Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants suffering from life-long, chronic illnesses will no longer have to attend repeat ‘fitness for work’ tests to prove eligibility for sickness benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions has announced.
Work and Pensions Secretary Damien Green will announce the plans at the Conservative Party conference, in a bid to demonstrate Theresa May’s promise to build a country ‘that works for everyone’.
The changes will mean that sickness benefit claimants with conditions ‘which can only get worse’ will no longer be subjected to pointless reassessments. But new claimants with chronic illnesses and diseases will still be required to prove eligibility for ESA and attend an initial assessment, where necessary.
Mr Green said the changes will help to ease the anxiety and financial insecurities of sickness benefit claimants suffering with chronic conditions, including those with Huntington’s and autism.
It is as yet unclear as to the full scope of medical conditions which will be made exempt from repeated assessments, but it is our understanding that the criteria will be drawn up by health professionals. There were no details about who these ‘health professionals’ will be at the time of publication, or what part they may already play in assessing benefit claimants for ESA – NHS or private sector?
Mr Green told the Press Association: “We are building a country that works for everyone – not just the privileged few. A key part of that is making sure that all those who are able to work are given the support and the opportunity to do so. But it also means ensuring that we give full and proper support to those who can’t.
“That includes sweeping away any unnecessary stress and bureaucracy – particularly for the most vulnerable in society.
“If someone has a disease which can only get worse then it doesn’t make sense to ask them to turn up for repeated appointments. If their condition is not going to improve, it is not right to ask them to be tested time after time. So we will stop it.”
[contextly_sidebar id=”i8H9TDfIxiW97xVLTluyQRgxYSadolz8”]The government has been forced to repeatedly defend and justify Work Capability Assessments (WCA) in the face of growing opposition, with numerous reports in the media about claimants with serious, and sometimes life-threatening medical conditions, being wrongly found ‘fit for work’.
Today’s announcement will undoubtedly be welcomed by campaigners who have been fighting for changes to the system, but many still insist the WCA should be scrapped completely.
Gail Ward from Black Triangle Campaign welcomed Mr Green’s statement “as a step forward not to keep reassessing those with Chronic Progressive Illnesses”, which she described as “a wasteful use of the public purse”.
“Their conditions were not likely to get better”, she said. “In fact, they are likely to worsen over time”.
She added: “We hope that this will also be rolled out for those claiming PIP too (Personal Independence Payment), which would be a groundbreaking move should the department decide to do so and would signal a dramatic change towards disabled people from the government and the DWP.”
Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “We welcome the Government’s climb down on the Work Capability Assessment following my calls to scrap this disastrous Tory policy at our Conference last week.
“As ever with this Government though, the devil is in the detail. While the end to repeated assessments will be a relief to those that have been affected, this announcement falls far short of the fundamental shift to a more holistic, person-centred approach we so desperately need.
“Too many sick and disabled people will remain subject to this harmful, ineffective assessment. We will continue to push the Tories for a better deal for disabled people.“
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Disabled people and those with a long term health condition need a welfare system that gives them security.
“For people with long term health problems with no prospect of a change in their condition repeated medical assessments can be hugely stressful. They remain constantly unsure if they will have enough money to get by on.
“It is very welcome that the Secretary of State is looking at ways to reform ESA and we hope this review includes all disability benefits – to make sure people are fully supported.”
Ministers have reiterated their intention to cut payments for claimants in the ESA ‘Work Related Activity’ group by £30 a week from April 2017, reducing payments to a similar level as Jobseeker’s Allowance.
This article was last edited at 06:57 on 2 October 2016 to add a comment from Debbie Abrahams MP.