The Government is heaping more and more pressure on themselves to get it right when it comes to disabled benefits.
In the last week the tough measures they are introducing to get people back into work, such as compulsory four weeks of manual labour and losing benefit entirely if jobs are continually turned down, will make life impossible for those who are too ill to work. So the Government absolutely must turn its attention back to the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to ensure that those who need it are getting it and not having to fall back onto Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA).
The Citizen's Advice Bureau in Scotland has published 'Unfit for Purpose', an analysis of the impact of ESA on its clients. It reports that "Around 1 in 4 fit for work assessments reach a tribunal, with 39% of these appeals being won by the claimant. Where a bureau represents a client, 70% of appeals are won by claimants." Claimants with Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, terminal cancer, Bi-Polar disorder, heart failure and strokes have all been found fit to work.
The situation will further worsen with the introduction of the one year time limit on contribution-based ESA claimants in the Working Group category. It will become apparent that some people will find their eligibility for ESA will run out while they are still too ill to work. In cases like this they will be hit twice if they move onto JSA and as a result are penalised for turning down work or work placements they are still too ill to take.
So if the Government wishes to get tough on benefit claimants it must also get equally tough on benefit administrators. ATOS, the company behind the much-criticised Working Capability Assessment (which decides who gets ESA and who doesn't), clearly cannot cope with the task they have been given. Their test is failing some of the most seriously ill. And in exchange for a 40% failure rate, where their decision has been found to be incorrect at appeal, they are awarded an astonishing amount of money.
The Department of Work and Pensions revealed that they paid ATOS £150,798,434.69 between April 2009 and April 2010. £151 million! And in exchange for this money, ATOS is costing the Government further money in hearing appeal after appeal against its decisions.
So dear Government, if one of your suppliers isn't performing well, then get rid of them! If you don't you'll find your harsh JSA measures will unfairly penalise the genuinely ill who were unable to make ATOS understand the complexities of their condition in the 30 minutes in which they were 'assessed'.