Regardless of BBC Scotland’s and the Citizens Advice Scotland’s investigation into the inadequacy of the new Employment Support Allowance, brought in to replace Incapacity Benefit, the government is set to implement the national rolling out of the policy, from October. When considering ESA was introduced to force people back into work and bring down the statistics, there is little surprise that the Department for Work and Pensions has brushed the criticisms aside with such vigour and remain adamant its implementation will occur.
Key facts/criticisms of the ESA include:
- It is “unfit for purpose”
- It targets the most vulnerable
- 2/3rds of claimants are being found to be fit for work – 20% more than estimated by the previous government
- One of the most commonly appealed against benefit, with around 8,000 cases a month and around 40% decisions being reversed
To be fair to Danny Alexander, a long-standing critique of the system, he appears as though he will continue to press for change:
“I remain concerned at the way the ESA is administered and the problems it is causing for my constituents and will continue to raise the issue on their behalf.”
However, he seems to be a lone voice within the government, considering the following comments from a Department of Work and Pension spokesperson:
“People need much more support to manage their conditions and get help to find work and moving them to ESA is the best way to do that. We are fully aware this is a big undertaking and that is why we are working on plans to make the change happen as smoothly as possible.”
Apart from the obvious Iain Duncan Smith factor – there is another clear reason for why the Department for Work and Pensions are so keen to support ESA. The health assessments are carried out by a private company called Atos and it is clear that the government (wrongly) sees privatisation as the driving force for economic growth. However, there are concerns around Atos’s criteria for assessments, with Danny Alexander even arguing before the coalition deal:
“There’s a suspicion that ministers may well be incentivising Atos to actually give results of the assessment which take people off benefit.”
Hopefully there can be a reversal of the ESA implementation, but it seems highly unlikely given the quick endorsement by the Department for Work and Pensions despite the highlighted flaws. If ESA remains, it will be one of the many inevitable attacks on the most vulnerable this government will preside over.