Tag Archives: Employment and Support Allowance

Comprehensive spending review: little for social care

The months of rumours, leaks and speculation are over; the Comprehensive Spending Review has finally been announced. As expected, for social care, it does not make for fun reading.

Here are some of my immediate thoughts, based on Chancellor George Osborne’s speech and a (very) swift look at the spending review document. While the review obviously affects everyone in some way, I’m going to try to focus on the impact it could have on people with mental health issues and/or learning disabilities.

Firstly, it should be noted that there is very little geared specifically to people with learning disabilities and/or mental health issues. For instance, specific mentions of ‘learning disability’ (or disabilities) does not get one mention and ‘mental health’ only 2. I didn’t expect there to be; today is the day for grand statements, with the detail to come at a later date.

In terms of what was said, while Osborne promised an extra £2 billion for social care in the next five years, including £1 billion to aid joint working between health and social care, he mentioned that this would help older people – no mention of adults with disabilities.

Also, BBC health reporter Nick Triggle worries this could be more or less cancelled out by the increasing demand of the aging population.

Meanwhile, benefit reform will ensure that it “always pay to work”, according to Osborne. Benefits are to be capped at no more than the average net wage from 2013 – which will work out to about £500 per week for couple/lone parent household and £350 per week for single adult households – although people receiving Disability Living Allowance are exempt from this.

However, this may well hit people on incapacity benefit/Employment and Support Allowance and other benefits, especially those who are moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance from ESA. The focus of the welfare reform is evidently on people getting jobs, with benefits cut to make it more of an incentive to work.

There is also a new 12-month time limit proposed for the one million people on ESA in the Work Related Activity Group to find work or face having their benefits cut.

But surely this will be dependent on the jobs being out there for people to take? Many people on ESA would like to take up jobs – part or full-time – but with many businesses not looking to take on employees, and the public sector set to shed 490,000 jobs, there are precious few available and competition for them will be fierce.

The reforms to housing benefit will also hit many people with learning disabilities and/or mental health issues, especially those living in London and the southeast, where property prices are generally higher than in the rest of the UK.

Potentially, the adverse impact of money worries on people with mental health issues or learning disabilities could be immense, as could the upheaval of having to move, if they now cannot afford the rent on their homes. For someone to have to move away from an area they know – including a network of informal support – to somewhere new could have a disastrous effect on a person.

Not all bad news

But the CSR wasn’t all bad for social care; there were a couple of positive notes from the Chancellor.

Firstly, personal budgets are to be extended to people with long-term health conditions, children with disabilities and special educational needs and adult social care. The commitment to personalisation is welcome and, for some people, personal budgets have made a tangible positive difference to their lives. Giving more people the option to do this is a good thing. Whether their budget will be enough to do this is another matter.

Likewise, the commitment to increase talking therapies for people with mental health issues is also to be welcomed.

The government is also going to take forward proposals to invest nationally in mental health liaison services at police stations and courts to intervene at an early stage, diverting mentally ill offenders away from the justice system and into treatment. However, it does carry the caveat ‘subject to business case approval’.

Nevertheless, this is a good move. Far too many people with mental health problems get stuck in the justice system and opportunities for them to access treatment are often lost.

Conclusion

From an initial assessment, people with learning disabilities and/or mental health issues do not fare well out of the CSR, especially in terms of welfare and housing reform. However, I don’t think anyone – regardless of who they are – fares well out of this review.

But there are some crumbs of comfort, especially with expanding personal budgets and talking therapies, although they are probably outweighed by the cuts.

However, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the end, it is not the beginning of the end, it is the end of the beginning. Next month, government departments will set out business plans to outline how they will implement cuts. This is where the real detailed information about cuts will come at a local level, and we will all find out which departments, services, projects, charities etc will retain funding, be closed, or face hard times.

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Surprising statistics on Incapacity Benefit claimants

This statistic will be grist to the mill of those who believe that Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance claimants are just a bunch of scroungers: new government figures show that only 6% of those assessed for the benefit were deemed totally unfit for work.

Indeed, the Department for Work and Pensions press release claims that the majority of new applicants who undertook the Work Capacity Assessment (WCA) are fit to work.

