By John Pring Disability News Service Thursday 25 May 2017
Activists ‘horrified’ by universal credit rules forcing sick claimants into work activity
“Very dangerous” rules are forcing severely-ill people applying for the government’s new universal credit to look for jobs and take part in training, even though their GPs have said they are not fit for work, “horrified” disabled activists have warned.
The rules – which have never been announced or publicised by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – apply to new universal credit claimants who are waiting for an assessment of their “fitness for work”.
And they mean they could have their benefits sanctioned for up to three months if they fail to follow strict instructions from a job coach with no medical training.
They are forced to take part in work-related activity, such as a work-focused interviews and “work preparation”, which could mean training or employment programmes.
They could also face sanctions if they fail to show they have searched for a job for up to 35 hours a week, and have not made themselves available for paid work.
Potential sanctions will continue to hang over their heads until their fitness for work is eventually tested through the notorious work capability assessment (WCA), which could take months.
Dr Stephen Carty, medical adviser to the Scottish grassroots campaign group Black Triangle (BT), who works as a GP in Leith, on the edge of Edinburgh, said the “substantial risks” of the policy were “incalculable”.
The new rules – uncovered by BT’s sister organisation Disabled People Against Cuts – apply to sick and disabled people who would previously have been eligible for income-based employment and support allowance (ESA), which is gradually being phased out in the move to universal credit, but not to those eligible for the contribution-based form of ESA, which will continue alongside universal credit.
Under ESA, claimants with a “fit note” from their GP are not expected to carry out any work-related activity and continue to receive a lower assessment rate of the benefit until they have had their WCA and a decision is reached on their eligibility.
DWP insisted this week that universal credit claimants with a fit note will only be forced to carry out “reasonable” work-related activity that is “tailored to the individual’s circumstances”, while work coaches will demand no work-related activity “if appropriate”.
But appalled activists said this week that the potential harm caused to severely-ill people could be catastrophic and potentially fatal.
Dr Carty said it was a “dreadful situation and is bound to cause further harm”.
“Seriously sick and/or disabled people may find themselves pressed to attend work-related activity and risk being sanctioned if they fail to attend. Yet to attend may place them at significant risk of harm.”
“Jobs advisers and those overseeing work-related activity lack the information, knowledge or experience to make safe decisions and this will undoubtedly place sick and/or disabled individuals in serious danger.
“It is in my opinion outrageous that a patient with a fit note from me, their GP, stating that in my professional opinion that they are currently not fit for work will automatically be assumed to be treated as fit for all work-related activity.
“A doctor with over 20 years of experience and in possession of the patient’s full medical record will have their professional opinion completely disregarded.”
He said GPs had not been told about the DWP policy, and again “find themselves pawns and complicit in a system that has been shown to be harmful and [is] becoming more dangerous by the day”.
Dr Carty said the consequences would be felt “particularly acutely” in primary care.
He said: “The cumulative impact of this policy on claimants and primary care services will be enormous.
“General practice is in crisis. There is a recruitment and retention problem unheralded in the history of NHS.
“Further disempowerment in the form of complete disregard of professional opinion regarding fitness for work is hardly going to help matters.”
Anita Bellows, a Disabled People Against Cuts researcher, said the universal credit policy was “a very dangerous development”.
She said that any decisions on reducing the work-related activity a person had to carry out would only be at the discretion of the DWP work coach, who would have no medical training and would be likely to have access to little or no information about the claimant’s health.
“How these work coaches are expected to understand the consequences of any mandatory work-related requirements on the health of claimants is a mystery.
“Some claimants will be exempted because they are considered ‘vulnerable’ but the DWP has not made public yet the guidance given to work coaches to help them decide which claimants are vulnerable.
“DPAC is absolutely horrified by this development, which is a recipe for disaster and will hurt claimants.
“DPAC also feels that the professional judgement of GPs is being undermined by being overruled by pen-pushers who have no understanding of disability.”
The rules have apparently been in force since at least 2015 but the impact on disabled people is probably only emerging now because of the slow roll-out of universal credit, which was originally only available in a few parts of the country, and mainly applied to single jobseekers making new benefit claims.
But DPAC discovered a DWP freedom of information response (see page eight) dating from November 2015, which makes it clear that “claimants who have a fit note and are awaiting a WCA” are subject to “all work-related requirements”.
This was confirmed this week by a DWP spokesman.
He said that universal credit claimants who had fit notes from their GP stating that they were not fit for work, and who were awaiting a WCA, were subject to work-related requirements.
The DWP spokesman said: “Work coaches will discuss with universal credit claimants whether any reasonable work related activity is appropriate before their work capability assessment.”
