CHARITIES expressed concerns yesterday after Tory plans to force a million more sick and disabled people into work were floated by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
In a speech in London, Duncan Smith claimed that Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) needs to be urgently overhauled, because too few ESA claimants are being ‘helped to get work’. He claimed that for many people, particularly those with mental health issues, being in work acts as an effective therapy.
He made the amazing claim that: ‘Nearly 11 million adults in the UK have a common mental health condition and people are much more likely to fall out of work if they do. We also know that being out of work for four weeks or more can actually effect people’s mental health, even if the original reason for ill health was a physical one.’
Those who receive ESA have their fitness to work tested under the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Duncan Smith said those assessments should be more personalised, so if someone is able to work for a few hours they are ‘helped’ to do so. He claimed ESA had ‘a fundamental flaw. It is a system that decides you are either capable of work or you are not. This needs to change – things are rarely that simplistic’. He added that the WCA must be ‘geared towards helping to get people prepared for and into what work they may be capable of, rather than parking them beyond work’.
Charities expressed concerns that the drive to reduce the cost of ESA will mean more disabled people living in poverty. Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: ‘You need a recognition that some people are not well enough to work, and reducing the money they get will simply drive more disabled people into poverty.’
National deafblind charity Sense Chief Executive Richard Kramer said: ‘We are looking at this from the wrong end of the telescope and risk making problems worse for disabled people. The fault line is often not the benefits system but ensuring that we dismantle the many barriers that prevent people getting opportunities to work in the first place, whether that is negative attitudes from employers, failure to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace, reduced support from Access to Work and inaccessible transport. Disabled people should be encouraged, but not penalised for not finding work.’