From the TUC

Disabled people: guilty till proved innocent

14 Oct 2011, by in Society & Welfare

The government plans to suspend benefit for people who appeal against a decision to disallow Employment and Support Allowance (the main income replacement benefit for disabled people of working age). The New Statesman’s Samira Shackle reports that the government has noticed that 37% of those found fit for work appeal, and of those who appeal, 39% win a judgement in their favour.

The old Incapacity Benefit is being replaced by ESA, and every existing claimant is having to go through the Work Capability Assessment, the tougher test that was originally brought in by the last government. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are going to win appeals against not being awarded the new benefit. Now, you or I might conclude from this that (1) there’s something wrong with the new test and (2) given that such a high proportion of the people who failed the test are actually entitled to the benefit, it’s probably best to err on the side of generosity in deciding how to treat them while they appeal.

The government, it seems, sees things differently. They think the fact that you currently get a lower rate of ESA while you’re trying to get the benefit you’re entitled to is an “incentive to appeal.” And they have homed in on an opportunity to cut costs – if they discourage people from using the tribunals service, they’ll save some of the escalating costs of appeals.

Hence the plans to suspend ESA while people appeal.

Where do I start? Well, here’s a few points:

  1. I know I’m being old-fashioned, but isn’t this just vicious? Allowing people back payment if they win doesn’t make up for the fact that vulnerable people could find themselves going for weeks without any income. For years, governments have insisted that they want more and more work conditionality attached to disability benefits because of the evidence that “work is good for you” – well name me a physical or mental health condition or impairment that will be helped by this.
  2. Where is the evidence of the significant abuse of the appeals system that would justify “disincentivising” appeals? There isn’t any and this proposal gives every impression of having been cooked up to stop successful appeals.
  3. Appellants will be left with no alternative but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance – but you have to be available for work to claim JSA, which may be difficult to show if, at the same time, you’re also claiming to be incapable of work.
  4. And even if the JSA rules allow for this, some people may feel that claiming to be capable and incapable of work at the same time amounts to lying. I find it unsettling when the welfare system leaves people with no realistic alternative to immoral behaviour – and I thought that Christian Conservatives like Iain Duncan Smith did too.

One final point: this might not be quite the done deal the government expects. The regulations to implement this change will have to go to the Social Security Advisory Committee. I’m a former member of the Committee, and I’d expect them to insist on a formal consultation and production of a report that will be up for debate in the Commons. If the responses to a consultation on this are as fiery as I’d expect, the government may find that debate very trying.

Hat tip: Declan Gaffney

28 Responses to Disabled people: guilty till proved innocent

  1. Bill Kruse
    Oct 14th 2011, 2:23 pm

    More evidence that keeping the gravy-train of public money rolling into Atos is the government’s only real concern here. When is there going to be a formal police investigation of this aspect, that it has nothing to do with welfare reform and all about plundering the public purse?


  2. Andy C
    Oct 14th 2011, 4:31 pm

    “vulnerable people could find themselves going for weeks without any income.” I’ve just won my appeal. It took nine months for my appeal to actually get to the tribunal. The percentage of successful appeals also rises to seventy percent (70%) when the “claimant” is represented by a welfare support worker eg citizens advice bureau. That means a lot of people are being denied benefit solely because of not being represented. Everybody agrees that people who defraud the benefits system should be stopped, (DWP own figures for fraud put the real figure at 1%,)but thousands of genuinely sick and disabled peoples lives are being made a misery. Indeed, several people have actually taken their own lives, while others have died while waiting appeals. Shame on the UK.

  3. Black Triangle Campaign
    Oct 14th 2011, 5:20 pm

    This truly is a junta that bears all the hallmarks of fascism.

    There’s no other way – we must force them out.

    What is required is total unity of purpose – a general strike of all workers in both the public and private sectors and civil disobedience on a massive scale.

    We must never submit to this barbarity!

    We must do whatever it takes to get rid of the ConDem régime



  4. DeusExMacintosh
    Oct 14th 2011, 5:56 pm

    On point 3 – it is already written into the regulations that you will be classed as ‘fit for work’ for any period spent on JSA which means that applying for JSA while appealing would mean a) no backdating of your benefit even if you do succeed and b) may well prejudice your claim for ESA.

  5. Bill Kruse
    Oct 14th 2011, 6:34 pm

    I’ve raised this on the Benefits and Work forum and their guys say that’s not the case. There’s no inference from signing on under these circumstances, they say. Mind you, not everyone will be physically able to sign on regularly due to ill-health – would they be sanctioned for failing to sign? I have no doubt a great many of them would.


