I heard of this story yesterday via Twitter (yes I am a convert) and I thought it worth sharing - mainly because it only happened this week and it shows that the much-derided medical test for ESA is affecting real, vulnerable people now - it's not just a dry political argument with which to bandy insults at Prime Minister's Question Time.
A man with Schizophrenia has just been taken off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and put onto Job Seeker's Allowance. Earlier this year he was discharged from a mental institution where he had spent the previous six months. He is now living in residential accommodation, which in itself shows he is not yet healthy enough to live a fully independent lifestyle. He has also not worked for 10 years.
The real shock behind this story is the way in which this change has happened. He was asked to attend a medical test which is administered by a company called ATOS, who have the contract from the Government's Work and Pension department. A person has to score over 15 points to be deemed eligible for some form of ESA. This man scored 0. Yes, you read that correctly, ZERO. As he has a clear diagnosis of a severe mental illness this score tells me either that ATOS doesn't recognise the debilitating nature of a mental illness or its test criteria are entirely inadequate for unearthing the effects of mental illness on a person's capacity to work.
Either way the man has been moved from ESA straight onto JSA - he has not even been moved to the lower rate of ESA which would mean he would have been given greater support on how to go about preparing himself for work and identifying which employers are accepting of a long history of mental ill-health and unemployment. How is a job centre employee with basic training on how to get the average Joe back into work going to know how to deal with a schizophrenic not yet capable of fully independent living?
I'm beginning to warm to the Work and Pensions minister Ian Duncan Smith, he seems to be intriguingly genuine in his desire to reform our benefits system so that, in his words, people don't get left behind. And clearly the man of our story has been left to languish for ten years on incapacity benefit. But it's obvious the current welfare reduction drive is more focused on reducing the cost of welfare than exercising any common sense or, dare I say it, empathy towards those with long-term ill health.
Rumours are going round Twitter that Ian Duncan Smith has threatened to resign 12 times since taking office due to consistent, unyielding clashes with the Treasury. With stories such as this schizophrenic man surfacing, it seems clear that the battle is far from over between government members who just wish to reduce the cost of welfare and those who wish to reform welfare to help those who are on it achieve a better life.
I can only hope that the schizophrenic man in question appeals the decision so that at the very least he is awarded lower rate ESA and given proper support in finding work. If not, he clearly has very little chance of ever gaining employment and will be left to live in even greater poverty than before. That's a 'progressive' government for you.