Whatever you think of workfare, retroactive laws are wrong

IDS - "We've heard enough of you"
“We’ve heard enough of you.”

Iain Duncan Smith is rushing a bill through in just one day that will retroactively change the law to undo a court judgement against the government.

Even if you don’t believe that it is wrong to send people to work unpaid for large profit-making companies under threat of loss of benefits, the idea that the government can change the law in the past should terrify you. Human rights law includes the idea that a person cannot be punished for something that was not illegal until after the act, although no doubt the department of work and pensions will claim that sanctions that remove benefit are not punishment despite the name “sanctions”. A government that will change the law in the past at will is a government that is out of control and has no limits on the damage that it can do.

Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP must be aware that their actions will contravene human rights law. From the explanatory notes:

“The Government considers that Article 6 is not engaged at all since the claim to entitlement to benefit, and any dispute regarding a benefit decision thereon which would require access to the courts, remains hypothetical.”

Strangely, despite considering article 6, the right to a fair trial, the government don’t even mention article 7, which guarantees rights against retroactive punishment. They could try to argue, as quoted above, that entitlement to benefit is hypothetical and therefore sanctions are withdrawal not punishment.

It is an affront to democracy and justice too to rush a bill through in one day so as to apply it without proper scrutiny before any appeal reaches the court and the government required to repay those who were subject to illegal sanctions.

To change the law for the future is one thing, but to try to reverse a lawful decision by the court against the government for the sake of £130 million, a drop in the ocean for welfare, looks like a childish hissy fit by the work and pensions secretary. His action undermines the rule of law and destroys what little respect people may have left for MPs.

parliament.uk: Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill 2012-13

DWP: Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill Impact Assessment [PDF]


Update 19:25

The government rushed through the second reading, committee stage (no ammendments) and third reading in one afternoon. The final vote passed the bill by 263 to 52. Labour’s official policy was to abstain, although about forty Labour MPs voted against it. There were some very impassioned speeches in particular from Iain Lavery and John McDonnell who even recommended looking at the Boycott Workfare website.I have uploaded videos of those speeches and included them here. They’re worth a watch.

Bedroom tax: just stop smoking and drinking says housing association

Eastlands homes newsletter about bedroom tax The latest issue of Streets Ahead, the newsletter of housing association Eastlands Homes in Manchester has this advice on dealing with the bedroom tax.

“Can you really afford Sky, cigarettes, bingo, drinks and other non essentials? If your benefit is being cut and you want to keep your home you have to make up the difference. Non-essential items won’t matter if you lose your home. Start budgeting now – we can help you do this, call us!”

This is outrageous for several reasons. It implies that all social housing tenants are unable to budget and will put those things first. It implies that they need things explaining to them at such a patronising level. It assumes that people on benefits are feckless and stupid rather than unlucky. It refers to cutting out everything nice in your life as “budgeting”. It assumes that people even could afford those things in the first place without scrimping and saving. It assumes that no person on housing benefit should ever have even minor luxuries, the tiniest of nice things. That poor people should sit in a corner, shut up, stare at the wall with no TV on it, never go out socially, and wait for their miserable existence to end.

I want to see an apology and a retraction from Eastlands Homes for this insulting language and perpetuating of stereotypes.

Eastlands Homes are on Facebook and Twitter.


Update 2013-03-18 13:30

Eastlands Homes have put out an apology of sorts. Unfortunately it’s a “sorry if you were offended” which implies it’s your fault rather than a “sorry we got it wrong”.

https://twitter.com/EastlandsHomes/status/313621705069322241

An Apology

18/03/2013

We’re sorry if our article offended you.

We’ve lobbied continuously against the government cuts which threaten the quality of life for many of our customers. We’ve increased the range of support and advice for anyone struggling in the face of these cuts as you will see from our newsletter.
We know there will be stark choices – our message is that we are here to help wherever possible and we’re sorry if we worded that clumsily.

The offence isn’t caused by their wording. The offence is caused by the whole view that they have of their tenants that their statement betrays.

