Disabled workers could be forced into not just unemployment, but homelessness, extreme poverty, workfare or even face being stripped of both employment and benefits for up to three years due to the Government’s vicious welfare reforms.
A recent large scale survey carried out by Disability Rights UK (PDF) found that 56% of disabled people say they will be forced to stop or reduce work should they be stripped of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The Government is replacing DLA with the new Personal independence Payment (PIP), a crude cost-cutting exercise which is openly intended to strip disability benefits from 20% of current claimants. On top of this the Government is closing the Remploy factories in a move which will see around 1,500 disabled people forced into the benefits system.
DLA is a benefit which is available to those in and out of work alike and is intended to meet the additional costs of living with a disability. Many people depend on this benefit to allow them to stay in work, using it to pay for extra transport needs, specialist equipment or personal care.
The new assessments for PIP are to be carried out by private companies, using the same discredited model that is currently inflicted on out of work sick and disabled people who depend on benefits to survive. This practice, carried out by French IT firm Atos, has caused untold devastation, with claimants driven to suicide by the brutal and inhumane system which ignores the opinions of GPs and medical consultants in favour of a short computer based test. It is too early to say exactly how the process will operate, but if the recent Atos experience is anything to go by, disabled people could face losing benefits because having a job is deemed to prove they are not disabled enough.
Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that Welfare Reform will make work pay, the truth is that changes to DLA will force tens, if not hundreds of thousands of disabled people out of the workplace.
Many disabled workers have questioned the logic of stripping people of an in work benefit only to make them dependent on out of work sickness or disability benefits. As Disability Rights UK have pointed out, this measure appears to make little financial sense.
Unfortunately the situation is far bleaker than many people have realised. Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is the benefit for those unable to work due to sickness or disability. This was shamefully introduced by the last Labour Government in an attempt to change the parameters of what it means to be sick or disabled. It introduced the previously mentioned Atos computer based test to determine eligibility for benefits. The stated aim is not to test whether someone is unable to work due to sickness or disability, but to measure whether there is any work that they could possibly carry out. Being able to watch an episode of Eastenders has been one notorious factor that has led to people being found ‘fit for work’.
After undergoing the assessment claimants are placed in one of three groups. Most people are found ‘fit for work’ and are forced onto Job Seekers Allowance. A small minority are placed in the Support Group, meaning that it is accepted they are unable to do any kind of work. The rest are placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) which means they are deemed to be able to do some kind of work at some point in the future.
Disabled workers forced out of work due to the changes to DLA will be forced back into the assessment process to determine their eligibility for sickness benefits. And the sad truth is there can be only one outcome under present conditions. Their recent employment will be used against them and they will be declared ‘fit for work’.
Sick or disabled people will not, as ministers and charities have claimed, be sent to specialist provision run by disability charities to help get them back to work under the Work Programme. They will be placed in the mainstream JSA system where they will face workfare and benefit sanctions if they do not complete mandated activity.
Over-stretched Jobcentre staff are not trained in the barriers that sick or disabled people may face in the workplace. Over zealous advisors, under pressure to meet targets from above, can force JSA claimants onto Mandatory Work Activity should they decide someone is not trying hard enough to secure work. This means four weeks workfare, quite possibly carrying out demanding physical work. Failure to complete Mandatory Work Activity means benefits will be sanctioned.
More importantly JSA claimants can be forced to take any job under threat of benefit sanctions. It will not matter if disabled people can’t afford to take the job due to the costs of specialist equipment or transportation needed to get to work. It will not even matter if the workplace they are to be sent is inaccessible for disabled people as so many are. Under new rules claimants are to be expected to travel up to 90 minutes in either direction to get to work and back. This will be impossible for some disabled claimants but it will matter not one bit.
Those who refuse work that is unsuitable, or even impossible, will soon face benefit sanctions lasting three years.
Part time work, under the changes coming when Universal Credit is brought in, will no longer be an option. Everyone will be expected to work 30 hours a week – or possibly 35 if ministers get their way – and will have benefits sanctioned if they are not deemed to be doing enough to increase their hours.
It is still unclear whether benefit sanctions under Universal Credit will include Housing Benefits. Disabled former workers, forced out of employment, could be forced into three years homelessness and dire poverty for reasons completely out of their control.
Whether by accident or design some disabled workers face a brutal future. It is little wonder that so many are now questioning whether it is actually the intention of this toff Government to eradicate completely those that have been deemed unproductive by this cabinet of over-privileged millionaires.