There are new regulations for Employment Support Allowance about to come into force on the 28th of January. These regulations were proposed only six weeks before they will come into force, leaving very little time for the impact to be considered.
Worse, these regulations make drastic changes to the assumptions made during the assessment that will result in even more people being refused sickness benefits or told to take part in work-related activity.
The two big changes are:
An assessor can consider what mobility aids, equipment, medical treatments or medicines might help the claimant return to work, and then, without consulting them as to whether the change is suitable, they can judge them fit for work or for work related activity based on them making that change. This completely ignores things like side-effects of medication, suitability of adaptions and mobility aids, or even if such help is available to the individual. This could already happen to some extent, such as with wheelchairs, but will now apply to a far wider range of changes. This also raises the huge problem of medical treatment without consent, since refusing to take a drug that could help a person return to work, even for very good reasons, could lead to benefits being withdrawn.
The second huge change is to how the the assessment considers the relationship between mental and physical health conditions. Where previously any disability or restriction could be applied to any activity, whether it was caused by mental problems or physical problems. These new regulations will strictly separate the two such that one set of questions considers purely physical restrictions, and another set purely mental restrictions. You may be completely unable to perform a task due to mental illness, but be considered able to physically and therefore able to full stop. This equally applies to side effects of medicines. For medicines that treat mental health conditions, only the impact of side effects ON mental health will be considered. Crippling physical side effects caused by treatment for mental health will be completely ignored when deciding that a person can work.
These changes will pull the rug from under the feet (or wheels) of hundreds of thousands more people who are struggling to live, never mind to earn a wage. Make no mistake; whatever the intention of these changes, this is a cut in support.
What you can do
The clearest analysis of these changes that I have read is from Ekklesia. Briefing on ESA Regulations [Ekklesia] I recommend that you read this.
Please write to your MP urgently to oppose these new regulations. You can find and contact your email through Write to Them. My own communication with my MP will be available on this blog later today.
Please share this and other blogs about this subject on Twitter with the hashtag #esaSOS as well as on Facebook and anywhere else you think suitable. A tweet of your own will have far more impact than a retweet.
Please also add your signature to the War On Welfare petition to call for a cumulative impact assessment of this government’s welfare reforms.