Confusion over the Bedroom Tax

There appears to be some confusion over a possible rethink of the Bedroom Tax. It seems that Iain Duncan Smith has told BBC News home editor one thing, while his department SPADs are claiming another. It shows just how bad things are in government. It seems to be chaos, with policies announced on the fly and ministers and departments contradicting each other.

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304637207417847808

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304639950433943552

https://twitter.com/BBCMarkEaston/status/304642876183285760

https://twitter.com/dwppressoffice/status/304664240483090434

 

BBC News: ‘Bedroom tax’ rules re-examined

What is the bedroom tax?

Iain Duncan Smith: “There is no bedroom tax”

Iain Duncan Smith: There is no bedroom tax

“There’s no such thing as the bedroom tax. It’s nonsense. There is no bedroom tax.”

– Iain Duncan Smith.

I believe that the Under Occupancy Penalty is a tax. It will deduct 14% or 25% of a household’s rent from their housing benefit if they have a spare bedroom and live in social housing.

Tax is defined as:

“A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions”

The bedroom tax for many people is impossible to avoid since there are few available one bedroom homes. Money that is deducted from housing benefit as a penalty for having a spare bedroom will contribute to government. Housing benefit is income. (Albeit income that is all passed on to the landlord to pay rent.) I believe that the under occupation penalty fits the definition of a tax.

In any case, it does not matter what the government choose to call something. The community charge will forever be the poll tax. Enforced unpaid work for benefits is always referred to as workfare despite the best efforts of the DWP. In two hundred years the under occupancy penalty will still be known as the bedroom tax and will be seen in history alongside the window tax.

What is the bedroom tax?

Iain Duncan Smith slips up: “She was paid jobseeker’s allowance to do this”

IDS the puppermaster
Illustration by @dochackenbush

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed on the Andrew Marr show today. He made some telling statements.

“I understand she said she wasn’t paid. She was paid jobseeker’s allowance, by the taxpayer, to do this.”

Funny, the government have always said that this wasn’t a work-for-your-benefits scheme but IDS seems to think it is.  In fact, the official response by the DWP to a petition to abolish Workfare said:

“We do not have Work for Your Benefit or Workfare schemes in this country.”

Furthermore, in a response to a Freedom of Information request the DWP said:

“Benefit is not paid to the claimant as remuneration for the activity. “

They continue:

“Instead, performing it is one of a number of conditions which may have to be fulfilled by the claimant in order to be paid Jobseeker’s Allowance.  The relationship between the claimant, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and any third parties involved in providing the activity is not one of employment.”

In my opinion that is a serious mistake by IDS. If, as IDS says, benefits are being paid as wages for work experience schemes, then it I suspect that it breaches minimum wage laws. If they are not, as officially claimed by his department, then we have forced unpaid labour. I thought that people paid National Insurance in the expectation that when people needed help they would be supported. Having to work for it is a breach of contract.

“I’m sorry, but there is a group of people out there who think they’re too good for this kind of stuff.”

People don’t think they’re too good for shelf stacking, they think they’re too good for shelf stacking without receiving a fair wage for it. Is “A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” really a controversial statement in the 21st century?

“Who is more important – them, the geologist, or the person who stacked the shelves?”

Every person is important, including shelf stackers. Geologists are pretty important especially in the oil industry.

“Let me remind you that [former Tesco chief executive] Terry Leahy started his life stacking shelves.”

He was paid for it!

BBC News: Duncan Smith: Shelf-stacking is more important than geology

My thanks to @A11_Seeing_Eye and @Spoonydoc for help with this article.

UPDATE

Iain Duncan Smith was interviewed by James O’Brien on LBC who put the question of remuneration to him. Listen:

DWP work schemes found illegal

The Court of Appeal has ruled today that the Department of Work and Pensions back-to-work schemes are illegal because the regulations that Iain Duncan Smith created to allow the schemes overstepped the law. (An act of Parliament allows for regulations to be created to specify the detail of the law, these regulations went further than Parliament had allowed for.) The court did not find that the schemes violated article 4 of the Human Rights Act, nor did it find that the concept of making people undertake work experience to increase employment prospects would be a problem were it in an act of parliament. Since these work schemes have been proven to actually reduce employment prospects, however, it is possible that the schemes may yet be found to violate human rights.

