Given the ongoing scandal ATOS scandal this may seem a redundant statement, however the problem isn’t just the mismanagement of the test, it is the entire benefit itself. According to the DWP overview ESA offers:
“personalised help so that you can work if you’re able to”.
“You can apply for ESA if you’re employed, self-employed or unemployed”.
This, according to the DWP, means that, like DLA, ESA is not an out of work benefit. More importantly for me it means that ESA, as I have tried to explain to anyone that will listen, is not just for people that cannot work at all.
There was already provision for such people: Incapacity Benefit. Why would you rename and repackage that benefit if it wasn’t to help people (even if you believe that some of those people can’t be helped because they aren’t getting going to get better) that can work? Or at least need some help to ‘work if you are able to’? I don't think the intention was to put all people on Incapacity Benefit onto ESA. This was started by the current government (iirc!) and smacks of what Thatcher did with rising unemployment benefit claims in the eighties, migrating people on to the sick which triggered the perception of masses of people skiving on the sick. Perhaps this is classic Tory tactics; revisionism and mismanagement.
The problem is the WCA and the handling thereof. The ATOS test is not a medical test. I must assume that the intention was, as it was with the rebranding of the sick notes (now ‘fit’ notes), to assess what people can do. But that is a tricky prospect given how much bias there already was toward getting people into work, whatever the cost, whatever the work. Of course the WCA doesn’t even do that because it is totally unfit for purpose. A box ticking exercise that, particularly in regard to mental health, seeks to encompass a multitude of experience and difficulty in seven questions.
If we ignore the central premise as the government is doing and simply focus on trying to find reasons to assume people, regardless of condition, can work, then we might as well not bother with ESA. What is the point of spending money on administering this benefit if it is simply Incapacity Benefit by another name, and that it can only apply to people that cannot work – never mind how flawed the test.
I have yet to see any source cover this fact. Even the CAB doesn't see ESA as I see it (which doesn’t inspire confidence). Am I alone in my assessment? Have I misunderstood this? Even if it’s true, assessing what people can do and then just dropping them in at the deep end, sink or swim, is not enough. The clue is in the title: Employment Support Allowance. However with respect to the Work Programme, all this seems to mean is a slight loosening of the noose and no real help. Providers are not doctors nor are they even specialists, certainly not as a matter of course.
The whole thing needs to be completely rebuilt with a view to providing that support and accepting the problems that people have, not using the WCA to erase them from or lessen there impact on a person’s life experience.