The Welfare Reform Bill: What's wrong with time-limiting contributory ESA?
Another summarising primer on these issues for people who aren't necessarily aware of what's going on with UK disability benefits. If you know all about this already, click here for what we need to do about it today.
There are a few reasons why ESA has not become a national scandal, and one of those is that it sounds complicated. But it is vitally important, if you live in the UK it effects you and I am to try to keep this simple, so please bear with me.
Employment Support Allowance is replacing all the old incapacity benefits. It is awarded to people who are considered unable to work due to illness, injury or disability. There are various different levels of benefit, depending on one's level of impairment and National Insurance contributions.
The most serious issue about ESA in the Welfare Reform bill is that for most people on the benefit, there will be a time-limit of one year. These are people who
There are four very serious problems with this proposal
Wealthier people, whose partners have well-paid jobs are unlikely to experience real hardship. Single people without savings will not become much poorer. However, the Disability Alliance calculates that on average, a person on this benefit will lose £50 per week. Many people will lose closer to £100.
A partner's income begins to effect benefits at £7500 a year - that's about a twenty-four hour working week at minimum wage. That's still a rather poor household, who cannot afford to lose a penny.
Benefits for people out of work due to ill health have always been higher than unemployment benefit because
Becoming incapacitated for work involves many losses and a loss of income, together with a more frugal lifestyle is inevitable. Nobody asks that those unable to work should be paid anything like what a person could earn in work.
However, some disabled people have savings or money they've inherited. People affected by the time-limit will face the prospect of having to live off this money, which either they or someone else had worked hard for, resisting all the temptations they might have spent it on.
There has always been some irony in the disincentives to save money for people who might end up on means-tested benefits, but for disabled people, who crucially, have no other means of improving their situation, this seems particularly unfair. Especially, when the three most common scenarios for a disabled person with savings would be either
3. Pressure on Sick People.
There's no condition in the world, physical, sensory, mental or intellectual, which might benefit from a ticking clock. In fact, I believe the presence of a time limit could be deadly dangerous in two ways:
Last January, Aliquant wrote this post about how, feeling cornered by the benefits system, suicide seemed quite rational. It's a powerful post because Ali was so articulate; she simply couldn't cope with the risk of more homelessness, further hardship or having to jump through any more hoops. Soon after, 5 Quid for Life was set up, a charity to help people like Ali survive when things go wrong. Since then, the benefits situation has been implicated in at least ten suicides.
4. Damage Caused to Relationships
Money can't buy you love and poverty doesn't destroy it, but relationships can become a lot tougher when when one partner has literally no income and crucially, no means of bringing in money if they want to. I see three effects of this:
The government's motives for this are deeply cynical.
Years back, when ESA was first discussed by the then Labour Government, the disability blogosphere and messageboards were awash with anxiety about sick people being pressured into work that they just couldn't get. I wrote a post on BBC Ouch! explaining that logically, we had nothing to fear. If Employment Support Allowance was to have a "Work Group", the government simply had to get these people into work. If vast numbers of us were placed in this Work Group, who didn't have a hope of getting a job, we would become bad statistics.
The Conservative Government came up with a way round this, which is to make these people disappear. Anyone on this band of ESA with savings or a working partner will simply disappear after twelve months. They will not add to the unemployment statistics because they have been declared unfit for work. They will not be claiming any benefit at all.
Here is the link I gave you at the top: This is what we need to do now.
(A draft version of this may have appeared in your feed-reader last night - sorry about that! I was so confident that I couldn't accidentally publish my drafted post in the new style Blogger (as I often did in the old one), but hey, I found a way.)