ME and the Employment and Support Allowance – ‘Disability Now’

July 15, 2009

From ‘Disability Now', 15 July 2009. Report by Cathy Reay

New government testing for Employment and Support Allowance puts disabled people at risk of being told to go back to work, say campaigners.

The reaction comes after it was announced yesterday that up to 90% of people claiming sickness benefit have been told that they are fit to work under a new government regime that was introduced last year.

Ministers are said to believe that as much as two-thirds of the 2.6 million people currently signed off sick, costing the British public an estimated £12.5 billion a year, are capable of working in some capacity.

But Eleanor Dent, who has ME, said that the way people are being tested for benefit eligibility can result in disabled people being told to work when they are to ill to do so. “The first time I was tested I cried all the way through the medical and they immediately approved the benefit. The second time I rested for a week before going to the test and I was turned down because the doctor said I looked too healthy.”

Ruth Patrick, a disabled researcher from Leeds University and regular Disability Now columnist, said: "It is concerning that the personal capability assessments are based on the benefit claimants health on the day of the assessment alone.  Those with fluctuating conditions, including many with mental health issues, may find that they are refused benefits purely because they were having a ‘good day' on the day that the assessment took place.

What is more the onus of these assessments seems to imply that many are seeking to dupe the system by claiming disability benefits when they are actually in good health. This dangerous rhetoric reinforces the popular and false stereotype of benefit cheats who should be out at work."

A spokesman from the ME Association said: "We are very worried that the new Employment and Support Allowance is making it more difficult than ever for people with conditions like ME, whose symptoms can fluctuate wildly from day to day, to claim a benefit to which they're entitled. The system is turning out to be a nightmare for many of these new claimants – whose severe disabilities are scoring no points at all after their medical assessments."

A Disability Alliance spokesman said: “the effect of mental health conditions are so hard to assess through one-off testing regimes.” He added that the way disabled people are approached and tested through the regime is something The Disability Alliance are “investigating”.

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