New Citizen’s Advice Scotland report – ‘Welfare Reform: Thousands of sick and disabled Scots facing poverty’

The government’s welfare reforms are having a devastating impact on thousands of sick and disabled Scots – according to evidence published today (Thursday 23rd Feb) by Citizens Advice Scotland.

The report, ‘From Pillar to Post’, describes the experience of the 170,000 Scots who are currently receiving Incapacity Benefit, and who are now being assessed for the new Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). These people have long been considered too sick to work, and are now having to prove they are not ‘faking it’ – just because the government has changed the definition of what it is to be ill. They are being moved from one benefit to another, and 115,000 of them are set to lose out in the process.

Publishing the report, CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says,

“ESA was introduced in 2008 for those who were ‘new’ claimants, and we have shown ever since how it is deeply flawed and is having a devastating impact on those who are most in need. It is now being applied to all those who are currently on Incapacity Benefit. That’s 170,000 people in Scotland who are having to undergo the uncertainty and distress that ESA brings.

“In this report we give an up-date on ESA today, and sadly the picture remains as bleak as ever. This is a policy which is unfit for purpose and is devastating the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“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 in the process. That was the plan. In reality, ESA is failing to live up to its billing.

“In too many cases, it is failing to accurately assess a claimant’s ability to work, failing to help those able to work to find employment, and failing to support many with serious illnesses. It might be saving the Treasury money in the short-term, but it is pushing the cost onto the claimant, their families, local communities, service providers and ultimately the economy.

The report concentrates on real case evidence from CAB offices across Scotland. People who have been let down by the ESA system are increasingly having to turn to CAB for help. Last year the service saw an astonishing 33% increase in ESA cases. CAS say the reality of the ESA is best seen in these individual cases – many of which are detailed in the report.

Susan McPhee continues,

“Over 170,000 long-term sickness benefit claimants in Scotland will be re-assessed for ESA by 2014 and an estimated 115,000 of those will lose their entitlement to support. The only way for these people 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.

“People on Incapacity Benefit have been told for years that they are too sick to work, and now suddenly they have to undergo a flawed work capability assessment, only to be told they are no longer ‘sick’ and so face an immediate cut in income, followed by further cuts if they don’t look for work.

“So, one week you can be defined as sick and unable to work and then the next week you’re told you are not. This happens not because of any change in your medical condition, but because the government had moved the goalposts and re-defined what it is to be ill.

“We feel this is an unacceptable way to treat people, and the Government must move fast to accept the problems we have identified and fix the system so it becomes one which really does what it is meant to do, and helps the people it is meant to help, rather than making their lives even more difficult.”

Today’s report, ‘From Pillar to Post‘ is attached. The Executive Summary and Conclusion are reproduced below. NB All of this is embargoed till 0.01 on Thursday 23 February 2012.

To arrange interviews please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 7751655.

Notes

Excerpts from today’s CAS Evidence report, From Pillar to Post

The full report is available on the CAS website at 

http://www.cas.org.uk/Publications/recent-publications/From+pillar+to+post

Executive Summary:

“In terms of the numbers affected and the scale and severity of the impact, the reforms to incapacity benefits that are now underway are probably the most far-reaching changes to the benefits system for at least a generation.

They will impoverish vast numbers of households, and cause untold distress in countless more. The incapacity benefit numbers need to be brought down, but this is not the way.”
(Excerpt from report by Sheffield Hallam University. Nov 2011)

From April 2011, Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants began to be reassessed for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Over 170,000 claimants in Scotland will undergo a reassessment for sickness benefits by 2014 at a rate of around 1,000 per week.

The sheer number of people and families involved, including many with very serious health problems, make the migration one of the most significant policies that the UK Government is pursuing.

For better or for worse, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland will change vastly in the next three years.

This report looks at the huge impact that this will have on people, communities and services in Scotland.

Over the next three years, an estimated 115,000 IB claimants in Scotland will lose entitlement to sickness benefits. More than half (65,000) will be moved out of the benefits system altogether with most of the remainder (36,000) eligible for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA).

The migration will have a significant impact on families, economies and services across Scotland.

Based on DWP estimates, there will be a £390 million reduction in annual payments to current IB claimants. This will have a significant impact on local and national economies. Due to the current economic environment and barriers to employment, many former claimants will struggle to replace this income by finding employment.

36,000 people in Scotland will move onto JSA with a drop in income of £27 a week, and 65,000 will leave the benefits system altogether with a drop in income of at least £99 a week. Those claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Housing Benefit (HB) face further cuts in payments.

The ESA process has been shown to be flawed and is a major cause of problems brought to bureaux. In 2010/11, bureaux in Scotland helped clients with 19,536 new ESA issues – a 33% increase since 2009/10. The pressure on resources means that clients with other issues may not receive the support they need.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The principle behind ESA is a good one. It is right that those who are able to work are supported to find employment. Where the migration works, IB claimants could be supported into a better life.

