Thursday, October 15, 2009

Testing times for disabled people

From the Guardian

Testing times for disabled people

The new eligibility test for people on sickness benefit will only intensify the massive disadvantage faced by disabled people

There are some good principles behind the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), but what does the accompanying eligibility test actually mean for disabled people? The first full set of figures to show its impact suggest that more disabled people could end up in poverty.

A year ago the ESA was introduced to replace Incapacity Benefit (IB). At the same time the "work capability assessment", was introduced. Now the figures showing the impact of this new assessment have been published.

Essentially, they show that the new assessment is considerably tougher than the old one, so fewer people are being found eligible for the benefit. As eventually all existing recipients of IB will also be retested under the new assessment, the figures also show us that many people currently in receipt of IB will be found ineligible for the new benefit when retested.

Their circumstances won't have changed, their impairment will not have altered, but as the new test is tougher, they will no longer be eligible.

Disabled people still face massive disadvantage in the labour market. They are far less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people, and when in work likely to earn less. A recent survey of human resources professionals found that nine out of 10 agreed that employers would choose a non-disabled candidate over an equally qualified disabled candidate. Disabled people are also twice as likely as non-disabled people to have no qualifications, and twice as likely to live in poverty. It is clear that a benefits system that does more to help disabled people to find work, while also better supporting those furthest from the labour market, could potentially play a massive role in challenging disability poverty.

The new ESA is meant to offer disabled people better and more personalised support to get back to work. But if the assessment is made so tough that people are not getting the benefit in the first place, then they will also not be getting the support that could help them get into employment.

The benefit also includes a higher rate for those not expected to return to work. Of course this is positive, but the basic rate is just £5 more per week, and will not even begin to lift people out of poverty. The best way to save money in the long term would be to ensure disabled people have the support they need to get into work.

The extent of disability poverty in the UK should be a national scandal, and the benefits system should be a key weapon in changing the situation. Disabled people want to work and there is a crucial role for an active, engaging benefits system that offers support, challenges the continuing barriers to employment and works to lift those furthest from employment out of poverty. The key must be to get disabled people the support that they need and not to push them away from it.


BoB said...

The war both major political parties are waging on the disabled is scandalous, and of course backed up by much of the tabloid and mainstream media. Thanks for posting this piece, more people need to be aware of what people trying to get benefits for disability face.