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ESA changes unveiled

December 05 2016
Charities concerned about benefits shake-up.

The film I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a man recovering from a heart attack who, after a flawed Work Capability Assessment (WCA), is forced onto JobSeekers Allowance though unfit for work. The consequences are, unsurprisingly, tragic. The plot might be fictional – but the story is all too familiar.

Twelve million people have a long-term health condition in the UK and seven million have a disability. The current system, a Work Capability Assessment to decide if people are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or JobSeekers Allowance (JSA), has been criticised as barbaric by many. Between 2011 and 2014, a total of 2,380 people died in the month after being declared ‘fit to work’.

The UK Government claims it’s new ‘Improving Lives’ Green Paper will address this. It plans to scrap the two current ESA-eligible groupings (‘support’ and ‘work-related activity’) and roll out 300 more Disability Employment Advisers and extra Community Partners with ‘disability expertise and local knowledge’. Some £115 million of funding has been earmarked for developing ‘new models of support’.

But many charities are concerned. For a start, the money for this project is set to be funded by a £30-a-week cut to ESA for those in the work-related activity group. This will bring their payments down to the level of JobSeekers Allowance. It is due to start in April, though there has been pressure from opposition parties to overturn this.

Disability charities are also worried that it will put more pressure on those unfit for work.

“We want to work with the Government and employers to open up access to the labour market for people with a learning disability,” adds Dan Scorer, head of policy at Mencap. “However, we are concerned by proposals that could undermine the position of people with a learning disability in ESA’s Support Group, who have been assessed by the Government as being unable to take steps towards work.” Scope also has concerns that the government still isn’t listening to disabled people which Mark Atkinson, its chief executive, says it must do if it is serious about creating a “system that truly works for people”.