Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is the benefit which is replacing Incapacity Benefit. ATOS healthcare are currently making £100 million a year processing both new claims and re-assessing those who are in receipt of Incapacity Benefit.
There are 2 types of ESA, one contributory ESA which disabled people are entitled to based on having paid National Insurance contributions and Income based ESA which is awarded to those on low incomes who are not in a partnership.
People claiming IB plus new claimants have to undergo a WCA (Work Capability Assessment) to claim ESA. There are 3 things that can happen from WCA
- People can be found fit for work and have to claim JSA and register or work and meet lots of requirements about looking for work. If they don’t or they are late for appointments etc they are likely to have their benefits sanctioned ie stopped for 13-26 weeks. (This means that they only get an emergency payment of £30 pw to live on plus Housing and Council Tax benefit stop being paid automatically and if they don’t know that and don’t make new claim can end up with rent and CTB arrears.)
- Second group of people get put in WRAG group ( Work Related Activity Group)
that is they get ESA( a lower rate) but this entitlement to Contribution based ESA for those placed in the WRAG has now been limited to 12 months and 700,000 claimants will be affected by this cut.
Disabled people in the WRAG have to jump through lots of hoops and make themselves work ready. Again if they don’t sanctions/ reduction of benefits will apply.
- Third group is the support group- those disabled people who are considered unable to work due to their level of functional impairments.
Overall the Coalition plan to remove 1 million disabled people from being able to claim ESA and declare them fit for work and force them to claim JSA (Job Seekers Allowance instead) Financially this is a loss of about £30 a week, but as well as losing entitlement to Incapacity Benefit many are also losing entitlement to DLA ( both components so in total people may lose a further minimum £34 a week from an income which is there to meet the extra costs of being disabled).
WCA assessment has been criticised by CAB, many DPOs, disabled people, Cancer support groups, a GP
Paul Gregg who originally devised it but now says it isn’t working.
Basically measures physical functional ability so fails massively anyone with non-physical or fluctuating impairments. New WCA assessment is even worse then what was in place and eg someone with a visual impairment is likely to be found fit for work unless they need an actual person guiding them. Someone who has agoraphobia would be fit for work and the fact that they physically can’t get to a place of work is ignored.
Totally ignores any of the barriers disabled people face in the labour market i.e. attitudes, physical access, environmental access, the reduction in Access to Work funding.
At the moment 70% of those who fail the WCA with representation win at appeal and have benefit reinstated, 40% who don’t have representation win. Waiting time often up to 12 months due to backlog in Tribunal service.
Another problem is that if you win your appeal ATOS can just start all over again re-testing you which is what happened to one of our supporter’s uncles. When he got papers for 2nd tribunal hearing he killed himself as he couldn’t face going through it all again. ( he won 1st appeal then had to have a second WCA, and failed that again )