Labour Parliamentary Candidate Patrick Hall has given his full backing to the Citizens Advice Bureau's campaign for urgent changes to the administration of Employment Support Allowance.
ESA was introduced by the Government to replace Incapacity Benefit and is supposed to support people who become sick or disabled and are therefore unable to work.
The recently published report states that Bedford CAB deals with more problems arising from ESA than any other single issue. The evidence from local people points to a policy that is poorly designed which causes hardship and distress to many and which wastes great deal of public money owing to poor decisions, delays and appeals.
Patrick Hall said,
'The CAB is to be congratulated in constructively drawing attention to the evidence of people's experience of dealing with this system. It is unacceptable that the sick and disabled are frequently spoken to by officials in a rude and abrupt manner, with decisions being made which reveal an incompetent and careless approach to the facts. I am stunned that many people have been told that they are not sick enough to qualify for ESA, only to turned down for Job Seekers Allowance because they are judged unfit for work. Such a Catch 22 position forces people to turn to charity, the Foodbank and borrowing off friends whilst they desperately seek help.'
Another major obstacle facing the sick and disabled is the question of medical evidence. Not only have Government officials often ignored it when provided, many people cannot afford to pay for it in the first place. There is no national requirement nor funding for family doctors to provide a medical report for patients seeking ESA on grounds of sickness. Nationally, 15% of GPs refuse to provide a medical report. Of those that do, 24% do so for free and the rest charge varying amounts up to £125. People on the assessment ESA rate receive £71.70 per week. If an individual appeals a decision to refuse ESA, they lose all benefit during the mandatory reconsideration period which can take months. Charging for medical evidence seriously disadvantages the vulnerable. Owing to cuts in legal aid, this cost is no longer covered even for those few still able to obtain welfare benefit legal aid.
'I am pleased that Bedford CAB is trying to work with local GPs through Healthwatch Bedford and NHS England in order to improve the situation regarding charging. But ultimately this is a matter for Government and the Department for Work and Pensions. Also, CAB is right to point out that the sick and disabled should not have to travel to Luton for the Work Capability Test but should be able to access assessments locally.'