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.