Public Interest Lawyers explain the judgement:

“The Court found that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, has acted beyond the powers given to him by Parliament by failing to provide, any detail about the various “Back to Work” schemes in the Regulations. The Government had bypassed Parliament by introducing the Back to Work schemes administratively under an “umbrella” scheme knwons as the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme, claiming the need for “flexibility’. The Court of Appeal held that this was contrary to what Parliament had required.”

Paragraph 63 of the judgment criticises the information given to the benefit claimants. I have covered this in previous blog posts (Mandatory unpaid work – the evidence) where I explained that letters sent out state clearly that the work experience is not optional and will result in sanctions while DWP ministers have simultaneously appeared on TV to claim that the work is voluntary and that they have not forced anyone.

Public Interest Lawyers also tell us that:

“The effect of the judgment is that all those people who have been sanctioned by having their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the Back to Work Schemes affected will be entitled to reclaim their benefits. And until new regulations are enacted with proper Parliamentary approval nobody can be compelled to participate on the schemes.”

The two people who brought this case were made to take part in Sector based work Academies and in the Community Action Programme. I do no know whether this judgement affects Work Experience arranged either by the Job Centre or as part of The Work Programme however it does not affect Mandatory Work Activity, which remains legal. It should be noted that some people who refused to co-operate with “voluntary” work experience were referred to Mandatory Work Activity as a result which allowed for sanctions, but this was not covered either.

In a written statement today Minster for Employment Mark Hoban MP said:

“Whilst the judgment supports the principle and policy of our employment schemes, and acknowledges the care and resources we have dedicated to implementing them, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011 (“the ESE Regulations”) do not describe the employment schemes to which they apply, as is required by the primary legislation. The Court of Appeal has therefore held the ESE Regulations to be ultra vires and quashed them.”

The government has been refused leave to appeal by the Court of Appeal but despite this they have announced that they will appeal to the supreme court to have the judgement overturned. Job Seekers who have been sanctioned by the DWP will not be able to appeal to the DWP for the repayment of their benefits until this has finished. Worryingly the minister also stated that the DWP are “considering a range of options to ensure we do not have to repay these sanctions.” This suggests to me that there will be a hastily enacted act of Parliament to move the scheme from regulations into law, but even then I cannot see how it could be retroactive.

Further Reading

The lawyers: Court of Appeal Rules that the Government’s “Back to Work” Regulations are Unlawful and Must Be Quashed

The Judges: Full judgement of the Court Of Appeal [PDF]

The DWP: Written Ministerial Statement: Judgment in Wilson/Reilly case [PDF]

The regulations: The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011

The Guardian: Graduate’s Poundland victory leaves government work schemes in tatters

Telling the full story of benefit changes

Mainstream media has shown very little interest in covering the coming changes to benefits and the impact that this will have. There is an occasional segment on TV news and a few more newspaper articles but even after two years of campaigning few people realise what is actually happening. The common reaction is disbelief and accusations of scaremongering and exaggeration.

My idea is to create an hour long documentary film using all the professional tricks to make it compelling and informative so that it conveys the full impact of the changes hitting people who live on benefits, whether unemployed, disabled or low-income. It would use personal stories, graphics, commentary, interviews and music to tell the story. The film does not have to convey a political message, only the reality of the changes. Any positive changes that can be found should be included too. I believe that even if made as unbiased as possible the film will be devastating in its message.

To get mainstream appeal the film could be narrated by and feature interviews with celebrities, with well-known paralympians potentially being the best choice but others too.

While a spot on television would be the ideal, these days a film on YouTube can get millions of views – potentially more than would see on TV. An online campaign using very short clips and hashtags could attract viewers. To raise the chances of it being seen on TV a ten minute version could be made using materials from the full version and sent to TV stations everywhere.

I’ve noted some of the steps that I think will be required. They’re not necessarily in any particular order.

