Benefits: how much information are the authorities holding back?

It might look like another boring benefit claim form to you, but to some people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, the sight of an ESA50 is enough to trigger anxiety, panic, or even heart attacks.

The British economy might be out of recession but the Coalition cuts regime marches ever onward – especially if you are claiming – or lucky enough to be receiving – the much-maligned Employment and Support Allowance.

(It was never about dealing with our economic difficulties, you see. It was always about shrinking the state and cutting the number of people dependent on it for their living – by one method or another).

The latest wheeze among Job Centre Plus staff appears to be the practice of missing out important information about your benefit such as, for example, the fact that being put in the work-related activity group of ESA claimants means you only receive the benefit for 365 days and during that period you should try to make yourself ready for work. After then, you will be put on Jobseekers’ Allowance and subjected to all the sanctions and requirements that entails – including, presumably, Workfare.

Can you imagine what would happen to someone with agoraphobia, who suffers from panic attacks, if they were put on a work placement scheme?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the authorities wouldn’t be ignorant enough to put anyone in a work placement that might be harmful to their health or to their attempts to recover from their condition. Well, if you’re on ESA, all I can say is good luck with that. I’ll be back in a year or so to ask how it worked out for you.

We all know of many cases in which people with disabilities or health problems have been put into situations that have worsened their conditions. The most famous examples were terminal – the people involved are now dead. I understand the average number of deaths per week is now 78. Iain Duncan Smith must be beside himself with joy.

But there are many others who, although they are being pushed to the limit by a system that has been twisted to make it as unhelpful as possible, are still persevering. I know of people who have been put on the work-related activity group of ESA, but weren’t told about the time limit and were left high and dry when the money ran out.

Are you on ESA? Are you in the work-related activity group? Do you know when your benefit will end?

At least that person was lucky enough to receive notification of what was happening to them. Another person, on heavy medication for painful conditions, did not realise they had been moved from Incapacity Benefit to ESA and was astonished to find they had taken and work capability assessment and failed it. The result? They were kicked off the benefit. Fortunately, they appealed and won. But the experience was extremely traumatic.

Make no mistake – this is a system that is designed to intimidate you; to weaken you; to push you into the sidelines in the hope that you’ll go away and be no more bother to those who run it.

“The Work Capability Assessment is being continually reviewed and refined, through a series of annual independent reviews, with improvements resulting in a fairer and more accurate system,” according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

That’s excluding where you live, apparently.

10 thoughts on “Benefits: how much information are the authorities holding back?

  1. Steph (@wildcandytuft)

    I am that person with agoraphobia who was found fit to work last November and then had to appeal. I have since been placed in the WRAG. I got a letter back in April to tell me that the decision had be reconsidered in my favour and amongst the threats and warnings about notifying them of any change, at the end was the date when the benefit stops in Jan 2013. Absolutely no information about what to do next. I still don’t know what to expect and if I have to reapply myself before then or if they will write to me as they used to with incapacity benefit. I am currently awarded the contributory rate so it only lasts for twelve months. I’ve had panic disorder and agoraphobia for over ten years. I’ve not received any treatment recently so how I’m supposed to miraculously recover from this long term condition I don’t know? THANK HEAVENS so far I haven’t been called for any jobcentre interviews. Appointments and interviews are exactly the sort of situations that trigger anticipatory anxiety, worsen already seriously intolerable insomnia, deep depression and massive panic attacks. I worry every day and night about what will happen if the phone rings and I’m made to face a fear I simply can’t cope with. Sanctions I guess? The stress for anyone is off the scale, but when you have anxiety this whole process and the fear of what’s coming next and for the future can completely dominate your existence. No amount of trying harder or wishing myself better will change my condition but according to the DWP I should have improved by January. How?

    1. Mike Sivier

      For the sake of clarity, I should point out that you’re not the exact individual to whom I was referring in the article, Steph. Having said that, I’m grateful that you’ve posted your experiences because what you have written is a first-hand account of the kind of treatment people are getting from the DWP and Job Centre Plus. Mrs Mike is in the same position – apparently her deadline for recovery, from a condition that has plagued her since 2001, is August next year. After that – to be honest, I’m not sure whether she’ll go straight onto JSA or be knocked off benefits altogether and have to re-apply – and I’m not prepared to believe she’ll be told what to do at the appropriate time.
      Does anyone else have information about this?

      1. Steph (@wildcandytuft)

        Hi Mike, my Dad phoned the DWP recently for me but no one was able to tell him what happens next, other than if I was still not able to work I’d be means tested. How the transfer from the contributory to the means tested rate occurs I don’t know, but I’m certain it will involve another work capability assessment, ESA50 and I expect to have to appeal again. If Mrs Mike is still unwell, which is likely given that her illness/condition is long term she will be able to reapply for ESA. However, everything now is dependent upon the income of a partner if they do work. So if you have an income or savings, it may well be that she won’t be entitled to either ESA on the reduced means tested rate or JSA if she did (hypothetically) recover. I must find out soon. To be honest, I’ve been avoiding it because it sends me into despair. It seems particularly cruel to just stop a benefit when someone is still sick. Not only are they denied access to this (so called) support but they are left with no independent income and all the financial hardship and emotional strain this will certainly cause. If a person is single, would they want to embark on a new relationship knowing that should they decide to live together, then they will instantly lose their ESA and suddenly become completely dependent on their new partner? I’ll find out before Mrs Mike so will let you know.

  2. Roy Davis

    Why are people not using the legal system? If the government are causing illness and injury Sue their arses

    1. Mike Sivier

      I would imagine lack of funds has a lot to do with it, Roy. Legal Aid for advice on welfare issues is being scrapped, as I understand it, from April next year, also.

  3. Phil

    I’m another of those people who, while not exactly suffering from agoraphobia, I’m suffering from PTSD and crowded high stress situations trigger panic and anxiety attacks and even dissociation.

    I’m currently in the WRA group and using that to try hard to develop a business through the permitted work scheme whereby I can earn an income without having to go out, meet people and end up in triggering situations, but the help out there for somebody trying to do something like me is so negligible as to be non existent.

    I’ve just received my ESA50 and I’m losing sleep at night over it, with it being likely, (due to the date range of the assessment that I will get), that I will lose my benefits over Christmas when there is nowhere to go for help, which as a male single parent leaves me distraught.

    If this goes on, I can see myself http://www.calumslist.org shortly as the pressure this is putting on me is so great 🙁

      1. Phil

        I have, (luckily), quite a good support network around me that will help, (with me hosting several of the websites that Atos closed down in Iceland where they are protected), but even with this support network, (that many don’t have), it’s still causing me undue stress 🙁

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