Employment and support allowance (ESA), the benefit that provides support if you are too ill or become so disabled that you cannot work, is failing on every level.
Today, the Spartacus network of disability campaigners – all sick or disabled ourselves – launches its report Beyond Barriers, the most up to date analysis of how the ESA, the Work Programme and the workplace itself is preventing disabled people from finding employment, reaching their full potential and is failing to save the taxpayer money.
The assumptions on which the ESA was founded in 2008: that the caseload was too high; that incapacity benefit was too easily accessible; that there were people claiming IB who weren’t ill enough to merit it; that work is pretty much universally “good for you” are unsound. The structure, set by the Department for Work and Pensions, that decides who does or doesn’t qualify is inadequate, inconsistent and incomplete; medical evidence is not sought in enough cases; many centres are inaccessible to the disabled people they must assess and successful appeals have hit an all-time high of 43%, the highest of any benefit.
But perhaps the greatest failure of all is the lack of support for those told they must find work and assured they will be “supported at every stage”. Just 5% of those referred to the Work Programme on ESA have found sustained work. Providers are accused of “cherry-picking” the easiest to help claimants while “parking” those with greater needs with little or no contact. There is no communication between ESA and the Work Programme, meaning that, astonishingly, a work provider rarely has any knowledge or understanding of the disability affecting someone’s ability to work. In practice they often treat the sick or disabled person just like any other jobseeker.
To complete the cycle of failure, it is clear that the workplace is all too often still not a welcoming place for people who suffer from long-term health conditions, mental health issues or disabilities. Disabled people with similar abilities and qualifications to non-disabled people are less likely to be in work, are paid less, are more likely to live in poverty and they report high levels of discrimination awhen seeking work.
In the 21st century it is possible to do so much more: flexible working; innovative schemes; more fluid support with easier transition on and off social security. We could make sure that someone trying to access support can find all the information they need – work support, training, rehabilitation, benefits advice and health care in one place from one supportive adviser or caseworker. We could improve the ability of people who still need some support to do a little work and make that work pay.
But if we don’t engage employers and businesses and ensure that they do more than “aspire” to including sick and disabled people in their structures, just how much can the state do to ensure that everyone achieves their full potential?
Our report sets out our vision for what should replace ESA, how the marketplace can better accommodate all workers, regardless of impairment and how a work programme might function that actually offered the support now promised but not delivered.
Crucially, the report concludes: “A system that works for sick and disabled people, while also creating value for taxpayers, need not be a contradiction in terms. But to achieve it, we must first be prepared to listen.”
Follow #BeyondBarriers on Twitter and Facebook today and join us in calling for a better deal for people living with illnesses or disabilities and their carers.