The benefits system can be pretty confusing. There are currently around thirty benefits/tax credits, ranging from Incapacity Benefit to Carer’s Allowance. Benefit entitlements to things such as Working Tax Credit change every year; others are income-related, others dependent on children. The complexity of the system means that there are frequent misunderstandings about what is involved, especially with regards the newish sickness benefit, ESA. What system there should be for those on sickness benefits is a much wider debate, and not the focus of the piece; rather, it is to do with how the system works (or doesn’t).
ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) was a benefit introduced under the last Labour government, which replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (on grounds of incapacity) for all new claimants. The DWP is now retesting existing Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (on grounds of incapacity) recipients, in order to move them onto ESA. The ESA testing regime (the ‘Work Capability Assessment’) has been pretty controversial. It is administered by a private company, Atos Origin, which is paid in part on how many people it fails and so declares completely fit for work. It frequently ignores medical evidence, and claimants complain about inadequate testing and unsympathetic doctors. Those who have undertaken the assessment are placed into one of three categories: they are found fully fit to work (and moved onto jobseekers’ allowance), or placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), or the Support group.
The recent reassessment of Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (on grounds of incapacity) has led, according to newspaper reports, to two thirds of these claimants being found fit to work. Mr. Excell takes issue with this, saying that only 29.6% were removed from the benefit (so found fully fit to work), whilst 39% were placed in the WRAG. Given that a percentage of those removed from the benefit appealed successfully against this (at a tribunal), and were put in the WRAG Mr. Excell believes that the figure of benefit claimants fit for work could be as low as 25%.
Doubtless Mr. Excell and I share a withering contempt for Atos’ medical assessments, which have seem people with quite severe issues (especially mental health ones), losing their ESA. But, going on the figures he quotes, there are rather more than 25% ready for work. Mr Excell argues:
But the people in the work-related activity group aren’t fit to work, if they were they would have been found fit to work. Instead, they’ve been put in a group of people who are going to be helped to get back to work, but who don’t have to apply or look for jobs (which is what the benefits system requires of out-of-work non-disabled people).
Anyone placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) is in fact considered fit to work, and is expected to look for jobs and make applications (failure to attend appointments or look for work can led to people’s benefits being sanctioned, or suspended). Why they have been placed in the WRAG group rather than removed from the benefit is the recognition that they still have a specific medical condition (for example, someone with a bad leg can still work), and that they might not always be able to do full time work (16+ hours and earning over £95). This is why people on ESA can do something called ‘permitted work’ which means they can work part time and still claim all their benefits. If they are considered not fit for work, then they will be put in the Support group.
There are a lot of things wrong with the benefits system, especially the medical assessments and the perception that people on sickness benefits are wasters. A number of people on sickness benefits have serious conditions; some will have been born that way, others may have developed the condition at work (frequently ESA claimants are people who have worked for decades and been injured at work).
So how many people in these tests are fit to do some sort of work? If you add the WRAG and removed claimants together, then the number matches the newspaper headlines: 65%. However, some people in the WRA group really are not fit for work, and should be in the Support group. On this basis, at a guess, it would be between 45-55% of people on the old-style sickness benefits who are capable of some sort of work. Not as impressive a headline, but much more realistic given the complexities involved.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Current affairs,Economy