Sheila Gilmore was a Labour member of the Commons Work and Pensions committee until she was defeated by a SNP candidate in the 2015 general election.
This Writer corresponded with her many times during the 2010-15 Parliament and I know she understands very well the plight of the sick and disabled under Conservative misrule.
I’m quoting the last few paragraphs of her Huffington Post article because I agree with another old friend of Vox Political, Samuel Miller, who says they show “it is evident that many claimants in the WRAG are as ‘unfit for work’ as those in the Support Group (SG) [of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)].”
What if the initial assumptions were wrong, and that there are not lots of ‘fit’ people sidelined onto incapacity benefits. Three quarters of those being ‘migrated ‘ from IB are not fit for work. The proportion of new claimants being found fit for work has fallen to 23%, and has been steadily falling . in addition I suspect that a good number of those declared Fit for Work, are simply not getting better, not getting jobs, getting less well and end up reapplying for ESA and being awarded benefit the second time round.If we accept that most claimants actually face significant barriers to returning to work, we need to be putting more effort into both giving them the help they need, and encouraging employers to take people on. This was what the Work Related Activity Group was intended to do, but for many the support offered is minimal . People are invited to ‘work focused interviews (in letters that contain severe warnings about the consequences of not attending) and are then sent away for a year in some cases. Box ticked but no help given. Some are referred to the Work Programme which has very poor outcomes for this group, not surprising given that those attending say that all the emphasis was on the mechanics of job search with little reference to their heath.
Taking away £30 pw of income won’t tackle these weaknesses of the system. Will there still be a Work Related Activity Group at all? The only difference from being on JSA will be less conditionality (although there is still some and examples of ESA-WRAG claimants being sanctioned).
Nor are we dealing here with people with minor illness. Charities report that 45% of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
While this change isn’t due to start until 2017 it won’t take long for it to apply to a substantial number of people . Around 700,000 apply each year for ESA, of which number around 60% proceed to full assessment (the others generally return to work before the process is complete). Currently around 14% of these go into the WRAG. That’s around 60,000 people affected every year.
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