The Great ESA Robbery

April 4, 2012 12:59 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Sally Rhodes is disabled, and has been unfit for work for many years. Fortunately she has a partner, Mick, who is in better health, and so Mick is able to go to work, but not full-time because of his caring duties not just for Sally but for their daughter as well.

Sally has a combination of mental and physical ill health manifesting itself in extreme exhaustion and poor motivation. Changes of circumstances are very stressful for her so it can only be imagined how she felt when her DLA came up for renewal in 2010 and a decision was taken to axe her award of middle rate care and low mobility components; not only did her income fall by nearly £50 a week but she was also obliged to appeal against the decision. Sally thus joined an ever-lengthening queue of appeallants and waited for more than a year for her hearing to come round. When a date was finally set she suffered many a sleepless night waiting for her day before the tribunal, only to suffer the anti-climax of an adjournment as the tribunal sought further evidence; in particular with regard to her Employment and Support Allowance assessment.

Sally had actually passed through her ESA examination and been found unfit for work but capable of “work-related activity” which was a slight disappointment but not one she felt much like challenging. Now, when a claimant is refused ESA the record of the assessment (on form ESA85) is always included in a claimant’s DLA appeal papers because the Department for Work & Pensions like to point to it and use it as further evidence to back up their case. When the assessment is favourable to the claimant they don’t put it in, which is equivalent to the prosecution in a criminal case failing to divulge relevant information to the defence.

Sally left the tribunal suite in tears of frustration, but the Judge did insist that before she left a new date be set and the DWP be ordered to produce the missing evidence. Six weeks on, and after more anxiety, insomnia and panic attacks, Sally appeared again and was awarded not only the middle rate of care component but the high rate of mobility component as well, so the decision to withdraw benefit, finally, rebounded in the face of the official who made it since Sally ended up better off than she would have been had her previous award simply been renewed. A rare piece of good fortune for Sally, and a great relief, since the additional £100.75 a week would be a great help to the family’s finances and go towards paying off some household debts.

This may sound like a story with a happy ending but it is not, for no sooner had Sally received her arrears of DLA than she was sent a letter bearing bad news indeed.

From April this year her £94.95 ESA was to be stopped, not because she was now fit for work but because the Coalition Government has decided that no-one is allowed to receive the benefit for more than one year.

At a stroke, therefore, Sally and thousands like her have had £94.95 per week simply stolen from them, and this, note, is a benefit which claimants have earned the right to by virtue of paying National Insurance contributions while they were fit for work.

There is no justification, no explanation, no excuse beyond the idea that disabled people of working age, just like the millionaires who are to be handed a tax deduction and the banking executives who continue to pay themselves bonuses of eye-watering extravagance, are “in it together.” Sally’s joy was severely tempered by the news that what the Secretary of State giveth with one hand he also taketh away with the other. Forget meeting those household expenses after all, Mick and Sally!

The removal of contributory ESA has not been a major talking point during the Welfare Reform Act’s progress onto the statute book but I believe it is actually the most pernicious of all the benefit cuts which are just about to take place. People who are long-term sick cannot go to work because they are not fit enough and so their capacity to earn an income is nil; consequently they are already at a huge disadvantage. The only thing they could rely on was that, as long as they managed to get through the increasingly onerous ESA assessments they would at least have their £90 odd per week to help with the family’s finances but now even that pittance has been taken away. Apparently this measure is intended to help the disabled by “breaking the culture of dependency” but this is bullshit which would shame the Ministry of Truth. Of course disabled people are dependant; they have no choice but to depend on welfare and in the case of contributory ESA we are talking about a benefit paid for by claimants themselves via National Insurance.

In 1963 the Great Train Robbers received sentences of 30 years but the amount they got away with was paltry compared to the loot the Government is expecting to make via the 2012 Great ESA Robbery. Take money from the disabled and hand it, via tax reductions, to the richest of the rich; that’s Robin Hood in reverse and yet we take it with barely a voice raised in protest. Labour’s suggested amendment was worthy of Dr Weakling in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists; cut off benefit after 2 years rather than one. Great stuff, guys! That would have given Sally Rhodes an extra year to contemplate the theft of her benefit. Clearly, the Labour Party sees no problem in principle with robbing the disabled as long as the actual stealing takes place over a more acceptable timescale.
Now, as far as I recall none of the three major political parties included in the 2010 manifestos, a promise to burgle the benefits of disabled voters, so if you are experience door-knockers or leaflet-distributors at your door this month please do remind them of that fact.

And next time there is a General Election remember what is taking place right now before you are tempted to believe anything the ESA Robbers tell you.


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This post was written by Felix McHugh

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