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Employment Support Allowance Is Mismanaged.

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”.
And that:

“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.


  1. Good post. IMHO the whole system just needs rolling back to 2008 and IB. It was never so broken as to need mending (except in the eyes of Unum Provident) and worked well enough so that people were not actually dying due to the system - or resorting to food banks and wonga.

    There is also a big, glaring behemoth in the living room of the WCA, and this is the "It Varies" option on the ESA50.

    According to Lord Fraud himself (and a rubric printed on this year's forms), if a WCA task can not be done reliably, repeatedly, safely and in an acceptable and timely manner, a claimant should be marked as NOT being able to perform the task (e.g. 15 points for the question and admission to the support group).

    So if you can slowly and agonizing limp for 50 yards but then have to collapse into a wheelchair, and are left with such pain and exhaustion that you are bedridden for days, you should answer "NO".

    Unfortunately many people in this situation with VERY LIMITED ability to perform tasks - including me - did not know this in 2011 and 2012. So we found ourselves ticking "it varies", having points deducted for our scrupulosity, and being kicked down to the Jobcentre and Work Programme despite being very, very sick and massively impaired.

    But with claimants under intense pressure to be 'honest', they are likely to assume that honesty is what the question is about. You fear that if you simply answer 'No' or 'Never' you will be accused of exaggerating or worse.

    Having taken CAB advice, it seems the "It Varies" box was (officially) just for people with conditions that can fluctuate over lengthy periods of weeks and months, with flares and remissions.

    BUT THE ESA50 FORM STILL FAILS TO POINT THIS OUT, so most people whose pain or fatigue is brought on through mild activity (such as the WCA tasks), and who are fully sick or disabled enough to qualify for the support group, ARE STILL LIKELY TO BE TICKING 'IT VARIES'. WITH THE RESULT THAT THEY ARE AUTOMATICALLY 'MARKED DOWN'.

    So why are there still no specific instructions on the form about what kind of variability is being referred to, that would prevent people falling into this trap?

    And what of people with a long-term cycle of remissions and flares anyway?

    Standard advice to anyone with a chronic but fluctuating condition has always been to FILL IN THE FORM IN RESPECT OF HOW THEY ARE ON THEIR WORST DAYS.

    And yet we routinely hear of Multiple Sclerosis patients (as an example) being found fit for work or sent on the Work Programme.

    Does this also have something to do with the "it varies" option?

    The presence of this 'option' seems to be the DWP's answer to the "Worst Day Scenaro" approach of form-filling, and intended to trick claimants into disclosing their "Best Day Scenarios" and playing down the severity of their conditions.

    But when people are entitled to be assessed in respect of their conditions at their worst, asking about someone's 'good days' for Work Capability purposes is unethical and can only lead to abuse.

    So seems the 'it varies' box serves no purpose other than as a trick question to 'nudge' people into giving answers that minimize the severity of their conditions, allowing the DWP to dock points and entitlements.

    And no one seems to realise.

    1. And yes I do mean *NUDGE*.

      When the government's Nudge Unit is up to it's elbows in the unethical psychometric testing of claimants, and had a document (now removed) on its website boasting of how it had been involved in manipulating Driver's Licence forms to 'nudge' applicants into consenting to be organ donors...

      ...the deliberate manipulation of the ESA50 by adding a seemingly totally redundant category to nudge claimants into downplaying their disabilities (according to Lord Freud, there is NO halfway position between CAN and CAN'T DO) ... would seem to be right up the NU's alley.

    2. Thanks.

      Sue Marsh herself said that ESA was pushed out, beyond Labour's plans (and they of course have blood on their hands as well) and into use before it was properly tested.

      The whole thing stinks. I have printed out the page from the DWP i linked to above and intend to include it in my appeal, for all the good it will do.

      People with less serious conditions, relatively speaking, will always be played against those with more serious conditions. This is how our capitalist system works and it's unfair on both parties. Everyone who needs support should get it surely?


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