Are people in the ESA WRAG nearly fit for work?
The message we often hear from politicians and the media is that people in the ESA “Work Related Activity Group” have only minor ailments or temporary health conditions and therefore could work now or in the near future if they made more effort. The implication is that being in the ESA WRAG is a lifestyle choice.
It’s time to dispel this myth and tell the truth about people in the WRAG. Here are 3 profiles of claimants who would be placed in the WRAG in a Work Capability Assessment.
Do these people have the choice to go out and get a job?
Mike, 40, suffered a stroke two years ago while at working as an engineer which left him with brain injury and epilepsy that his specialist says are unlikely to improve further. Under the Work Capability Assessment he scores points for loss of consciousness due to seizure 2 -3 times a month (6 points); inability to initiate or complete personal action for the majority of time (9 points) and occasionally uncontrollable episodes of aggressive behaviour (9 points).
Mike scores 24 points but doesn’t quality for the Support Group.
Alan, 29 has autism and lives with his parents. Alan enjoys his supported voluntary work in a community farm but he has never been in paid work. Alan has a reduced awareness of hazard which puts him at significant risk of injury to himself or others requiring frequent supervision (9 points). He can’t cope with minor planned changes to his daily routine (9 points). He can’t get around, even to a familiar place without another person to accompany him (9 points) and he experiences significant distress from social contact with an unfamiliar person (9 points)
Alan scores 36 points but doesn’t qualify for the Support Group.
Sheila was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis eight years ago. She carried on working as a sales rep until her symptoms became too severe as the disease progressed. Sheila can’t walk more than 100m due to muscle weakness and balance problems (9 points), (she can’t self-propel a wheelchair because of upper body weakness). She has difficulty controlling her bladder meaning she often needs a change of clothing (6 points). Her co-ordination difficulties mean she can no longer use a keyboard effectively (9 points). Sheila experiences cognitive dysfunction and depression, which has worsened since had to give up work, and as a result she frequently can’t initiate and complete at least 2 personal actions (6 points).
Sheila scores 30 points but doesn’t qualify for the Support Group.
Mike, Alan and Sheila are not real people, but illustrations of how the WCA measures illness, disability and fitness for “work related activity” in a way that has no bearing on either medical reality, or the real world of work. Without financial support to overcome the significant obstacles they face, and without employers prepared to tailor their job conditions considerably, real people like Mike Alan and Sheila don’t have realistic job prospects, now or in the future.
The current work preparation schemes for people in the WRAG provide almost no specialist support for people wanting to move towards work.
These profiles show you can score well over the necessary 15 points in the WCA and still be placed in the WRAG. The WCA takes no account of how multiple symptoms or difficulties decrease someone’s chances of working.
Adapted from the Spartacus ESA Mythbuster by Catherine Hale, Caroline Richardson and Stef Benstead, with contributions from Jane Young and Sam Barnett-Cormack