CarerWatch submission to Professor Harrington
Dear Professor Harrington
CarerWatch is a group of unpaid family carers. We also have very many members with severe long-term illness or disability.
We are an e-mail based group, which allows people who are often isolated in their homes to communicate freely. All our policy is decided by the members. We e-mail an alert whenever we are coming to a position or view and all members are invited to come and join the discussion. We decide policy by consensus during the discussion.
Our members are very concerned about ESA. We have never experienced this degree of anxiety and concern before. So we are very grateful for the opportunity to submit this evidence.
We realise that your review is limited to WCA and in our opinion the problems with ESA are deeper than that. We don’t think the ESA groups meet the needs of people with severe long-term conditions. Because the regime in the WRAG contains sanctions and time limits copied from the JSA regime for fit people we think it is too coercive for people with severe disability. This means far more people need to be allocated to the Support Group.
We don’t think the groups are defined clearly.
Are you fit for the WRAG because you can manage some activity or is it because you are mentally fit to stand this level of pressure?
Rethink say in a campaign –
Rethink Mental Illness is concerned that current benefit assessments fail to understand the reality of what it is really like to live with a mental illness. Further, 80% of people with a mental illness surveyed said the test has made their mental health worse.
After being assessed for Employment and Support Allowance, Ryan* told us –
“As a direct result of the way I have been treated… I considered taking my own life on and off for a period of months. My GP even wrote a letter to them to spell out the severity of my illness and how the situation was putting me in danger.”
We have an opportunity to change the welfare system so that people like Ryan are treated fairly.
Rethink Campaigns Team
We agree with Rethink. The WRAG frightens people and is not a safe place for them to try and find work.
Our reservations are spelled out in more detail in a recent letter, which we sent to six charities, which is copied below.
We think that sanctions and time limits should be removed from the WRAG so that it is made a safe place to help people find work. Unless this happens the WCA descriptors must take account of the vulnerability of sick and disabled people to undue pressure and place most of them in the Support Group.
Letter to six charities from CarerWatch and the Broken of Britain
To – MS Society, ForwardME, Parkinson’s UK, Arthritis Care, National Aids Trust and Crohns and Colitis UK
CarerWatch and the Broken Of Britain are both online campaigning groups. Our members are family carers and people with various disabilities/serious illness.
We would like to congratulate you on your excellent report – ESA WCA Review – Making it Work for Fluctuating Conditions – 2011
In particular we would like to endorse your statement –
“Capability for work is not a clear cut issue. Although some people with long term conditions or disabilities can be completely fit for work or completely incapable of work many do not fit neatly in to either category. Those whose conditions fluctuate may move between the two extremes but more often will fall somewhere in the middle”.
All severe long-term conditions fluctuate to some degree. This statement applies to most people with severe long-term conditions. Most people with disability will never be fully fit for work – neither are they completely unfit for work.
This is the first time to our knowledge that this fundamental reality behind ESA has been so clearly identified.
We believe that this could provide a break through in solving the problems marring ESA. If it can be addressed then ESA can be transformed in to the supportive benefit it was designed to be.
Once it is accepted that most people with long-term conditions do fall squarely in the middle and will never be fully fit for work the solution is to design a group, which meets their needs. Unfortunately the WRAG in its current form with time limits, sanctions and mandatory work activity is not a safe place for people who will never be fully fit for work.
It is necessary to design a group which is a safe and supportive environment for people who will never be fully fit for work where they can attempt to work if they want to, without fear of losing benefits or being timed out.
What is the point of the time limit when people know they will not be better within a set period of time?
What is the point of sanctions when failure to comply may always be due to the condition?
How can you get people to agree to a program of activity when they will never be confident that they can fulfil the demands of a work program?
These coercive conditions frighten people and stress makes all conditions worse. They also frighten people in the Support Group in to abstaining from activity in case they are reallocated to the WRAG.
These threats in the WRAG have been designed by fit people and show no understanding of what it is like to try to find and keep work with a long-term disability. They have been taken en bloc from the program for fit people and they do not translate to the reality of disability. It is a tragedy that what started as a constructive and supportive program has become such a threat because of the unnecessary time limits and sanctions.
This one simple change – removing the time limits and sanctions from the WRAG – would make it a suitable group for most people with disability.
We would like to ask MS Society, ForwardME, Parkinsons UK, Arthritis Care, National Aids Trust and Crohns and Colitis UK if they have any news they could share with our members of any developments since the report was first published. Plus if any specific campaign is being planned.
We have shared this with many other individuals, groups, charities, and would welcome their comments too, along with details of any action being taken that our members would be able to support.
We look forward to hearing from you all.