The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is once again shaking up Universal Credit. It’s to do with the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for people who are chronically ill, sick, and/or disabled. However, in the process it could deny benefits to over 600,000 people – many of whom are too sick to work.
Universal Credit: a shake-up on the cards
The DWP is planning to change the way it assesses chronically ill, sick, and disabled people. This has been in the pipeline since 2019. As the Canary reported at the time, the then-work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd wanted a single test for claimant eligibility for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and Universal Credit. This would replace the current WCA. The idea then was that the DWP would run this in-house. However, since then, the department has tinkered with the policy.
As John Pring at Disability News Service (DNS) reported, now the DWP will base chronically ill, sick, and disabled peoples’ entitlement to both health-related elements of Universal Credit and ESA on their PIP or DLA entitlement. That is, people will need to get PIP or DLA to get health-related out-of-work benefits. These include Universal Credit’s Limited Capability For Work Or Work-Related Activity (LCWRA).
DNS noted that the DWP would manage this in-house, because the plans:
would see DWP work coaches deciding if a disabled person could carry out work-related activity.
However, the policy is littered with problems.
Chronic illness: not fitting DWP criteria
As the Canary previously wrote:
The WCA and PIP criteria are completely different, as are the benefits. The DWP may be asking people for the same information about their illnesses or impairments. But the context is completely different. The WCA looks at what sick and disabled people can do regarding work. The PIP health assessment looks at what support people need. To combine both these assessments is simplifying people’s health. But more often than not, people’s health is not simple at all.
However, the biggest problem now is that there are loads of people who currently get health-related out-of-work benefits but not PIP or DLA. Under the new regime, they may not be entitled to anything.
The DWP denied to DNS that this was the case. However, DNS spoke to Ken Butler from Disability Rights UK. He said:
The health element proposals will mean that around 632,000 disabled people who receive the employment and support allowance or universal credit support component will lose this as they do not receive PIP or DLA.
What’s not clear is just who these people are. Anecdotally, people living with chronic illnesses, such as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), long Covid, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome struggle to get PIP. This is because the DWP designed the assessment around disabled people whose impairments are related to mobility, physical dexterity, and cognition. In short, many chronically ill people do not fit into PIP’s rigid criteria box. People living with enduring psychological distress, as well as other mental health conditions, also struggle with PIP.
However, the WCA criteria fits both these groups of claimants’ support needs more. Therefore, if the DWP makes the entitlement for health-related out-of-work benefits solely based on PIP, it’s likely many chronically ill people, and those living with mental health issues, will be the ones to which it denies benefits like Universal Credit.
Of course, the DWP changing the system so as to potentially remove chronically ill people’s support is not some accident. As the Canary previously reported, there are now over 360,000 more people who are chronically ill and not working than before the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The government classes these people as “economically inactive”. It’s currently on a drive to get some of the nine million people who are economically inactive into work.
So, by removing the WCA and just relying on PIP entitlement, the DWP will be able to strip some of these economically inactive people of their entitlements. This will leave many with little choice but to try and work.
However, as the Canary previously wrote there are already not enough jobs to go around anyway. Plus, stopping people’s benefits does not get them back into work. Moreover, the DWP denying chronically ill, sick, and disabled people support led to countless deaths in the 2010s. Any new push by the department to force people into work will end in disaster.
Featured image via VideoBlogg Productions/the Canary and Wikimedia
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