This story, from the excellent Benefits and Work campaign group, sums up the conspiracy of silence which exists in this election about what really matters. These plans, to make it even harder to get obtain sickness and disability benefits, were dreamed up by New Labour and will be endorsed by the Tories.....
Tens of thousands of claimants facing losing their benefit on review, or on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper.
The shock plans for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps. Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.
Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.
Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points. And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.
In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.
There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group. But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA
If all this sounds like a sick and rather belated April Fools joke to you, we’re not surprised. But the proposals are genuine and have already been officially agreed by Yvette Cooper, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. They have not yet been passed into law, but given that both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, they are likely to be pursued by whichever party wins the election
We know that many people will find this news deeply upsetting and even frightening and we know that some people will condemn us for publicising the planned changes or for the language that we are using to do so. But we also believe that it’s not too late to stop these ugly plans in their tracks if claimants and the organisations that represent them act now.
With 1.5 million incapacity benefit claimants waiting to be assessed using the work capability assessment in the next few years and tens of thousands of people already on ESA and set to be reviewed annually, these changes will be of great concern to many voters – if they find out about them before polling day.
So, please spread the word in forums and blogs and to people you know who may be affected. Ask any disability charity you have a connection with to speak out now, before election day, against these plans. You might also want to contact local newspapers and radio to warn people about the proposals.
And above all, contact not just your MP, but the other candidates in your constituency, and let them know you will not be voting for anyone who does not loudly condemn this shameful attack on sick and disabled claimants.
These plans really are a potential seat loser, but only if enough people know about them.