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Mind warns that the national rollout of benefits reassessment is causing widespread distress amongst Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants with mental health problems.
In a new survey, 87% of people told the charity that the prospect of reassessment had made them feel anxious and over a third said that this has led to them increasing their medication. (1)
1.6 million people are due to go for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) by spring 2014 to establish whether they are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or be moved onto Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and expected to find work.
However, Mind is concerned that the current WCA is not fit for purpose, and is calling for a slowdown of the reassessment process until the test is working fairly and effectively.
Mind polled over 300 people currently claiming IB for mental health problems about the upcoming reassessment (2) and found that:
Mind believes that the WCA is too rigid and unsophisticated to recognise people’s mental health needs and is concerned that it is delivered by people with insufficient mental health training.
Since the test was introduced in 2008 for all new ESA claimants, approximately 40% of people declared ‘fit for work’ have appealed and around 40% of these appeals have been successful. Much of the focus of reform has been around ‘weeding out benefits scroungers’, when in fact IB only has a fraud rate of 0.5% (3), the lowest of all the benefits.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
"The changes to welfare reform have been designed to root out "the feckless" and "the workshy", but people with mental health problems are neither. In fact, many actively want help in finding work but face many barriers, including stigma and discrimination, and inadequate support into employment.
We believe that the welfare system should support everyone – with dignity – who is unable to work or requires additional support because of a mental health problem. If someone is able to return to work, there should be personalised assistance and support to help them do so. As things stand though we remain extremely concerned about the mass reassessment of people on incapacity benefits, as despite some changes to the process it still lacks the sensitivity to understand conditions such as mental health problems."
The survey’s findings are backed up by data from Mind Infoline, which has seen calls about benefits treble since 2005 and a spike in calls in October and November last year when the Government undertook WCA pilots in Burnley and Aberdeen. (3)
The charity is preparing for a sharp rise in enquires as up to 11,000 people a week will be called for reassessment from May 2011.
One of the line’s advisors said:
"People are contacting us in a state of panic. Some of them want to work but can’t get a job because no one will employ them with their medical history. Some can’t work. All have seen the news and coverage of welfare reform where claimants are being portrayed as lazy scroungers. They’re terrified that they’re going to be cut off, next week, next month and they’ll be left with no income and no way to cope."
Cecilia has rapid cycling bipolar disorder, and receives IB. She said:
"I read about welfare reform everywhere, and I’m terrified about the changes they’re making. I know I’ll have to do the WCA, and I’m so scared I’ll be found fit for work, when I’m just not. I may look fine, but I had to give up volunteering a while ago as I can’t even manage that. If they stopped my benefits, I don’t know what would happen to me - and worrying about it is making me ill."