He suggested that the new rules had been applied since universal credit began to be rolled out, but when asked if they put the health of many claimants at risk, he said: “Absolutely not.
“Any actions will be tailored to the individual’s circumstances and work coaches will set no work-related activity if appropriate.
“Universal credit is designed to help more people into work.
“Claimants will therefore have access to a work coach from the start of their claim who can support them in preparing for work.”
Asked when DWP had announced these measures publicly, he said that anyone applying for universal credit (UC) was “made aware of their requirements” by their work coach, and he pointed to a DWP leaflet, Universal Credit and You.
But the leaflet does not appear to make any reference to fit notes and claimants waiting for their WCA.
When DNS suggested that this meant DWP had never announced the measures, either publicly or in written information given to claimants, the spokesman said there was nothing more he could add, although he insisted that DWP was “open about the UC process with claimants”.
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8 thoughts on “Shock as Universal Credit rules treat sick as ‘fit for all work-related activity’ – against GPs explicit orders”
I have had great understanding from UC team in regard with my fitness for work. They do evaluate individual cases and basically are there to encourage people to take up employment.
Similarly to this – the JC are also trying to force those put in WRAG, whilst they are waiting for tribunal for the Support Group, into work related training. This happened to me even after presenting job centre with a letter from my GP (written for the purpose of appeal) which stated that I am unfit to travel.
I was found fit for work by atos and my own doctor says iam unfit for work I was told to go to the job centre after getting zero points the 1st appointment I was threatened with a sanction I was also asked to reconsider my appeal which I said no and the 2nd time my doctor had signed me off again as unfit for work the job centre said because its the same condition I was found fit for work for iam still classed as fit for work so my doctors sick note does not stand so they are over ruling my doctor and I was threatened with a sanction again if I don’t look for work when iam listening to my own doctors advice for my health but the DWP do not care at all
I could type in a post but basically it would be a repeat of the above post. The only addition is that work will make my condition worse and will result in another operation on my spine.
They just do not care iam still waiting to hear from my mandatory appeal since they said I was fit for work my doctor is going mad after I told the DWP say my sick note does not stand because atos says iam fit for work I’ve just been signed off again and I rang universal credit up the person I spoke to was OK but 3 days later my job advisor rang me up and harassed me over the phone telling me I’ve still to look for work as the sick note does not stand if I don’t I will be sanctioned I said to her over the phone I can’t hardly walk so what’s the point of applying for jobs when my doctor says iam unfit and iam waiting to get a appointment for physiotherapy on my spine I told the job centre advisor I could not walk for nearly 5 months after I hurt my back when I was working and the proof is on my medical records her reply was your fit for work this is how iam getting treated in Carlisle Cumbria
Hi how are you just to update you that I was due to be paid on the 25th of December and the DWP have stopped paying me because iam taking my doctors advice of not fit for work and the DWP did not pay me in December so my last payment was November 2017. since I gave up my home and moved away because I was sick of the threats over the phone and the last time I went into the job centre threatening me with sanctions because I refused to apply for a shelf filling job what involved heavy lifting even with the spine injury I suffered they still wanted me to apply I argued with her and said what if my back went again I would lose the job and back to square one in the job centre. and in even more pain her answer was apply for it I said no and got up slowly and walked away I heard her threaten again with a sanction I just said do what u want and ive not been back in the job centre since that was back in August they gladly paid me till November but December they stopped paying me but I refuse to go back in to be treated like a piece of dirt and threatened again.
Well my doctor has signed me off again and iam also waiting for a physio appointment I rang the universal credit number and explained the reason why and the person was OK and changed my appointment at the job centre then 3 days later my job coach rang me up saying that I’ve still got to look for work or I will be sanctioned and that iam still classed as fit for work even tho my back has gone and iam struggling to walk and that my doctor signed me off I even told my doctor that the DWP are over ruling his sick note by saying I was found fit for work by atos so it does not stand the job advisor and the job club what I’ve been told to go to are even telling me to do shelf filling jobs or production work and even told me a job which involves cleaning ovens in a superstore which involves bending down and cleaning inside iam still waiting for my mandatory appeal since atos found me fit for work because the person who seen me was 30 mins late and she never had a clue what my medication was and even asked me what codeine was for if atos are qualified health people you would at least think they know what codeine was for iam only suppose to take 8 a day with paracetamol but the amount of pain iam suffering iam taking up to 16 codeine and 16 paracetamol every day to ease the pain but it does not help me walk any better or faster the DWP do not care at all about a persons health or condition they just want the person off benefit they probably even celebrate when they sanction a person or if a person commits suicide