I have just been through a very unpleasant experience. In February of this year I attended a medical assessment in order that a doctor could assess my ability to work. I have chronic fatigue, was feeling particularly unwell at the time and was examined by an unsympathetic doctor who put me through all the physical tests despite my explaining that I would be able to perform them now but they would likely lead to fatigue later. In April, I was surprised by a letter through the door from the DWP explaining that I had not scored enough incapacity points and so my incapacity benefit was being stopped. Thanks a bunch. There followed several phone calls to the DWP and visits to CAB (where I had fortunately been volunteering when in ok health) asking for advice on what to claim. After being told 3 different things by the DWP, I was eventually advised to claim Employment Support Allowance and so had to fill out yet another form (less insensitive to the symptoms of chronic fatigue this time, but that's not saying much) and attend another medical (still haven't got the results of that one after several months). My benefit had dropped from £102.25 to £64.30 a week and I was leaking money fast.
I appealed against the decision with the help of Inverness CAB (Thanks Iain) and was told to expect about a six month wait. My tribunal happened on Monday and lasted all of one minute. The judge (put up in the nicest hotel in Inverness the night before) stated that I should have scored at least 3 extra points in various categories and so was approving my appeal. So off I trot to await the £1200 in arrears that have accumulated over the last 7 months.
I was lucky. Had I been on ESA when I was judged fit for work I would have had to claim Jobseeker's Allowance whilst knowing that I was incapable of work. It can't be fun having to apply for jobs you know you will not be able to carry out adequately.
Labour and the Conservatives both want to get 500,000 supposedly fit IB and ESA claimants onto Jobseeker's Allowance, saving £25 a week. I'm sure there are many people out there who are capable of work, but I would much prefer they used the carrot rather than the stick. Both the personal advisors that have been assigned to me have been lovely people who helped me try permitted work last year for a few months to build my confidence. My health didn't last, but the experience was vital in demonstrating to me that there is a path out of incapacity benefit when the time is right.
Over two fifths of IB claimants in Scotland have mental or behavioural disorders such as depression or anxiety. The volunteering and permitted work options could be vitally reassuring in their return to employment, or an effective way to trial various types of work to gauge their suitability. Removing such people abruptly from Incapacity Benefit risks making these stress-related conditions considerably worse and might place additional burden on the health service.
Forcibly moving people off IB adds to the workload of the DWP in processing appeals, costs about £300 a time for each tribunal (at a rate of £300 a minute for mine), and around 45% of appeals are successful. This rate rises to nearer 60% when the appellant has representation. My representative was a welfare rights worker at the Citizen's Advice Bureau (a service already overstretched by the demands of the recession). If someone could let me know how many incapacity benefit recipients appeal removal of benefit (Table IB1.10 I don't have Excel) http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd1/ib_sda/ib_sda_nov03.asp I might be able to show that the savings the Tories are projecting are insanely optimistic.
Anyway, my chronic fatigue is back again and I'm wilting and ready for bed so this blog post is just going to fade out with this highly unsatisfactory closing sentence.