The government is changing the rules to make it harder for disabled people to appeal when it takes away their benefits.
And they are clamping down on job centre staff who try to help claimants, in an effort to break an “appeals culture”, according to internal memos seen by Socialist Worker.
People claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) can be stripped of it if they are deemed “fit for work” in controversial tests run by companies such as Atos Healthcare, known as Work Capability Assessments (WCA).
WCAs have come in for massive criticism from doctors as well as disability campaigners, and almost 40 percent of people who appeal against a WCA decision are successful.
The high appeal rate has been a huge embarrassment for the government—as it exposes how arbitrary and unfair their assessments are.
But instead of changing the system the government is making it harder to appeal against it.
From now on people who wish to appeal must do so by a tribunal instead of through the job centre.
Job centre staff have been strictly instructed not to download and print the forms for claimants, but tell them to find the forms themselves from the tribunal service.
This is a process that many claimants will find difficult, particularly if they lack internet access and printing facilities or suffer from mental health problems or learning difficulties.
Before they can even lodge a tribunal appeal, claimants have to ask the government to reconsider. There is no time limit for this process, and during this time claimants will not be allowed to claim ESA.
They can claim other benefits, such as jobseekers’ allowance, though this may later be counted against them when they argue that they need ESA.
Once they move to tribunal appeal they can claim ESA again—but job centre staff have been told not to make them aware of this right unless they explicitly ask.
And WCA decisions are to be sent directly to job centre advisors in the hope that this “contributes to a reduction in appeals” too.
One job centre worker told Socialist Worker, “The government sees job centre staff as part of the problem for helping claimants stand up for their rights, and they are trying to curtail that.”
Instead of moving the goalposts they should scrap the unfair WCA system altogether.