Time-limiting disability benefits makes no sense

The government’s plan to limit employment support allowance to 12 months for people with debilitating illnesses makes no sense whatsover, argues Shana Pezaro

Shana Pezaro spoke about living with Multiple Sclerosis at the Liberal Democrat Conference 2011

The government has decided that people living in residential care homes are NOT going to lose the mobility component money of their disabilityliving allowance benefit. As a disabled 32-year-old with multiple sclerosis(MS) this means one less fear about my future as my illness progresses.

But unfortunately many serious – and much more immediate – fears remain about how the changes to disability benefits in the welfare reform bill are going to impact on my life, and the lives of others around me.

One particularly scary part that’s keeping me and thousands of others awake at night is the plan to time-limit employment support allowance (ESA) for people who are placed in the work related activity group to just one year if their partners are earning over £149 a week.

There’s no evidence that people are going to be well enough or capable of getting employment in that timescale. In fact, evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions states that 94% of people in the work activity group won’t have found a job in this time. My belief is that “twelve months” has been plucked out of the air by people who do not understand the reality of living with an illness such as multiple sclerosis, and the barriers to finding work that people face.

People with conditions such as MS, which fluctuate massively from day to day, are very likely to be placed in the work-related activity group. Symptoms such as neuropathic pain and fatigue are extremely debilitating, but people have good days and bad days and are thus (often wrongly) deemed capable of work. So the effects of the welfare reform bill are going to hit us very hard. I’m single – my husband left shortly after I was diagnosed – but I fear for my friends who are in relationships; I know from personal experience that illness and disability places huge pressure on a marriage or relationship.

Earlier this year I spoke at the Lib Dem party conference in the debate about ESA. Party members overwhelmingly voted in favour of the motion which included a commitment to scrap time limitation. The Liberal Democrats have already been instrumental in initiating the Harrington report – set to make work capability assessments for ESA much fairer in the future.

I really hope that my belief isn’t misplaced and that I won’t be left holding my breath for too long. I want to believe this country follows rules of fairness. And this is about as unfair as it gets.

• Shana Pezaro is a member of the MS Society

The Guardian

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