Important consultation on a replacement for ESA

ESA needs replacing; there is little disagreement about that. What has not yet been proposed is a system to replace it. Such a system should be designed primarily by the sick and disabled people who will depend upon it.

This is what Ekklesia is proposing to do. In its initial survey, Ekklesia asked respondents about what support they needed in order to be able to work (if work were possible at all) and how the assessment process should occur. The results of this survey have been published in two reports. The first focusses on the support that sick and disabled people say that they need if they are to be able to work. The second report presents a proposal for a new assessment and support process, again based upon the responses to the survey. But there is more work to do.

Ekklesia are asking people to respond to their initial proposal with comments and critique. Their second report is also a consultation document, asking for responses to the proposed system and principles. Twelve weeks have been given to respond to this consultation, which is running from 9th August to 31st October 2016. Ekklesia are particularly keen for responses from people with sensory impairments, spinal or limb injuries, learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders as these groups were under-represented in the initial survey. However, chronic physical and mental illness continue to be central to the design of a suitable assessment process, especially given their traditional under-assessment in income-replacement and extra-cost benefits.

You can find the first report here, and the second (consultation) report here. The second report is also available in an Easy Read version here. You can respond to the report by emailing your response to ekklesiasurvey@gmail.com or by posting it to Ekklesia Survey c/o Simon Barrow 3/3 Kirk St, Edinburgh, EH6 5EX.
If you prefer, for simplicity, you can answer the consultation questions using a scale of Strongly Disagree / Disagree / Neither Agree nor Disagree / Agree / Strongly Agree.

The report by Ekklesia shows that the government is badly failing its sick and disabled citizens. The government claimed that the Incapacity Benefit system abandoned disabled people to a life on benefits. Yet we are far more abandoned by ESA. Under IB we were given the freedom to live and manage their lives; on ESA WRAG or JSA we are mandated to activities beyond our capabilities without the support we would need to be able to undertake them.

Without this support, any attempts to get us into work are simply doomed to fail. It is a waste of the government’s resources to put money into a scheme that cannot work, and a waste of our health, energy and capacity for social inclusion. The government cannot have it both ways; it cannot refuse to pay the cost of employment support and simultaneously insist that we ‘prepare for’ work that we will never find.

The principles that Ekklesia propose allows the government to make the choice of whether to fully support someone to work, or to support them in a life of independence and social inclusion outside of the workplace. By basing the decision upon what support is needed for an individual to work, we ensure that the decision on capacity for work is tied in to both what support an employer can provide, and what the government is providing. We end the farcical situation where individuals are told by the DWP’s mechanistic system that they are fit for work, when the assessor and employment support worker know that the individual is demonstrably unfit for work. And we ensure that no-one is asked to work before the government has made it possible for them to do so.

Based on the results from the respondents to Ekklesia’s survey, Ekklesia have proposed, as a starting point for this consultation, that a new assessment process should include the following features:

  • Medical evidence should be provided for all individuals; this is a more efficient way to get an accurate medical opinion than having to employ medics who are not involved in the individual’s care.
  • The assessment should be in the format of a discussion taking place over several meetings.
  • Claimants should have the opportunity to comment on the assessor’s report before a decision is made.
  • The assessor should also be the one who makes the decision on fitness for work.
  • Reassessment need only occur for those not in regular contact with a caseworker, and should be light-touch in recognition that these are the people who are least likely to become fit for work.

The criteria of fitness for work should be based on the following:

  • The decision of capacity for work should include labour market competitiveness.
  • The assessment should consider the overall capacity for work, including the need to work at a slower pace or have breaks from work, rather than focussing on isolated activities.
  • The assessment should give direct consideration to the skills that the individual has and whether or not these can be used given the claimant’s health condition.
  • A decision of fit for work should be based upon the ability to identify jobs that that individual could perform.
  • If an individual needs particular forms of support to be able to work, that individual is considered unfit for work unless and until that support is provided.

The underlying policy position, principles and assumptions should recognise that:

  • Individuals contribute to society in a number of ways other than paid work, and the value of these contributions should be recognised.
  • The social security system needs to protect those whose health and quality of life is at risk of being damaged by requirements to engage in work or work-related activity.
  • Voluntary work should be encouraged as a valuable contribution to society and as an acceptable activity for people with chronic illness who claim sickness benefits.
  • The basic rate of benefit should be set at a level that is adequate for long-term living including social participation in society.
  • Sanctions and conditionality are detrimental to health, well-being and financial security. They should not be used for people with chronic illness. Instead, a system of top-ups (above a liveable base-level benefit) could be acceptable to compensate individuals for engagement in activity.
  • A range of areas not well captured by the WCA are key to the understanding and assessment of capacity for work. These include mental health, varying or unpredictable capacity for work, and the accumulation of incapacity from multiple origins.
  • Capacity for work is impacted by the provision of support in areas of life outside of the individual workplace. These can include health care, personal assistance, home help, caring responsibilities, commuting and regulation of the labour market to promote more and better quality jobs.
  • People with chronic illness need a wide range of support if they are to be able to work.
  • People with chronic illness may benefit from re-training, particularly where re-training may allow the individual to use remaining health capacity better or compensate for loss of capacity in a previously trained area.
  • Employers may be reluctant to employ people with chronic illness due to founded or unfounded concerns of associated costs. Employers may need practical advice, support and/or financial assistance to make it viable for them to take on an employee where the any associated costs are uncertain.
  • There is a mismatch between what employers mean and can manage when they refer to flexible working, and what people with chronic illness mean and need when they refer to flexible working.
  • There is a difference between an individual being ‘capable’ of work (which could include working for small units of time at irregular intervals, spread out over a longer period), and an individual being employable or being able to find or sustain work.

 

You can find the first report here, and the second (consultation) report here. You can respond to the report by emailing your response to ekklesiasurvey@gmail.com or by posting it to Ekklesia Survey c/o Simon Barrow 3/3 Kirk St, Edinburgh, EH6 5EX.
If you prefer, for simplicity, you can answer the consultation questions using a scale of Strongly Disagree / Disagree / Neither Agree nor Disagree / Agree / Strongly Agree.
The consultation is running from 9th August to 31st October 2016.

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