30 July 2008
In its initial response to the Green Paper on Welfare Reform, presented in the House of Commons on 21 July, Action for M.E. welcomes the Government's proposals to help people to remain in work, to simplify the benefits system and to increase the higher minimum income guarantee from £86.35 to £102.10 for those with the greatest need.
However, we have a number of concerns about the Paper entitled No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility, which we will be raising through the public consultation that will be taking place until 22 October.
There are proposals within the Green Paper that relate to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which have yet to be implemented and which have not yet been subject to monitoring and evaluation.
It will be essential to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect people who are genuinely unable to work from being pressurised into work or training prematurely, when a return to such activity could be detrimental to their health.
Unless new and existing assessors and other staff have adequate guidance and procedures, training and supervision, and the new system is well monitored, the emphasis in the Green Paper on getting people back to work could foster an attitude of scepticism and disbelief, rather than enable full and impartial assessment of the claimant's actual functional ability.
The repeated regular assessment suggested under the new system may be useful for some people who have the realistic prospect of full or significant recovery but for those with chronic fluctuating conditions, the option of less frequent and/or 'lighter touch' reassessments will be vital. The uncertainty and pressures of assessment can be a major problem for ill, vulnerable and very disabled people. In heath terms a burdensome assessment can set people back for many months. It will be important for the Government to recognise and safeguard against this.
The legislation must also be realistic in acknowledging that, although some employers are willing and able to make reasonable adjustments to allow ill or disabled people to stay in or return to work, others will need more incentives and support before their obligations will be recognised and met. Some people with M.E. will require a great deal of support and flexibility from an employer and may not be able to work on a consistent basis.
Action for M.E. also believes the timescale for moving people from Incapacity Benefit (IB) to the new employment and support allowance (ESA) is over-optimistic, if this is to be a smooth transition for present claimants.
The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence recognises that the physical symptoms of M.E. can be as disabling as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, congestive heart failure and other chronic conditions and that the illness places a substantial burden on people with the condition, their families and carers. The Green paper makes it even more important that the seriousness of the illness is far more widely recognised.
Action for M.E. would like to hear your views about the Green Paper and/or your recent experiences of M.E. and employment, whether you are a person with M.E. or a carer. We are particularly interested in:
- recent experiences of people with M.E. and their carers trying to remain in work or return to work, so that we can highlight bad practice and promote examples of excellence
- if you are currently mild to moderately affected, specific suggestions for the kind of practical support or working arrangements you have received or would need to stay in or return to work.
The Green Paper may be downloaded from the Department for Work and Pensions website. The site also has details about the national consultation process, including how to receive information on consultation events.