Time limits to Employment and Support Allowance
Employment and Support Allowance was introduced in 2008 to replace Incapacity Benefit and Income Support (because of a disability).
Those eligible are put into either the ESA work-related activity group (for those who need support to prepare for work) or the ESA support group (for those whose disability prevents them from working).
So far, the disability community’s concerns about ESA have largely centred on whether its Work Capability Assessment is fit for purpose.
However, the Welfare Reform Bill introduced another area of concern – a time limit of 365 days for those on contributory ESA in the work-related activity group. This means that after a year, some people will not get ESA at all. The government has said that people should not get indefinite support, and that the change brings rules for ESA in line with Jobseeker’s Allowance.
During the Bill’s first reading, an amendment was passed in the House of Lords, changing the time limit to two years, but this was overturned in the Commons. Back in the Lords for the second reading, the government agreed to an amendment that would allow it to increase the time limit if necessary. Lord Freud said: “A time limit of 365 days is still specified in the Bill, but with the added flexibility to increase the number of days.”
However, for now, the time limit still applies. The Disability Benefits Consortium points out that the government has not provided any evidence that a year is sufficient for many disabled people to return to work. The time limit could penalise people with a learning disability in particular, who often want to work, but face barriers that mean finding a job within a year could be impossible.
On the positive side, because it only applies to contributory ESA, the time limit won’t affect recipients of income-related ESA. Jane Alltimes explains: “Many people with a learning disability are on low incomes and will therefore be eligible for income-related ESA instead. Although, because of the relatively low thresholds for income-related ESA, someone with a learning disability who has been left money by their parents or who has an employed partner may not be eligible.”
As of April 2012, those who have already been claiming contributory ESA for a year will lose their entitlement to contributory ESA immediately.
Personal Independence Payment
The Welfare Reform Bill also includes plans to replace Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment for working-age adults from 2013.
Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller said: “We are replacing DLA with Personal Independence Payment and introducing a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews – something missing under the current system. Under PIP, support will be focused on those who need it most, with a greater proportion getting the higher rates compared to DLA.”
During the debates on the Bill, Lord Freud confirmed the government’s commitment to protecting the mobility component of DLA/PIP for people living in residential care.
Paralympian Lady Grey-Thompson was unsuccessful in her bid to amend the Bill to delay the implementation of PIP and trial it for one year before implementing it fully. However, Lord Freud did commit to moving a small number of people onto PIP initially to evaluate it, before the majority are migrated across. In order to do this, he delayed the start of reassessments from April 2013 to autumn 2013.
Whether the move to PIP will have a negative effect on people with a learning disability will largely depend on its assessment process and criteria. The government’s consultation on the second draft of the assessment criteria began in January and is open until 30 April. The consultation document said that without reform, there would be 2.2 million people on DLA by 2015/16, but with the introduction of PIP, this falls to 1.7 million.
David Congdon, Mencap’s head of policy and campaigns, said that the news that half a million people could miss out was worrying: “In particular, it seems that those disabled people with lower level needs, but who nevertheless face extra costs associated with their disability, will lose out. For example, a person with a learning disability who lives independently, but who needs some level of help each week with things like cooking and shopping, may no longer be eligible.”
Positively, Mencap has already had some success in influencing the assessment criteria. Following input to the first draft, the government added criteria around whether someone needs support with financial management and social engagement – both key areas for people with a learning disability.
During the debates on the Welfare Reform Bill, the government also made some important commitments relating to assessments. “Many PIP recipients will have their claim reviewed more frequently than they do now,” explains Jane Alltimes.
“But people with a learning disability have a lifelong condition. This is not a cost-effective approach and could lead to unnecessary stress for people. However, the government has said that a review of someone’s PIP entitlement could just be a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at that person’s case, which is a better approach. In addition, individuals who do have to attend a face-to-face assessment will be able to take a supporter or advocate with them.”
Further good news is that Lord Rix, Mencap’s president, successfully tabled an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill that means independent reviews of how well PIP is working will take place two years and four years after its introduction.
For PIP, as for the other benefit changes set out in the Bill, people with a learning disability, and their families and carers, will be waiting anxiously to find out exactly what the reforms will mean for them. Overall, the passage of the Bill through parliament saw some positive changes, but areas of concern do remain.