May 2012 - Making it Harder for People with A Long-Term Illness or Disability

From the 1 May 2012, a number of changes to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) will make it more difficult for sick and disabled people to qualify for benefit, stay on benefit once they qualify or safely make a return to work.

Firstly, the Welfare Reform Act 2012 abolishes ESA in youth for new claimants.  These were special contribution conditions that allow people aged between 16 and 20 (or under 25 if in education or training at least three months immediately before turning 20) to receive contribution-based ESA without paying National Insurance contributions.  Existing claims will be time limited to 1 year.  This means that all new claims to contribution-based ESA will need to meet the standard national insurance contribution conditions.  This will make it impossible for people born with a disability or who develop a disability or serious long-term illness before they reach working age to qualify for contributory ESA.  Young people will still be able to claim income-related ESA if they are entitled to do so.

Secondly, the Act limits the amount of time people who are not in the Support Group can claim contribution-based ESA to a period not exceeding 365 days without re-qualifying.  Time spent in the Assessment phase will count towards the 365-day time limit unless it is immediately followed by entitlement to the support component.  People not in the Support Group who have already received contribution-based ESA for 365 days or more will have their entitlement stopped as soon as the change takes effect.  This means that the last day benefit will be paid for is 30 April 2012.

Finally, regulations abolish the 104-week linking rule.  Previously, where a claimant left ESA and started work or training within one month, then returned to ESA within 104 weeks, their benefit was re-instated at the same rate as previously.  This provided a much needed safety net for people with disabilities to feel able to try work and training options without the risk of losing entitlement should their condition deteriorate or it prove too difficult to maintain work or training.

These changes are not only mean but are likely to run counter to the Government’s aims of encouraging a return to work rather than a life on welfare.  At a time when jobs are hard to come by, introducing a significant barrier to many disabled and long-term sick people who may wish to try to return to work would seem to be the height of stupidity. 



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