  • Find a suitable name and some introductory branding
  • Create a website for the film
  • Crowdsource a list of all benefit cuts, eligibility reductions, care and service cuts and the impact of all this.
  • Start an awareness campaign on social media to get people involved.
  • Ask people to submit short clips through Vine and YouTube telling their stories and what they expect to happen. Clips can be recorded with smartphones or webcams. Gather these clips under a hashtag on twitter.
  • Raise funds through donations  for travelling to record interviews.
  • Interested parties meet to discuss content. Further meetings where appropriate in later steps.
  • Record interviews with celebs.
  • Follow up personal stories for better recordings.
  • Create graphics and animations to explain the changes.
  • Edit together a draft version of the film.
  • Record narration of the changes.
  • Create transcripts and subtitles.
  • Meet up physically and make a final version of the film.

This is all very much at the ideas stage, please comment with your views, suggestions, offers of help etc. Lets make this happen!

Concerns about prepaid benefit cards

The use of prepaid cash cards for benefit payments surfaced a few months ago. The Telegraph published a story that Iain Duncan Smith had asked his advisers to look at paying benefits to “problem families” on smart cards to limit their spending so that they could not buy alcohol or drugs. I wrote at that time about why the scheme is an awful idea including the imposition of the “nanny state” into people’s lives, inability to spend money locally where cards are not accepted and the impact of depriving people of entertainment and pleasure.

That was not an announcement of government policy, and indeed would go against Iain Duncan Smith’s stated aim that Universal Credit will teach financial responsibility and budgeting by unifying many benefits into one monthly payment. However in December Alec Shelbrooke MP introduced a ten minute rule bill to pay most benefits through such a scheme. Shelbrooke specifically intended the welfare cash card as a means to restrict spending by people who receive benefits, including housing benefit paid to people who work. The Telegraph wrote:

The Bill for Welfare Cash Card is designed to stop welfare claimants buying what Shelbrooke deems “NEDD” goods – Non-Essential, Desirable and often Damaging – which include cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. It would not affect those who cannot work and receive disability-related payments or those on the state pension, but it would apply to all other in-work or out-of-work benefits.

The Welfare Cash Card Bill 2012-13 is due for a second reading in March. A ten minute rule bill does not have the backing of government and is unlikely to become law but it may well influence debate and opinion in parliament and could pave the way for a government-backed bill.

I had hoped that this was the end of it, but today thinktank Demos has published a report advocating the use of prepaid debit cards for benefits. The report is backed by MasterCard, although Claudia Wood, the main author of the report has said that they had no input over the content.

https://twitter.com/WoodClaudia/status/296576264767160320

Prepayment cards for social care

Recommendation 1
In the face of unprecedented budget cuts, local authorities should explore the possibility of using prepaid cards for the distribution of personal budgets, as a tool to reduce administrative costs and reduce the budgetary cuts passed to front-line services. From Demos report The Power of Prepaid

Wood has written an article in The Guardian (With little to indicate that she is the author of the Demos report) explaining that Demos does not advocate using the cards to restrict spending, but as a tool for local authorities to allow better auditing and reduce paperwork. She writes:

“Brent council in north London estimates it was receiving 25,000 pieces of paper a year from care users. It expects a 10% reduction in its personal budget costs by using prepay cards.”

Ally Fogg has written a piece for Comment is Free about the potential savings for councils and the drawbacks – The dubious benefits of welfare payment cards. It seems that councils agree that there are savings to be made. According to Wood,

“About 25% of local authorities are using prepay cards and another 30% plan on doing so this year, mainly to distribute direct payments in social care.”

However while I can see a point here – that councils must audit spending of social care funding and direct payments, that doing so it expensive, that checking transactions from a prepaid card account is easier – I am not happy with the privacy implications. In order to audit the use of social care funding, councils will have to monitor the use of the card. At the moment recipients of Direct Payments have to send in paperwork every so often. One person told me theirs is checked annually. Monitoring of a payment card account, on the other hand, would be continuous or frequent. It may cause stress or fear of mistakes especially if a person chooses to juggle their finances and delay a payment.

Then there is the issue of how money is actually moved to pay for goods and services. Prepayment cards can usually pay through VISA or Mastercard services and so can be used in shops and online. The kind of payment card account that Demos advocate (and it is really a kind of bank account) could allow cash withdrawal, direct debits and bank transfers, which would allow payment to Personal Assistants and carers directly employed by a disabled person.

