Can you pick up a pound coin? Or put a pen in your top pocket?
Well good news, you’re well enough to work - just like thousands of people with the most severe conditions. That is, according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ broken test for sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
ESA is a lifeline for anyone who is too unwell to work as a result of their condition. It’s designed to fully replace a person’s income, so getting access to it is essential if people aren’t able to return to work.
Despite this, people are regularly told that they’re well enough to work when they clearly aren’t. We know, for example, that 40% of people with Parkinson’s that take the test – known as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) are told they can either work, or will be well enough to return to work within a year. Even though their condition will only get worse.
Even if people are lucky enough to qualify for ESA, the amount they receive is barely sufficient. At its highest rate, people can expect to receive £109 per week. Thanks to the Government’s cut last year, people who are expected to return to work within a year will get only £73 per week. This is roughly just £3,700 a year, which doesn’t come close to replacing a person’s income.
It’s hardly surprising that 60% of respondents to the Disability Benefits Consortium’s Big Benefits Survey last year told us that the amount they receive on ESA isn’t enough to live on. Not when this money is supposed to pay for rent, bills, food as well as transport costs.
This has to change.
The new Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey is an old hand in the DWP, having been a Minister in the Department in previous years. She should have a good understanding of the problems with ESA (and the similar issues with Personal Independence Payment) in supporting disabled people properly.
At the top of her to-do list needs to be looking again at the broken assessment process for ESA and working with disabled people and people with long-term conditions to redesign those dreadful criteria. This will ensure they’re set fairly, people get the support they need first time and they accurately reflect the difficulties that people face.
It’s also crucial that the Government reverses the cut to the ‘back to work group’ for ESA. If the Government is serious about getting more disabled people into work, they need to make sure that the financial support available is enough for people to feed themselves and heat their homes, or they’ll have no hope of returning to work.
It’s clear the cut will cost more in the long-run, as people will find themselves forced to turn to accident and emergency as their health deteriorates, or overstretched social care services in order to make ends meet.
So come on Ms McVey, get your to-do list in order and make supporting disabled people your top priority.