  6. barbs
    Oct 14th 2011, 8:11 pm

    I know of someone who waited 18 months for their appeal. Also I dont see how you can sign on as available and fit for work when you are not. This is wrong on every single level. I can see this resulting in more hospital admittances (if the hopsitals are still available) as people injure themselves or make themselves sicker by signing on when they are too sick to do so!

  7. Nile
    Oct 14th 2011, 11:39 pm

    A trying debate in Parliament? On the disabled?

    ESA, the Work Capability Assessment and the miraculous healing work of ATOS are Labour Party policy. Voted, enacted, implemented, done and dusted; praised in the Daily Mail and unopposed in Parliament.

    Labour have gone further than not giving a toss about the disabled: they know damn’ well, that there’s favourable media coverage and votes in blackening and grinding the disabled.

    What you have here is the Conservative party catching up, and trying to overtake the ‘opposition’, in a race where both sides win.

  8. Sue Marsh
    Oct 15th 2011, 6:24 am

    Bill Kruse : I’m surprised that Benefits and Work thought that, I think this will need more investigation as there has already been a lot of discussion of JCP staff simply sending people who are clearly not fit for work back to ATOS and vice versa in a kind of endless loop.

  9. Mark Chilcott
    Oct 15th 2011, 6:58 am

    Thanks Richard – depressing news, but SO good to read your perspective on this. Do hope we have the opportunity to fight it in a formal consultation.

    I despair of this government and the way it treats so many people – and am sickened to read in the comments that this whole approach was initiated by Labour years ago. They should be ashamed, very ashamed.

    Thanks again

  10. Bill Kruse
    Oct 15th 2011, 7:02 am

    Hi Sue, I’ve been trying to find the discussion so I can link to it but no luck so far.


  11. Bill Kruse
    Oct 15th 2011, 7:23 am

    Mark, I agree it’s shameful but it’s just business for them. It’s just about making as much money as possible and damn the hindmost. Both the major parties are at it and I have no reason to believe the Lib Dems wouldn’t be the same if they got a hint of real power and could direct some of those mountains of available cash to their sponsors. We need a system where no-one has that much power. Until we get that, heads no matter how noble will inevitably be turned.


  12. J Griffin
    Oct 15th 2011, 11:52 am

    My step-father was signed off sick for over 20 years for a bad back which he never had.

  13. Bill Kruse
    Oct 15th 2011, 12:10 pm

    Your point would be?


  14. Disabled people: guilty till proved innocent « Carer Watch's Blog
    Oct 15th 2011, 12:39 pm

    […] read in full here Share this:PrintMoreEmailDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  15. Nikkie
    Oct 15th 2011, 1:38 pm

    I have been a victim of this process. I’ve worked and studied for most of my life and now I need help I can’t get it. I’ve had to claim Carer’s Allowance which is only £55 pw and doesn’t make me eligible for help costs that those on Jobseekers or ESA get because my ESA appeal was denied. If I was of a different character I’d have claimed Jobseekers but I know I’m not fit for work so I don’t. I wish the government would put their focus on all those people not working and having multiple children.

  16. Linda
    Oct 15th 2011, 2:22 pm

    This is appalling. There is also some sort of lie going on about people who are transferred from Incapacity Benefit to ESA – where I’ve been granted ESA but at £14 a month less than my incapacity benefit. They say this is due to increased housing costs, but when were housing costs deducted from the set amount of benefits. I don’t know where to turn. I’m living on the breadline as it is and can’t afford food. This is all not helped further by my GP telling me to buy my own paracetamol, asprins and vitamins which I used to get free on prescription. I’m not well enough to fight. What the hell am I meant to do? I live on my own. There is no hope for me.

  17. Bill Kruse
    Oct 15th 2011, 2:45 pm

    Linda you need to ask questions about this on the Benefits and work forum where they have moderators who’ve been in the system on both sides and understand how it works. It’s quite likely you’ve been misinformed about your benefits as from what I can gather DWP staff simply aren’t properly trained. You should be contacting your MP as soon as you can too, try here


  18. sam
    Oct 15th 2011, 4:06 pm

    Richard, thank you for continuing to highlight these issues. We are all terrified, we need the power of the TUC behind us – please can you try and get those in charge to come out in strength about this. It is cruel and immoral and there needs to be a BIG stink about it from the Unions. We need your help.

