Moving people from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance
The Coalition has always said that one of their priorities would be testing the 2.5 million people who get Incapacity Benefit, and moving them over to the new benefit, Employment and Support Allowance. One of the attractions has undoubtedly been the fact that this means subjecting these claimants to the new eligibility test, the Work Capability Assessment. Expert advice and disability organisations have been worried that this test is finding large numbers of people fit for work – including many with severe barriers.
At the beginning of the month, the government announced their plans to complete the reassessment by 2014. Given the reports about mistakes being made in assessing people now, some of us have been worried about the likely consequences of speeding up this process.
And it seems we weren’t alone. The First Report in the current Parliamentary session of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee draws to MPs’ ‘special attention’ the Employment and Support Allowance (Transitional Provisions, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit) (Existing Awards) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/ 875).
Now, this is one of those pieces of legislation with an obscure and boring name that actually have important effects. The Committee notes that the government expects that 23 per cent of IB claimants will be found fit for work, of whom half will be moved on to Jobseeker’s Allowance. That translates into more than quarter of a million people facing a benefit cut.
The Merits Committee gets the point about what is worrying about these plans:
“The Committee has seen a succession of regulations aimed at the reform of benefits and while welcoming the overarching policy intention of simplifying the system, the Committee has previously questioned some of the practicalities of its implementation – in particular whether Jobcentre staff have the capacity to absorb the pace of change and whether the DWP’s original plans had been sufficiently adapted to take the sudden rise in general unemployment generated by the recession into account.”
As the Committee points out, the government’s plans mean that 10,000 people a week will have to be re-assessed and processed. Within Jobcentre Plus, many people are worried about whether the Benefit Delivery Centres will be able to cope with this extra workload at a time when the recession has already cranked up the pressure. Will the agency be able to meet its Disability Discrimination Act obligations to adjust its JSA claim arrangements to take account of the access needs many will have?
The Merits Committee quotes a particularly damning passage from the very negative report on the draft regulations by the government’s social security advisers, the Social Security Advisory Committee:
“It is of particular concern to the Committee that the Department is moving ahead with the migration of existing claimants of incapacity benefits without a solid evidence base for either the decision to migrate or the proposed migration arrangements. The Committee notes that the evaluation of ESA for new claimant is not planned to be complete until 2011 by which time the proposed migration arrangements will have commenced.”