However, there is a significant risk that the migration could lead to worse health and lower incomes for many claimants. In fact, some may face destitution. Any flaws in the migration will impact heavily on many of the most vulnerable people in society.

Unfortunately, the evidence so far on ESA and the migration suggests that the outcomes for many claimants will not be positive. Flaws in the Work Capability Assessment mean that many claimants may be inappropriately assessed as fit to work and lose the support to which they are entitled.

Even claimants who are capable of work face many barriers to returning to the labour market. A lack of job creation, competition from thousands of newly unemployed workers, and discrimination from employers, mean that former claimants will struggle to find work.

The result of these issues could be a group of people with health problems who are not in employment or supported in the benefit system. Far from supporting people into work, the outcome of the migration process could be to move sickness benefit claimants on to a less expensive benefit or out of the system altogether.

The UK Government is committed to the migration, but it needs to take urgent action to ensure that it supports claimants towards employment rather than destitution.

We recommend that the UK Government:

  • Work with employers to end discrimination against sickness benefit claimants. Unless employers are willing to take on former claimants, the Government will not achieve its targets for returning people to work
  • Ensure that former claimants are a priority group in the Work Programme. There is a danger that back to work providers will ‘park’ former claimants. They must be incentivised to support those with disabilities towards employment
  • Continue to reform ESA to make it fit for purpose. Despite reform, flaws remain inherent in the system which must be addressed
  • Track claimants during and after the process. The Government needs to better track claimants to ensure that the migration is producing positive outcomes.

We recommend that the UK and Scottish Government:

  • Encourage economic growth in the regions most affected by the migration. Claimants are often concentrated in areas with weak labour markets. The Government must ensure that these people have jobs to go into
  • Support advice services to cope with the migration. CAB do not receive any extra funding to cope with complex ESA issues.

www.cas.org.uk

Comments
  • simmo October 17, 2012 at 10:47 am

    The writing is on the wall but we the electorate are undecided whether we are sheep or ostriches or have been cajoled into believing we still live in a DEMOCRACY .The obvious façade of democracy started to be eroded when Thatcher smashed the UNIONS importing an American named McGregor . Thatcher spent £12 billion pounds ,£36,240,000,000.00 in today’s money to achieve her goal .Blair continued ,with his brazen disregard for cabinet meeting’s and held armchair discussions between him and his chosen advisers .Where were our representative MP’s to argue against this practice .Now we have Cameron and his fascist henchmen such as Schmidt and Grables ,Osborne and May who between them have decimated the welfare system ,made the rich ,richer and have shown scant regard for justice .The rule of Law should be executed on a level ‘playing field’ and not bits of EU law and British Law used in similar circumstances when it suits the Governments purpose. DEMOCRACY has been eroded ,things have gone too far ,there is only one vote open to us all – A NO VOTE ,let’s not support their BIG LIE .Would you buy something you didn’t want – why vote for something you know nothing about .Truth is not in a Politicians vocabulary .
    http://www.brokenbritainundertories.com

  • nigel simmons April 2, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    BROKEN BRITISH POLITICS – GOVERNMENT REPLY TO WHY SCRAP THE ILF

    Nigel Simmons, Mar 07 09:16:

    Dear Sirs,
    I write to you to express my extreme disgust that your Government has announced the closure of the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.
    This fund is a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable in our society. For your Government to ignore the High Court decision and proceed with this closure reeks of punitive and out of touch politics that shows extreme disdain to the welfare of the most vulnerable
    You should be ashamed of your Government actions and I call on you to immediately cancel your Government’s plans to axe the fund and open the fund to new applicants. Regards Nigel Simmons
    REPLY
    Thank you for getting in touch with Nick Clegg MP regarding the Government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund. I am replying on his behalf.
    The Government recognises the valuable the role the Independent Living Fund has played in the lives of its users and the depth of concern about its closure. However, the Government does not think that continuing a separate system of support operating through a discretionary trust, outside the mainstream adult social care system, is the right approach.
    The key features that have contributed to the Independent Living Fund’s success – particularly the choice and control it has given disabled people over how their care and support is managed – are now provided, or are very soon to be provided, within the mainstream care and support system. Continuing with the present arrangements, which benefit a relatively small number of disabled people, would fail to take account of the significant developments over the last 20 years in the way disabled people are supported to live independent lives
    This decision has been driven by a clear need for reform, not a desire to make savings. Once the Independent Living Fund closes, both funding and responsibility for former users will be transferred from the DWP to Local Authorities in England, and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. As announced in last year’s Spending Review, all these bodies will be fully funded to meet these additional costs.
    This transfer of responsibility does not mean that funding is being reduced; last year’s Spending Review announced that total amount of funding for 2015/16 would be £262m – the same amount that would have been allocated had responsibility remained with the DWP.
    We are also confident that recent and upcoming changes to adult social care mean that the main benefits of the Fund – the choice and control over care it has given people – will now be provided within the mainstream system. Thank you once again for getting in touch about this important issue With best wishes, Rory Belcher . Office of Nick Clegg MP

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