But a closer look at the statistics shows that only 39% are deemed fit for work. It assumes that in those cases where the claim was closed before the assessment was completed (37%) the person is also fit for work. I’m not so sure; how many of those who dropped out simply couldn’t deal with the assessment process, for instance? It would be interesting to find out.

The figures for those deemed fit for work seem high; indeed, the Guardian notes that this is widely out of line of initial estimates made by DWP officials when the test was brought in.

So either many people trying to claim the benefit are not as ill as they were making out, or something is wrong with the test.

The test has had many critics since it was brought in to assess new claimants of ESA in 2008, including charities and service users, who, for instance, claim that it does not have the flexibility to take into account conditions that fluctuate.

For many claiming Incapacity Benefit, the WCA, along with the commitment to assess all existing claimants from October, rather than just new applications, has caused much stress and distress over the past few months. Some fear they may lose their benefits and be forced to look for work that is beyond them, or be stuck on the lower-rate Jobseeker’s Allowance.

But there is hope that things may change for the better. An independent review of the WCA was set up last month and is set to report back before the end of the year with proposals to reform the test. The scrutiny group for this includes Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer, so it should represent the concerns of service users.

A call for evidence is also being launched today to gather information on the WCA from organisations and individuals, so there is a chance for service users with concerns to get their voices heard. I have no further info on this, but if I can find a link I’ll post it up.

There is nothing wrong with the principle of testing claimants to ensure that only those with a genuine need receive the benefit. But any test must ensure that it doesn’t exclude those who do need the benefit as well, especially those with mental health issues, where conditions can fluctuate markedly over time.

In its current form, the test appears to have problems; earlier figures on the number of successful appeals – a third of claims where people were initially considered fit for work were overturned – would seem to indicate this.

Hopefully this review will iron out those problems to ensure that only genuine applicants receive Incapacity Benefit/ESA – and in the process put an end to the erroneous ‘scrounger’ accusations that dog claimants currently.

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Welfare reform plans worry disability groups

As the new government starts to get itself into gear, one of its key policies seems to be welfare reform and getting people into work – but getting it right, especially for people with disabilities or mental health problems will not be easy.

The idea of welfare reform and ending dependency on it is good – and some would say long overdue – but it has to be ensured that it is fair, especially for people with disabilities or mental health problems who are currently receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)/Incapacity Benefit (IB).

While most people with disabilities or mental health problems want to either return to or gain paid employment, some are not capable of it. Others are capable, but only perhaps certain jobs or part-time hours.

However, the Work Capability Assessment, which determines if someone is capable of work – if they are deemed capable, they are moved onto the £25-a-week lower rate Jobseekers Allowance rather than ESA/IB – is flawed, some groups claim.

For instance, Neil Coyle of the Disability Alliance, calls the Work Capability Assessment ‘unfair and ineffective’ in today’s Daily Mirror.

Meanwhile, Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, says “the current test is not up to the job of measuring whether people with mental health problems are fit for work.”

The test was trialled among new claimants at the end of 2008, and involves rigorous medical assessments carried out by an independent company. Of the 500,000 tested, only 9% remained on ESA. This test is now set to be rolled out to all 2.6 million claimants.

But this worries Farmer, fearing that people with mental health problems will be incorrectly assessed. “We urge our new Government to review the benefit assessment… so that people aren’t deprived of their benefit and forced to look for work they can’t do.

“Work can be good for mental health, but only when it is suited to the individual. The Government has proposed to sanction anyone turning down ‘reasonable offers of employment’, but people should not be forced to accept work that risks damaging their mental health, putting them back on benefits and back at square one. Sanctioning people who can’t secure an appropriate job misses the point about why they are locked out of work in the first place.”

There are other wrinkles in the government’s plan to get people into work; we are just coming out of a long and deep recession and jobs are scarce and very competitive – 2.5 million people are unemployed remember.

Despite all the efforts of various schemes to tackle stigma against people with disabilities, it does still exist; two thirds of employers are unwilling to offer someone with mental health issues a job, according to Farmer.

A solution that is fair for everyone will not be easy, but if the government is to stick to David Cameron’s quote that ‘that those who can should and those who can’t we will always help’, then this needs to be got right and concerns from such groups need to be considered, to avoid the problems that could arise from trying to get people into jobs that are not suited to them.

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