Thursday, 8 November 2012

Employment Support Allowance conversions

The writer that inspired me to have a go at a blog is Sue Marsh of the "Diary of a Benefit Scrounger".  Her latest posting "ESA reaches a Tipping Point" notes that government statistics about the conversions from Incapacity Benefit to ESA are about to be published. 

I have looked at the stats and have noted that:

Claimants with an outcome for their claim can be broken down as follows:
64 per cent of claimants were entitled to the benefit. Within this –
  • 39 per cent of claimants were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), and
  • 25 per cent of claimants were placed in the Support Group (SG); and
36 per cent of claimants were assessed as Fit for Work (FFW) and are not entitled to ESA.

So despite media scare tactics a few months (suggestions in some newspapers that 75% of people were "faking it") ago only a third of people on Incapacity Benefit have been assessed (even by the ridiculous ATOS system) as Fit for Work.

The other point that can be made from the stats is that the ATOS system is failing to keep up with the government's targets for getting all the people on Incapacity Benefit reassessed in time to tie in with the introduction of the new Universal Credit.  Now I can see how the campaigners are hoping to use this to pressure the government into a rethink - but I'm more concerned about the number of people who have been placed in the WRAG.  That's where they put me nearly three years ago when my sick pay from work ran out. 

For those of you without any experience of the whole ATOS thing firstly you fill out a huge form, dozens of questions about what you can and can't do.  They ask for names and addresses of your doctors and consultants.  Then they ask you to an assessment. 

Mine was in Joseph Locke House in Barnsley, only a few minutes walk for an able bodied person from our old house.  It would be two stops on the bus, but I thought, that's silly why catch a bus - that costs money.  I don't feel too bad today, I'll walk.  Silly mistake. I realised after questioning from the assessor (a doctor? maybe), that I should have got my OH to take a day off work to take me the half a mile in the car (as he would have done if I'd been having a bad day), because walking that day proved I was fit for work (even though it did take me twenty-five minutes to walk what is, according to Google maps, a eight minute walk). I also fetched along a box of letters, appointments cards and repeat prescription forms from my doctors and the various hospitals where I had been treated and diagnosed.  That was the right thing to do ... I think.  On future assessments I did not take along the box, firstly because it had badly hurt my arms carrying the *@#* thing, secondly because I don't get sick notes any more (they are only for people on sick pay or benefits if you read the small print) and thirdly because I have no new information from my consultants to contribute.  I have been diagnosed with two conditions either of which can make me very ill, have been prescribed drugs to help me cope and that's the end of it until I have a serious flare up which needs hospital treatment.  This, in hindsight, was probably another mistake.  Although how I was meant to provide recent evidence of my ill health other than the continuing repeat prescriptions I really don't know.

I was assessed in the WRAG, not a great surprise really as I know I'm not as badly off as a lot of people.  I could walk to the appointment (if I sit on a wall for a rest every hundred yards or so), I can "raise my hand above my head as if putting on a hat" (even if I now have to carry my library books in a back pack to stop my arms and shoulders cramping up), and despite regular bouts of Crohn's flare up where I daren't go out of the house for fear of needing the toilet, it's not that bad every day.  What did surprise me was the lack of the supposed support once you had been put in that group.  Mine consisted of a meeting with a friendly lady in the local Job Centre once a month for six months, reducing to an occasional meeting, say six monthly for the remainder of my time on the benefit.  She did nothing to help me get work.  She advised me to apply for Disability Support Allowance, which I did under protest, as I know full well that I am able to walk for 400 yards and I can get up four or more stairs using a handrail for support (the minimum criteria).  So filling in that weighty form was just a waste of my time and seemed to serve no more purpose than to enable her to tick a box and keep someone in another government department in a job checking pointless forms.  On the rest of my visits we discussed our holidays, my attempts to get some voluntary work (off my own back) at the Eldon Centre teaching IT to older people, and eventually my failure in my PGCE studies (again something I was trying as an alternative to work, off my own back) due to my continued ill health.  As news began to break about the government's plans to stop contributory ESA for anyone who had been on it for a year even these appointments at the Job Centre stopped.  It was obvious that as my money would be stopping I was no longer of any concern to them.

So the 39% of ex Incapacity Benefit claimees put into the WRAG can look forward to very little support to attempt to find them this work they are meant to be aiming for, with no income and no independence if they have a partner who works (like me).  Very shortly they will fall completely off the radar of the government statistics.  I guess then the media will simply add together the figures 36% (the people on IB who were found Fit for Work straight away) to the 39% (who were allocated to ESA for a while) and lo and behold end up with their figure of 75% of IB claimants who shouldn't have been claiming. 

But don't you see?
They moved the goal posts.  These people are not "faking it", they are still ill, but now invisible due to re-classification.  There's politics and power for you.

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