High levels of stress caused by chaos in the administration of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) make it less likely that people with M.E. will ever be fit enough to return to work, a south London M.E. group is telling MPs.
Over the course of a year, Richmond and Kingston M.E. Group followed the progress of seven members who were told to apply for ESA after previously receiving Incapacity Benefit. They found:
• Two were recognised as being unable to work by being placed in the Support Group without needing to go to an assessment interview – although one had to wait 11 months for a decision.
• Five members were initially put in the Work-Related Group. Three appealed.
• One was then put in the Support Group after the initial decision was reconsidered – another was put in the Support Group after going to Tribunal – the third, awarded nil points, is still waiting to hear the result of the appeal.
“These bare statistics hide the stress, anxiety and misery this whole process has caused and is causing our members with the prospect of almost constant reassessment, increased poverty and financial distress”, the group say in a 7-page report sent to constituency MPs and the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on ME.
In the case of the member who was put in the support group after consideration of the appeal – only six weeks later, just before Christmas in 2011, the member received a form requiring a completely new application.
The Richmond and Kingston Group complain about the complexity of the form, “the difficulty of fitting a fluctuating condition (whose severity is routinely underestimated) into a set of pre-arranged descriptors” and a ‘catch 22’ at Tribunals: if claimants attend it can be argued that they are well enough to travel and therefore work; if they don’t, decisions are made in their absence and they can’t present their case properly.
One member tried to get information from the DWP by phone. After being shunted round call-handling centres, the member ended up in Northern Ireland and was told there were 800 people queued up to be spoken to first.
The report concludes:
“People with ME would love to be able to work and lead a normal life. No-one would choose to have this diseases with its long-term disabling symptoms frequently met by ignorance and prejudice.
“The current assessment system for ESA is compounding all the difficulties already faced by people with ME and means that it is less likely that they will recover sufficiently to return to work.”
A copy of the full Richmond and Kingston report – issued last week – can be downloaded HERE.