New claimants, judged to be capable of work with appropriate support, could be given just 50p more per week than people on job seekers allowance.
Current recipients get almost £30 per week more. This is to meet additional costs that arise because of a person’s disability.
The Department for Work and Pensions said the ESA proposals were “not government policy.”
The documents reveal that the government has also been forced to hire extra staff to clear the backlog on the benefit.
Some 100 healthcare professionals are being hired to carry out fitness-for-work tests. The staff, who will be employed through the Pertemps agency, will help to reduce a backlog of more than 600,000 cases.
They will be in addition to any extra staff brought in when a new contractor is announced shortly to replace ATOS. The American firm, Maximus, has been awarded the contract. Controversies and scandals have been unearthed by UK researchers since Maximus was handed the lucrative contract in July to deliver the government’s new health and work service in England and Wales.
Leaked documents over the summer showed that ministers considered ESA – formerly known as incapacity benefit – to be “one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government”.
They also revealed “concerns” about claimants moving off jobseekers allowance onto ESA.
Giving consideration to cutting the differential paid to ESA recipients in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) – individuals who have to prepare for employment – is a reflection of that concern. However these are people that have been declared unfit for work by their doctor. They currently receive £28.75 more per week but the documents show plans are being discussed to cut that to just 50p more than jobseekers allowance. People receiving JSA, who are aged 25 or over, currently get £72.40 per week.
However, disabled people do have have additional needs and higher living costs, which is why ESA was set at a higher amount than JSA. Furthermore, because ESA is paid to people who can’t work, that means they are potentially reliant on benefit to meet their living costs indefinitely, and certainly longer term than those claiming JSA. ESA wasn’t designed to be such a temporary means of support as JSA was.
Employment and Support Allowance is paid to approximately two million people. Claimants have to undergo an extremely controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to determine whether they are eligible and at what level.
Many people have been wrongly assessed as fit for work, and have been forced to appeal in order to receive the benefit that they are entitled to, and the high success rate of appeals in itself indicates that the WCA is deeply flawed. People have died within weeks of being told they are fit for work, also indicating that this assessment process is heavily weighted towards ensuring that sick and disabled people lose their lifeline benefit.
Labour MP, Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, said she would support overhauling the delivery of ESA but: “did not envisage any reduction in the value of the benefit.”
She added: “That’s not reform, that is just saving money. I hope that is not something the government is going to come forward with.”
Of course the Conservatives have used the word “reform” as a euphemism for severe cuts since 2010.
If we look at how the Coalition austerity cuts have been targeted, we see that:
- People in poverty are targeted 5 times more than most citizens
- Disabled people are targeted 9 times more than most citizens
- Disabled people needing social care are targeted 19 times more than most citizens.