By Magnus Gardham
MORE than 100,000 sick and disabled Scots face hardship because of the Con-Dems’ tough welfare cuts, a damning report reveals today.
They will lose £390million over the next three years after being moved off Incapacity Benefit, say Citizens Advice Scotland.
And the blow will be compounded as they struggle to find work at a time of near-record unemployment.
The move will have a “devastating impact” on some of the poorest families, claims Citizens Advice head of policy Susan McPhee.
Speaking before the launch of the report, she said: “This policy is unfit for purpose and is devastating the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
The Westminster Government are continuing a Labour policy of replacing IB with Employment Support Allowance, or ESA.
But as Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith rushes to get one million people across the UK off IB, claimants are being subjected to tough reassessments by private firm Atos Healthcare.
In Scotland, 170,000 people will be tested by 2014 – and 115,000 of them will lose out, say Citizens Advice.
● Just 55,000 will be entitled to the new sickness benefits in the long term.
● Of the rest, 36,000 will move to Jobseeker’s Allowance, with a drop in income of £27 per week.
● Another 14,000 will go on to other lower-paying benefits such as income support.
● The remaining 65,000 will lose their benefits of at least £99 per week altogether.
● Many will not be entitled to help because they have a partner in work.
Citizens Advice Scotland claim there is little chance of the losers finding work – causing “uncertainty and distress” for thousands.
McPhee said: “The intention of ESA was a good one.
“It was meant to help those on sickness benefits – to identify those who were capable of work and help them into employment, while continuing to support the rest, and saving taxpayers money. That was the plan. In reality, ESA is failing to live up to its billing.
“In too many cases, it fails to accurately assess a claimant’s ability to work, fails to help those able to work to find employment and fails to support many with serious illnesses.
“It might be saving the Treasury money in the short-term but it is pushing the cost on to the claimant, their families, communities, service providers and ultimately the economy.”
She added: “The only way for those losing benefits to mitigate the drop in income would be to get a job.
“However, with unemployment at a 16-year high, the economy struggling to grow and former sickness benefit claimants facing discrimination from employers, many of these people will seriously struggle to find a job.
“As a result, tens of thousands of people face a significant drop in their already low income.”
The From Pillar to Post report confirms fears revealed in the Record a year ago.
It is backed up by real-life cases from Citizens Advice Scotland’s network of branches.
They include the story of a north-east man who has been on IB for the past 10 years after a failed spinal operation.
Despite having to use crutches and taking morphine to control the pain, he was declared fit for work following reassessment.
Citizens Advice Scotland are issuing recommendations for the UK and Scottish governments.
They call for the UK Government to put pressure on employers to “end discrimination” against former IB claimants.
And they demand the Scottish Government do more to boost the economies of the worst-hit areas.
Today, Rutherglen and Hamilton West Labour MP Tom Greatrex and Glasgow SNP MSP Bob Doris will table motions at Westminster and Holyrood over the issue.
Holyrood’s new cross-party welfare reform committee are to meet for the first time today and will investigate the impact of Con-Dem benefit cuts.
Doris said: “In Glasgow alone, this will increase JSA claimants by up to 31 per cent when there are five times more jobseekers than there are job centre vacancies.
“The ESA assessment process is notorious for its sledgehammer approach to forcing people off of sickness benefits.
“Now many more disabled Scots face being told their income will be removed because of a deeply flawed work capability assessment
“Society should not withdraw financial assistance from people genuinely unable to work.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We shouldn’t write off a person’s ability to work solely on the basis of a health condition or disability.
“People who are too sick or disabled will receive our support but those who are able to work will get specialist help through the Work Programme. Customers unhappy with the decision can appeal”.