Musings of the Week

Concerns over first government work test figures

The first official figures showing how the government’s work capability assessment (WCA) is working have revealed only a small proportion of those applying for out-of-work disability benefits are “passing” the strict new test.

Of about 175,000 people whose claims were completed between October 2008 and February this year, only about 32,000 –18 per cent – were placed on the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

Of the 32,000, just under a third were placed in the support group, for those who do not have to engage in work-related activity.

But about 69,000 of the claimants were pronounced “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, while 74,000 stopped claiming before their assessment was finished.

The assessments – carried out by the government contractor ATOS Healthcare – are supposed to test whether someone requires personalised support to find work and so qualifies for ESA, which has replaced incapacity benefit (IB) for new claimants.

The government is to start rolling out the WCA to existing IB claimants next year.

The new figures also reveal that, by the end of August, 4,900 claimants had completed appeals against a decision that they were “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, but only 1,500 were successful.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for the disability poverty charity Disability Alliance, said the WCA was “too rigid” and often failed to reflect disabled people’s daily lives.

He said the figures suggest the government’s welfare reforms could fail to secure work for many disabled people, which would be “deeply disappointing”.

He added: “The concern is that too many disabled people are not getting access to ESA and are put on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), where they do not get tailored support.

“Meanwhile, there are less jobs, more competition for work and rampant employer discrimination, particularly against those with mental health problems.”

He said this risks alienating disabled people and forcing them into poverty, as JSA is paid at a lower rate than ESA (up to £64.30 a week for JSA, compared with up to £89.80 for ESA).

Meanwhile, the government has announced a new Fit for Work scheme, which will encourage employers, GPs and councils to help people who become ill at work to manage their condition and stay in their job so they do not end up on benefits.

Ten pilot schemes will encourage local partnerships to pool funds to develop new services, bringing together support in areas such as health, employment, skills, housing and debt advice.
Government adviser ‘wary’ of legal right to independent living

A senior government adviser has dismissed calls for rights-based laws that would give disabled people a nationally-guaranteed entitlement to independent living support.

Dr Steve Feast, a senior health and wellbeing adviser in the Department of Health, said he would be “very wary” of writing such legislation and then waiting for the results to “trickle down” to disabled people.

Speaking in a debate on independent living organised by the disability charity RADAR following its agm, Feast said he was a “strong believer” in giving council leaders discretion in how they spend their money.

And he said he believed there should be a move away from “big government” and towards flexibility, local innovation, “empowered individuals” and a “needs-based approach”.

But Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said legislation was needed so that “your ability to live a dignified life…to raise your kids, to love, learn, live and work” was not dependent on your local council.

She said such rights were “far too important to leave to local discretion” and that she had been “really struck with the number of people I have met recently who have had their care packages slashed”.

She added: “We are fed up to the back teeth of postcode lotteries and we are certainly fed up of professionals telling us what we need and how we should be living our lives.”

Disability consultant Haqeeq Bostan said disabled people’s organisations need to show they can deliver services themselves, with ring-fenced funding from central government.

Otherwise, he warned, “we will face fundamental cuts in the services we receive, in the support we have and the means to make the choices we want to”.

The motion they were debating stated that the government’s “vision for social care and support” would only be delivered through “rights-based legislation extending national entitlements” and that relying on local decision-making was a “recipe for disaster”.

Only Feast and Hackney councillor Nargis Khan – who also spoke opposing the motion – voted against it, while 25 people voted in favour and there were eight abstensions.

The debate took place just four days before Lord Ashley’s independent living bill – a private members’ bill that would give disabled people a legal right to independent living – was due to receive its second reading in the Commons.
12 October 2009 Government adviser ‘wary’ of legal right to independent living

A senior government adviser has dismissed calls for rights-based laws that would give disabled people a nationally-guaranteed entitlement to independent living support.

Dr Steve Feast, a senior health and wellbeing adviser in the Department of Health, said he would be “very wary” of writing such legislation and then waiting for the results to “trickle down” to disabled people.

Speaking in a debate on independent living organised by the disability charity RADAR following its agm, Feast said he was a “strong believer” in giving council leaders discretion in how they spend their money.

And he said he believed there should be a move away from “big government” and towards flexibility, local innovation, “empowered individuals” and a “needs-based approach”.

But Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said legislation was needed so that “your ability to live a dignified life…to raise your kids, to love, learn, live and work” was not dependent on your local council.

She said such rights were “far too important to leave to local discretion” and that she had been “really struck with the number of people I have met recently who have had their care packages slashed”.

She added: “We are fed up to the back teeth of postcode lotteries and we are certainly fed up of professionals telling us what we need and how we should be living our lives.”

Disability consultant Haqeeq Bostan said disabled people’s organisations need to show they can deliver services themselves, with ring-fenced funding from central government.

Otherwise, he warned, “we will face fundamental cuts in the services we receive, in the support we have and the means to make the choices we want to”.

The motion they were debating stated that the government’s “vision for social care and support” would only be delivered through “rights-based legislation extending national entitlements” and that relying on local decision-making was a “recipe for disaster”.

Only Feast and Hackney councillor Nargis Khan – who also spoke opposing the motion – voted against it, while 25 people voted in favour and there were eight abstensions.

The debate took place just four days before Lord Ashley’s independent living bill – a private members’ bill that would give disabled people a legal right to independent living – was due to receive its second reading in the Commons.

News provided by John Pring at jpringnews@googlemail.com

Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK's foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – provides consultancy to many of the country's best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *