Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Paradox of ESA's Work-Related Activity Group and nasty plans to cut it.

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'.

The Paradox

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.

The Change

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.


  1. That was a very calm and collected "rant". Good for you. All I can think of is that you (singular or plural) need a good journalist in the right publication or TV program to do an article series or TV series about the double-bind you're in: WRAG+rare disorder. Folks should be up-in-arms if they just understand what's going on.
    The gov't can't make very much money just stealing it from such a small target group, only 5000 people.

    1. Unfortunately, it isn't just us 5,000 that will be affected by the proposed cut. We're just the group that shows it to be completely ludicrous. I can't find solid data, but I think there'll be about 1,000,000 people affected.

      Also, you're incorrectly assuming the media cares. The media has been complicit in this by purposefully misinforming people about what the WRAG actually is. They tell people it's "people who can work" and are just fraudulently 'trying it on'.

    2. Most often in the last five years, they've said "could work with the right support", which is true of some. The design idea is that everyone in the WRAG or SG is sufficiently affected by their condition(s) that they cannot reasonably be expected to work - hence people moving directly from either group to work without getting better is not contradictory. Some (not all) people in each group could work under the right circumstances, but it's unreasonable to expect them to. "Fit for work" is a misleading short expression as well. It means "there's no reason to think it would be unreasonable to expect you to work".

      And the SG is people who can't be reasonably expected to do things to prepare for a possible return to work.

      Those are very reasonable design principles for the two groups. It's just once that premise was set in place, they didn't both actually making what happens next fit either that idea, or the varied realities of the people in the groups.

    3. I'm not main stream media but happy to write your (or anyones) story. I can't guarantee more than a handful of people will see. I write for The News Hubs and Blasting News. My previous articles can be found here:

      You can get in touch with me through my blog

  2. Its just one nightmare after another with this government. Never had enough to properly cover my disability re mobility & now unsure if the money I have is going to be cut. Already struggling as husband had to give up more lucrative job as just too stressful when he is also looking after me and son with mental health condition who has been sanctioned because he can't cope with the support meetings so my benefit stretching further than should and my electric wheelchair needs new batteries but can't afford them so gradually can do less per charge. I am sure there are worse than me. But having been one of the few people to "pass" the Atos assessment because of multiple health problems & being in my early 60s I still don't feel safe. I just wonder what next? Am I going to end up either on street or locked in some institution?

  3. It's even worse than anyone can imagine. Further cuts to housing benefits, along with paying council tax and bedroom tax, will see some people left with little more than £30 per week for all bills, food and travel. How can very sick people who cannot walk far afford taxi fares to their G.P.s and hospital appointments? How will they pay for extra heating or specialist foods? How will they afford travel to their workfare provider?

    Along with those on JSA, these further cuts to housing benefits will see many in abject poverty much like any 3rd world country. I do have good family and friends but it will mean that I have to rely on them more and more, and this can put a lot of pressure on relationships. Many people have no family at all: what will they do?

    I'm ashamed to be called 'British'.

  4. Like your article about the NSF. I'm a sighted N24 and it's soothing to read articles like what you wrote.