A report out today shows that nearly half of people with a degenerative, progressive health condition who apply for the out of work disability benefit ESA are being told they'll recover enough to return to work.
These are people who have been diagnosed with conditions which are only likely to get worse, with symptoms that can often only be managed because they don't go to work.
In my role at the MS Society, and as Co-Chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, I speak to people on a daily basis who are frustrated and fearful of what their lives might become if they do not receive the financial support they need.
The government's rhetoric about the welfare system has led to a society where anyone needing support is labelled a benefits 'scrounger'.
Many of these people had rewarding jobs with a steady income that paid the bills and taxes - but whose lives were changed overnight by the devastating news they had an incurable condition, which is likely to only get worse. But this doesn't mean people give up work immediately, far from it. People with MS say they carry on working for as long as possible , but there comes a point when they apply for the sickness benefit because they just don't feel able to continue.
I'm frequently told by people with MS that they want to work, but are physically and mentally unable to. They claim financial support from the government out of necessity and to maintain a very basic level of independence. The stark reality is that a life on disability benefits is not an easy one.
The report, from four charities representing people with long-term, degenerative conditions, found that 45% of people who put in a claim for ESA between 2008 and 2011 and had either cystic fibrosis, MS, Parkinson's or rheumatoid arthritis, were placed in the work related activity group (WRAG) - meaning assessors believed they would recover from their condition enough to return to work.
On top of this, many of these people have had their benefit removed after a year as an added 'incentive' to find employment. This rule suggests that the government believes anyone living with one of these conditions will only need a year until they're 'well' enough to not only work, but have secured employment.
The benefits system is failing those who need it most. It is vital that the assessments for disability benefits properly take into account professional evidence about people's conditions. If assessments conclude that a person will 'get better', then the evidence should be shown to prove it.
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