Prepayment card for Universal Credit

Recommendation 4
Prepaid cards should be used as a secure way to distribute Universal Credit for the unbanked.

From Demos report The Power of Prepaid

Prepaid cards might be a reasonable option for people who do not have bank accounts, but that should be entirely their choice. The Demos report mentions those who fear or do not want a bank account as potential candidates, but frankly if they don’t want a bank account then they won’t want a prepaid card which is basically a bank account with more limits. They especially will not want one which is selected and pushed on them by local or national government. If benefits must be paid into an electronic account then I think that the only acceptable solution here is to allow the recipient to select one. Basic bank accounts are available to most people barring some with particular criminal records and those without any form of ID, and I can’t see prepaid cards being available without ID. If someone who is actually unable to get a bank account wants a prepaid card instead then the choice of which one should be theirs alone.

Recommendation 5
In the longer term, the Government should explore the possibility of using prepaid cards to distribute Universal Credit or other benefits to financially vulnerable groups, possibly integrated with direct payments in health or care.

Some care users (such as those with learning disabilities, mental health needs or older people vulnerable to financial abuse) might find prepaid cards a beneficial way to spend both their health or care personal budgets and their disability related benefits. Those seeking to live with greater independence and develop life and budgeting skills, but who may need the safety net of oversight a prepaid card can offer, would find this particularly beneficial – the alternative at the moment is usually apointeeships and managed budgets, where people have little or no financial responsibility and cannot try to take on more.

From Demos report The Power of Prepaid

Demos also recommend that prepayment cards be considered for the payment of Universal Credit for those considered financially vulnerable. The main reason for this is to monitor their spending and prevent financial abuse through carers and relatives stealing money. Again there are privacy implications depending on who carries out the monitoring, violating a person’s right to a private life. I worry that the range of people considered to be vulnerable will be far too wide, such that people who are old or have mental health problems might be forced to have a prepaid card whether it would help prevent financial abuse or not.

Should the group receiving Universal Credit overlap with the group receiving social care funding then there are serious privacy implications regarding the release of their other spending data to the people monitoring the social care spending.

Concerns

I can see that there are benefits to using prepaid cards where local government has a duty to audit spending. I can see that there would be a saving. I am concerned, all the same, that such monitoring goes beyond what they are required to do and turns something that might be fairly unintrusive and infrequent into a continuous process that will infringe on a person’s right to a private life and will cause stress.

I am concerned that splitting income into separate financial systems – bank account and prepaid card – will allow less flexibility to juggle expenses in the face of the poverty which many disabled people face. It will also cause an increase in administration. [Claudia Wood has pointed out to me that a separate bank account is already legally required for a personal budget. I do think that requiring it to be with a separate financial provider instead of the same bank is a drawback though.]

I am concerned that the prepaid card provider is chosen by government and not the individual. I do not believe that a particular bank or financial service should be forced on someone. If payments must be made electronically then the choice of bank or prepaid card provider must be up to the individual.

I am concerned that these cards will be pushed out of profit motive. Prepaid card provider allpay has already jumped to capitalise on the report from Demos to sell their prepaid cards to councils for the payment of social care funding. An article which is more or less an advertisement for allpay appeared yesterday. (Call for ‘revolutionary’ welfare payments move) The allpay website dedicates a section of its front page to talking about “Welfare reform: how we’re supporting housing associations and councils”. Payment card providers such as allpay will receive a fee every time their card is used, just as with a debit card or credit card so of course it is in their interest to see that benefits are paid through their service.

I am concerned that the use of prepaid cards will be normalised through the requirement for monitoring some payments and will then spread further to all people in receipt of benefits before being used to restrict spending. This report is a subtle shift in argument away from preventing “waste” of benefits on alcohol and cigarettes and Sky TV, and onto responsibility and independence but other politicians and groups still want the ability to dictate what benefits can be spend on. In fact Radio 4 spoke to Alec Shelbrook MP at length this morning and Shelbrook heavily pushed the idea, with Claudia Wood arguing against him. While The Guardian recognised the point that Demos were making in their coverage, The Telegraph has also covered it from the point of view of restricting spending, claiming the card would “help them stop spending taxpayer cash on gambling, cigarettes and alcohol”.

