Activists ‘horrified’ by universal credit rules forcing sick claimants into work activity
“Very dangerous” rules are forcing severely-ill people applying for the government’s new universal credit to look for jobs and take part in training, even though their GPs have said they are not fit for work, “horrified” disabled activists have warned.
The rules – which have never been announced or publicised by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – apply to new universal credit claimants who are waiting for an assessment of their “fitness for work”.
And they mean they could have their benefits sanctioned for up to three months if they fail to follow strict instructions from a job coach with no medical training.
They are forced to take part in work-related activity, such as a work-focused interviews and “work preparation”, which could mean training or employment programmes.
They could also face sanctions if they fail to show they have searched for a job for up to 35 hours a week, and have not made themselves available for paid work.
Potential sanctions will continue to hang over their heads until their fitness for work is eventually tested through the notorious work capability assessment (WCA), which could take months.
Dr Stephen Carty, medical adviser to the Scottish grassroots campaign group Black Triangle (BT), who
Ministers have been accused of ignoring a public consultation and ploughing ahead with plans that will make their “fitness for work” testing regime even more stressful and unfair for sick and disabled people.
A presentation delivered by two senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants earlier this month suggests that ministers have decided – as many disabled activists feared after the publication of last year’s green paper – to introduce new benefit sanctions for sick and disabled people with the highest support needs.
The presentation at a DWP “Operational Stakeholder Engagement Forum” appears to confirm that the government had decided how it would reform the system of out-of-work disability benefits before its “consultation” process had finished on 17 February.
The government had claimed that it wanted to make the work capability assessment (WCA) less of an ordeal for claimants, with work and pensions secretary Damian Green telling last October’s Conservative party conference he wanted to support those disabled people who cannot work, and “sweep away unnecessary stress and bureaucracy which weighs them down”.
But slides from the presentation appear to show that his new regime will be even harsher, and that many employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants with the highest support needs and barriers to work will for the first time face having their benefits sanctioned if they do not co-operate with the regime.
The slides show DWP has already begun introducing a compulsory, face-to-face “health and work conversation” (HWC) with a jobcentre work coach that will apply to nearly all new claimants of ESA, weeks or even months before they go through the WCA process to decide whether they are not fit for work and eligible for the benefit.