Last week I received a letter from my local Jobcentre Plus advising me of the opportunity to attend a Work Focused Interview. These are meetings for those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) where the idea of returning to work is discussed and what help someone needs to do this, including training, employment advice and condition management support.
ESA claimants are divided into two groups, a Work-Related Activity Group and a Support Group. Claimants in the first group are expected to attend Work Focused Interviews. They can receive sanctions such as having their benefit stopped if they don’t.
There is a growing awareness that the obnoxious Work Capability Assessment which determines whether somebody is entitled to ESA or is shunted straight onto Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) has had its bar set so low that only those with the most complex physical or learning impairments or debilitating mental health conditions qualify for ESA. A fact that hundreds of thousands of incapacity benefit claimants are finding out now to their cost as they are reassessed and find themselves on JSA.
Those of us in the Support Group represent a layer of disabled people whose needs are so complex even compared to our peers in the Work-Related Activity Group that we are deemed to be incapable of work. But the fact that we are being sent letters about Work Focused Interviews illustrates the day may come when we are expected to consider the prospect of preparing for work, however unfeasible this may be.
Currently, claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group provide a cushion for those in the Support Group to the most draconian aspects of the benefits system associated with the sanctions regime of JSA. But tens of thousands in the former group have been sent letters warning them that if the Con-Dem’s welfare reform bill is passed then in April they will be transferred onto JSA because ESA will be time-limited to one year for those with a history of employment. The unthinkable for Support Group claimants could soon be one step closer.