I think when considering the points raised by Demos we should keep individual freedom and privacy foremost in mind and we should realise that there are a lot of things that could be done to save money that we don’t consider acceptable compromises.

Further Reading

Thinktank recommends issuing benefit cash on ‘prepay’ cards – The Guardian

‘Welfare cash cards’ are much more than a tool of state control – article in The Guardian by the author of the Demos report

Benefits on pre-paid cards? – This Morning, Radio 4

Ministers should consider paying benefits via ‘Oyster-style’ cards – The Telegraph

Call for ‘revolutionary’ welfare payments move – an article promoting prepaid cards to councils

The Power of Prepaid – The report from Demos

‘Welfare cash cards’ can help reduce the benefits bill and stop people buying booze and fags with taxpayer’s money – Telegraph

Welfare Cash Card Bill 2012-13 – parliament.uk

The dubious benefits of welfare payment cards – Comment is free

Welfare cash cards and spying: the Tory approach to unemployment – Comment is free

 

Letter to my MP on new ESA regulations #esaSOS

As promised, although a little late due to lack of spoons, here is the email that I sent to my MP regarding the new ESA regulations. Feel free to take any text from this for your own use.

Dear Mr Luff,

I would like to apologise for the swearing incident which led you to block me on Twitter. As I am sure you must realise by now I suffer from mood swings and anger triggered by chronic pain and the painkillers which I take for it – something which will be inadmissible at my next Work Capability Assessment.

I have been shocked to read about new ESA regulations which will come into force on the 28th of January 2013 and I am writing to express my strong opposition to them. I appreciate that not much can be done at this late stage but this is in no small part due to the regulations coming into force less than six weeks after their announcement.

The new regulations allow a decision to be made about benefits based purely on the supposed difference that a suggested change, therapy, aid or medicine would make. This is already the case some of the time but will be much expanded in the new regulations. The new regulations do not require the Atos Health Care Professional (HCP) to discuss the suggested change with the benefit claimant before a decision is made by the DWP. It is of vital importance that any medicine, mobility aid or prosthetic or other change that an Atos HCP might feel would improve the claimant’s chances of working should be signed off by the patients own specialist doctors and by the claimant themselves before any decision. The Atos HCP is not the claimant’s doctor, (indeed, they are usually not a doctor at all) is not knowledgeable of the claimant’s condition, and the Work Capability Assessment, by the DWP’s own admission, is not a medical assessment.

There are numerous reasons why the change that the Atos HCP suggests might not be appropriate. It is quite possible that the change might not be available in that area or at all or might involve a very long waiting list. In Worcestershire, for example, wheelchairs are not available at all to people who can stagger around their own home. Prosthetic limbs are expensive everywhere. In many cases a person may be advised not to use a wheelchair, prosthetic limb or other aid because to do so will hasten the progression of their disease. A claimant may well have tried or considered a particular change but ruled it out because of negative side effects.

Even if the change were considered by doctors and the patient, there is the huge issue of consent. This change could compel people to take up a particular medical treatment through pressure from removal of their benefits and several legal experts have suggested that this could well breach their human rights. To push ahead with this could be extremely costly for the DWP when legal cases are brought.

Even worse than the above change, the new regulations will strictly separate the impact of mental health conditions and physical health conditions. This is an absurd change which ignores the reality of illness. Many medications for mental health problems cause physical problems, and many pain drugs cause cognitive problems. Impairments caused by a problem in the other category must be taken into account.

I do hope that you will agree with me that these regulations are a serious problem and will express your opposition to them.

Sincerely,

Latentexistence

Sneaky Work Capability Assessment rules judge you fit for work based on imaginary help

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.

ESA SOS! Refusing help
Doc Hackenbush explains the change (Click to enlarge)

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.

Further Reading

DWP guidance on the changes: Memo DMG 1/13 [PDF]

The Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012 [legislation.gov.uk]

Diary of a benefit scrounger: ESA SOS

Thousands of disabled and sick people will be hit by new ESA/WCA changes [Ekklesia]