacity Benefit.

I've got nothing good to say about the government's handling of the reform; the careless words of politicians and dubiously qualified "advisers" have caused incalculable harm, raising the suspicion and mistrust of disabled people and making scapegoats of some of the most vulnerable people in society. However, ESA might actually be quite a good idea.

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Comments

What a nice sensible view on the subject :) I do worry about people forcing me into work but as you say, if my health is bad it will mean that I'm an unreliable employee and no-one will want me anyway! It will be interesting to see how these reforms take shape.

Hi just to correct one small aspect of your otherwise great Blog about the reforms regarding the total number expected to fall into the so called "Support" group of ESA.

The actual official estimate is only about 300,000 actually being in the Support group, this being about 10% of the current IB claimant total of just under 3 million people.

The reason this percentage will then increase to be 20% over time is not because any more will be in the support group, but simply that the total on ESA itself will fall to only about 1.5 million (or maybe less) through a combination of some finding work yes, but sadly far more simply being moved directly from IB/ESA to JSA.

Sorry to be the bearer of such a negative correction but please don't shoot me shoot the DWP and/or Mr Freud. LOL

Giraffe-a-licious, thank you. :-)

Peter - thanks for your correction. May I ask where you're getting your numbers from?

I took my 20% off what McGuire said, but I have seen Freud quoted as suggesting 700,000 for the total, directly referencing the fact that this would match the 1980 figure. Um.. here for example.

Still, if what you say is true, 300000 is just a joke. Either that, or our nation is a far healthier place than anyone ever imagined, with 99.5% of the population fit to work at any given time.

While I agree with what you're saying, there's a heckuva lot of "hope" in there.

I think a number of the perpetrators of this scheme will be shocked by how many people will really end up in the 'support' group. It's not at all unusual that there should be more IB claimants now than in 1980. Advances in medical science mean that the people who experience accidents and illnesses which would have killed them outright back then, are now living many more years - but as disabled people.

(Proof read copy please delete previous one. LOL)

Hi Goldfish,

The 300,000 figure I quoted is actually a generous one and is rounding up the various original official estimates which have been published at various times.

The estimates are based on the research carried out on random samples of existing claimants particularly those using the revised Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which is to replace the current PCA which actually gave a lower estimate of only about 250,000 in the Support group.

NB: Note the not so subtle change from "Personal" to "WORK" in the name of the new assessment. This is clearly about Money and not People now.

The Freud figures quoted are the estimates of the total number that he thinks should actually be receiving disability related out of work benefits compared to the current total of 2.7 million IB/IS claimants now.

In other words his target is to have only 700,000 on the equivalent of IB eventually with about half of those being the most severely disabled and so in the Support group the other half carrying out work related activity.

Everyone else then is seen as just ordinary job seekers, with lower benefits and the harsher conditions that apply. This will still be the case even if they are, as the DRC described, "Subject to labour market disadvantage because of disability”.

As even by the most ambitious government forecasts, the numbers of disabled people moving from benefit to work will only be in the region of tens of thousands each year, the only way to achieve the above targets will be to move people off IB/ESA onto JSA and even the most conservative estimate is that this will apply to at least 1,000,000 people.

Peter aka “Sociable”

  • 6.
  • At 01:04 PM on 01 Apr 2008, kenbo wrote:

We are being made scape goats for the policy introduced to massage the Job seeker figures.

the figures for disabled citizens in europe are 36 Million and world wide 10% of the population belong to what is called by the UN the largest minority group on the planet, People with disabilities. So that is roughly 600million people. In the Uk in 2005 there were 7 million people of working age with a disability in the uk, how many job vacancies are there to be filled in the UK?

Mary - that's what I meant about raised life expectancy. I'm sure more conditions have had been rendered survivable than have been eradicated entirely in the last thirty years.

Peter - I wonder if they are really likely to move folks from ESA to JSA? It strikes me from my reading that more people will be entitled to ESA than IB; for example, a wheelchair-using jobseeker who is perfectly able to work would not get IB, but may get ESA because it is recognised that there are additional barriers to employment.

One of the oft repeated assertions about the high number of people on IB is that folks living in deprived areas were encouraged, en masse, to make incapacity claims to lower unemployment figures. Figures which are always more important, politically speaking, than incapacity numbers - but most especially during the kind of downturn we expect to happen soon.

Of course, I really don't have any idea how many people on IB could work given support. I don't imagine my situation to be a particularly rare one, but I wouldn't like to name a figure that I thought reasonable.

Yes it is true anyone who is a full-time wheelchair user and/or all those who meet the requirements for higher rate DLA Mobility will automatically qualify for at least the work related group of ESA, but that is exactly the position that applies now with IB and/or IS on the basis of disability/illness.

The problem, of course, is that this only applies to a relatively small group with the total IB and IS database.

What we do know for sure is that the new WCA will fail many more claims for ESA than would have previously qualified for IB/IS under the current PCA.

This new assessment (WCA) will now apply to all claims even existing ones as from the next time the claim is reviewed after this October, and so it will eventually apply to all existing IB claimants unless they are fall into an exempt group and/or are already in the Support group.

  • 9.
  • At 12:02 AM on 03 Apr 2008, Superhuman Diva wrote:

ARE there any exempt groups?

The Government is willing to pay the private sector £68,000.00 PER PERSON for each individual they get off IB. With that amount of money up for grabs it is almost inevitable that sick people will be abused and even those too ill to work will have to.

It would not surprise me if we were not required to be tattoed next.

To answer Diva's question.

The existing exemption from the PCA for IB for those in receipt of higher rate DLA care will, apparently, also apply to the WCA for ESA.

This is the specific clause in the The Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008, defining who are to be placed in the Support group and so exempt from attending the various interviews and/or being suject to the so called "conditionality" aspects of ESA.

PART 6

LIMITED CAPABILITY FOR WORK-RELATED ACTIVITY

Sect. 35
Certain claimants to be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity

1.—

(1) A claimant is to be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity if—

(a) the claimant is terminally ill;

(b) the claimant is—

(i) receiving treatment by way of intravenous, intraperitoneal or intrathecal chemotherapy; or

(ii) recovering from that treatment and the Secretary of State is satisfied that the claimant should be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity; or

(c) in the case of a woman, she is pregnant and there is a serious risk of damage to her health or to the health of her unborn child if she does not refrain from work-related activity.

(2) A claimant who does not have limited capability for work-related activity as determined in accordance with regulation 34(1) is to be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity if—

(a) the claimant suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement; and

(b) by reasons of such disease or disablement, there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work-related activity.

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