  19. Jenny Almeida
    Oct 16th 2011, 10:44 pm

    My son failed the test even though he has a life threatening illness and is at this very moment in hospital after an operation to remove his colon with 2 drips collecting pus from a post op infection. He has appealed but his money was stopped for several weeks. He was too ill to work and would have died if I had not been there to support him. If they take money away from those appealing who have no other income like my son they will be guilty of killing people.

  20. Bill Kruse
    Oct 16th 2011, 11:26 pm

    I would suggest your son was supposed to fail the test. Everyone’s supposed to fail the test. That’s the justification for shovelling hundreds of millions of pounds into the company that’s finding out all these supposed cheats and liars and fakers and shirkers and scroungers like they made your son out to be. What passes for welfare reform is in reality a highly organised raid on the public purse. The more Atos keeps declaring very ill people as being fit to work the more they can claim justification for taking public money. So they do. It’s criminal of course but since the two major parties are both up to their necks in this I would imagine there’s no political enthusiasm for prosecution. You must complain to your MP anyway. When Unum tried these tactics on in America, the tactics of disability denial, it went on till the press there really turned against it. Perhaps that will happen here too. Meanwhile we must do what we can. Complain to all involved as much as you can.


  21. Will H
    Oct 17th 2011, 8:51 am

    This is even worse when combined with government’s plan to cut legal aid for help with welfare benefit appeals, so local advice agencies, Citizens Advice etc will be much less able to help people. You can write to your MP about the legal aid changes here ( – and possibly insert a line against these proposals as well.

  22. charley
    Oct 21st 2011, 12:54 am

    I got turned down on my DLA appeal today. I have my ESA appeal in two weeks and for the first time in ages I’ve had to give my medcation to a friend to look after because I don’t trust myself to have them (I have a rather large amount of prescribed painkillers). This after I’ve spent the days since my appeal feeling panicky and anxious after the way I was treated by one of the panel members at my appeal. What is happening is a disgrace and sham of justice.

  23. Richard Jacques
    Oct 28th 2011, 8:44 pm

    Please feel free to join our group for feedback on issues & reports + please feel free to post your concerns – together we are stronger, trade unions & unemployed together in common unity !! ….

  24. Celia
    Oct 28th 2011, 9:45 pm

    “Comment made by J Griffin on Oct 15th 2011 at 11:52 am:

    My step-father was signed off sick for over 20 years for a bad back which he never had.”

    It’s people like your step father who have helped to make life difficult for genuinely sick and disabled people and they should rightly be kicked into touch.

    However, as far as I know, most of the documented cases of people being cured of paralysis or raised from the dead are in the bible and attributed to Jesus of Nazarath. I don’t seem to recall having heard of any genuine miracles being performed by ATOS assessors except perhaps the disappearance of our taxes into their coffers.

  25. Skeptik
    Oct 29th 2011, 1:53 pm

    Unfortunately highlighting these issues doesn’t actually assist in doing anything about it.

    Just how far are these reforms going to be allowed to go on untill the unions actually get their act together to do something about it. Miliband and Labour are sidestepping the issue completely and the coalition are not giving a hoot about any petitions. emails, protests, marches or the deaths this has already caused.

    I and other I’m sure would like some advise on how to actually fight this and reassurance that something can and will be done by Unions, goups and our single selves to stop this governments WRB intentions.

    All I can see so far is highligting each and every new hidden agenda that is going to be carried through regardless.

    What serious action can be taken before it’s too late?

  26. Simone Meiszner
    Oct 29th 2011, 3:11 pm

    You have to realise there are many learning disabled who have lost their DLA. Many should have an advocate. I spoke to several who did not know how to appeal or an understanding of what is actually going on.

  27. Hazel Simmons
    Oct 29th 2011, 8:41 pm

    Most if not all CAB (citizen’s advice bureau) advisors are free – it is ONLY if you need a lawyer that they have to get you to fill in a legal aid form and CAB advisors ARE on our side – they see cases every day of people being denied benefits that they are entitled to and ATOS has made their work load even worse xx

  28. David
    Oct 31st 2011, 1:19 pm

    The tribunal appeals system is so overloaded thanks to previous changes to the system that the current waiting time is 6 months plus down here in East Sussex. How are you meant to survive for 6 months with no or minimal money coming in?

    Isn’t a Doctor’s sick note enough proof that you can’t work? Or is a GP’s opinion worthless?

    I would love to see the Gov’t get equally tough on the abuses in the subsidies system for Businesses and Corporations.