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ESA benefit payments- retests axed for chronically ill claimants

Claimants of long term sickness benefits will no longer face repeated medical assessments to keep their payments.

Claimants of long term sickness benefits will no longer face repeated medical assessments to keep their payments.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green said it was pointless to re-test recipients of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with severe conditions and no prospect of getting better.

More than two million people receive ESA, which is worth up to £109 a week. The move has been welcomed by charities supporting those with severe illness.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said it was “a welcome U-turn” by the government, but “the devil was in the detail”. What about mental health conditions, conditions that are fluctuating, conditions that may not necessarily have a physical manifestation?” she said.

Applicants for ESA have to undergo a work capability assessment to find out if they are eligible and they are re-tested to ensure their condition has not changed. Some are re-tested every three months and others up to two years later.

Under the government’s change, those who are deemed unfit for work and with conditions that will not improve will no longer face re-testing.

Illnesses such as severe Huntington’s, autism or a congenital heart condition are among those that are likely to qualify for continuous payments without reassessment. The criteria will be drawn up with health professionals.

Mr Green said a “key part” of making sure those who were unable to work received “full and proper support” included “sweeping away any unnecessary stress and bureaucracy”.

Currently, those in the “work-related activity group” – deemed unable to work at the moment but capable of making some effort to find employment – receive up to £102.15 a week in ESA payments.

Those in the “support group” – deemed unable to work and not obliged to do anything to improve their chances of finding work – receive up to £109.30 a week.

From April 2017, payments will fall to £73 for new claimants in the “work-related activity” category as ministers argue that too few people in the category are moving into work.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, welcomed the “progressive” reform to the re-testing regime, which he had set up when in office.

“I hope that the government will… move on to the fuller reform… where we lock together with the health department much more to be able to get a better health assessment of people, rather than a just strictly work assessment.”

Tim Nicholls, policy manager at the National Autistic Society, said ESA was a vital benefit for those unable to work, covering basic daily living costs such as food, heating and clothes.

“The flawed assessment process can be highly stressful for autistic people who can experience high levels of anxiety meeting new people or when their routine is broken, particularly when the stakes are so high,” he said. “We will be looking out for more details from the government.”

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