There's a paradox in the way Employment & Support Allowance was built. It affects 5,000 of the 2.5 million ESA claimants. Very few people know about it, and even fewer care. I'm one of those 5,000 people. This group includes people with degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's dementia, or people with static but permanent conditions like my untreatable neurogenetic sleep disorder. The BBC confirmed what those of us who keep an eye on welfare have known for a while; that the Government is considering eliminating part of ESA and forcing those people to claim JSA. For us 5,000, this is a perfect storm of awfulness.
How does ESA work?
After the medical assessment ('Work Capability Assessment', WCA), people are assigned to one of three groups, the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG), Support Group or they are found 'fit for work'. Officially, and contrary to the concerted campaign of disinformation by the Government and media for the last five years, to get into the WRAG or Support Group, you must be medically incapable of any work. The difference is whether you are capable of work-related activity, like 'writing a CV'. The WRAG comes with mandated 'work related activity' which is to ostensibly 'prepare people for employment'.
There are 5,000 of us with permanent disabilities in the WRAG, classified as being "unable to work in the longer term". We are in the position of being told we need to 'prepare for employment' while the Government itself says we are very unlikely to be able to work in anything resembling a reasonable timeframe. Personally, I have been in the WRAG for 5 years, since September 2010 and am currently undergoing my 8th WCA*. My condition has only gotten worse.
That people can be told "you need to get ready to work" while being told "you can't work" by the same person defies logic.
Today, the BBC confirmed that the Government is considering eliminating the WRAG of ESA and moving us all to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA). This is (understatement) a very bad idea, for a few reasons.
1: It is not legal to claim JSA while you can't work , but if you're in the WRAG, you cannot work. These people are going to be left with no legal source of income.
2: The WCA itself is crap and inaccurate and is biased against the poorest and most disabled areas of the country, as I've discussed previously [clickable link]. In these areas, you are more likely to be found fit for work or to go into the WRAG. Removing 30% of these people's income is simply yet another attack on the poorest and most disadvantaged areas of the UK.
3: Even if the legislation was changed so these people became eligible for JSA, there is no way they could cope with the extra conditionality. People with mental illness, particularly, are already massively struggling and failing to meet the relatively lax conditionality of ESA.
"You must work, but you cannot work".
There are 5,000 of us in the WRAG of ESA with the prognosis that we will be "unable to work in the longer term". If (when?) this change goes through, we will be in the position of being permanently disabled to the point we, by the Government's own admission, cannot work. They will then punish us for not being able to work by removing the income they've already cut by 30%.
We are an oversight. Given that we are only 0.2% of the ESA case-load, it seems beyond doubt that the situation of people who are unable to work in the longer term going into the WRAG was not intended, but we are too few to make enough noise to fix this on our own. We're too few for the media to care about.
The charities that originally did the FoI request to show how many of us there were called for exemptions to this for their pet condition, shafting the rest of us without these conditions which are notable for the sympathy they elicit and their public awareness.
I've been fighting this on in my own way, including all 5,000 people. I've wrote to my MP and the media. I'm working on getting an official policy on this into my own Party, but I and the 4,999 others need help carrying all these torches. This whole policy must be opposed, but when that fight is over, the 5,000 still need your help.