It has been clear for some time that the Tories welfare reform policies are not working for the most vulnerable, instead of incentivising people to work they are forcing people into destitution. I wanted to understand from those within the welfare system, exactly what was going on so I visited a local charity to find out more.
The Ladder centre in Ferryhill has been running for nearly 30 years. It is a resource centre for the local community and is used by about 1400 people a month. They provide cradle to grave community activities from a play park, children and families work all the way to craft groups for the over 50’s, women’s groups and employability courses.
Over the last few years they have been inundated with people with issues around benefit payments. The centre drew together a small discussion group so that I could hear their personal stories about how the changes were affecting them.
A common problem was with Universal credit. Most people switching to UC had to wait 6 weeks before any payments were made. This often meant they went in arrears with payments to landlords. One man had diabetes and found himself with only £18 left for a month once he had paid off all his arrears and bills. It meant he was putting his life at risk by not eating properly. Sometimes the only food he got was the meal provided to him at The Ladder centre. Having very little to live off seemed to be the norm.
Another common issue was benefit sanctions. Benefit sanctions are a financial penalty taken from a benefit for various breaches of a “Job Seekers” contract. Most people had, had a sanction but the reasons were worrying. One women who was 62 years old, had failed to sue the computer system properly to log her job searches. She lost 6 weeks of money and was forced to live on handouts from her family.
I was most shocked by the many stories of people claiming the new incapacity benefit. “Employment support allowance”. It seemed that it was virtually impossible for anyone to be deemed unfit for work. There were cases of people with serious mental health issues like feeling suicidal or having psychosis to having severe learning disabilities being deemed fit for work. One of the workers said assessors without any experience of mental health illness were making the decisions on whether claimants were eligible for benefits and fit for work. This was regardless of whether their mental health affected their ability to work or hold down a job.
1) Set up a Voice Forum:
I am keen that the voices of those suffering are heard by people who can respond. I will look to set up a small forum and invite people such as GP commissioners to hear and discuss the issues raised
2) Request a review into process for assessing ESA
Send a letter to The Minister of State for employment and pensions to ask him to review the current work capability assessment process for those with mental health issues. I will be asking
- What steps are being taken to ensure the Work Capability Assessment is appropriate and supportive for people with mental health problems?
- What work is the Minister undertaking to ensure Work Coaches are trained in understanding how to best support people with mental health problems to find work?