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Destitution awaits those "Fit to work" but too sick to sign on

Proposals to reform the appeals process risk destitution for sick and disabled people

A letter from my local ME support group to our MPs on another gaping hole in the safety net:

Dear [MP],

Re: government proposals on the mandatory reconsideration before appeal provision, Welfare Reform Act 2012

We would like to draw your attention to aspects of the government’s proposals to reform the appeals process which may put very sick and disabled people at further risk of hardship and despair.

The [ ] ME Support Group is a self-help group for people suffering from ME/CFS run by its members. We have members within your constituency. The introduction of the flawed Work Capability Assessment for ESA claims has had a devastating impact on our members, with many incorrect “fit to work” decisions overturned on appeal.[i] Now the government is proposing to introduce a mandatory reconsideration by the DWP before an appeal to the tribunal can be lodged. And in doing so they propose to cut payments of ESA to those who challenge a “fit to work” decision.  

Currently claimants who challenge a decision that they are fit to work are paid employment and support allowance (ESA) at the “assessment rate” pending their appeal tribunal. But in its recent response to a public consultation the government is considering stopping these payments during the mandatory reconsideration period. Instead claimants with no other income will be forced to sign on for jobseeker’​s allowance while they await the DWP’s reconsideration. Furthermore, the government refuses to impose a statutory time limit on the DWP reconsideration phase.

Several of our members who have had a “fit to work” decision overturned on appeal were too disabled by illness to meet the conditions for obtaining jobseeker’s allowance, ie travelling to the Jobcentre regularly and attend a signing on interview. Some would therefore be left without income for food or heating for an indefinite period while they awaited reconsideration under the proposed new system.

As is well known, the rate of success at appeal with regard to ESA is high. Some of our members have even scored zero points at the WCA but qualified for the Support Group at tribunal. Claimants contesting DWP decisions are therefore not merely borderline cases. They are sometimes too severely impaired to leave their home on a regular or predictable basis. 

We would like to urge ministers to consider the details of these proposals more carefully to avoid causing potential destitution to vulnerable people who may have been incorrectly assessed.

For the system to work fairly, there should be a time limit on reconsiderations; and people requesting a reconsideration should be paid at the assessment rate of ESA on production of a doctor's note while the reconsideration takes place.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine Hale,
Trustee, [ ] ME Support Group

[i] Work Capability Assessment Third Review: [ ] ME Support Group Response. August 2012.


  1. I got a reply back from Freud on this tricky question a few weeks ago. Policy on this is under development, he tells me. It sounded to me as if they really don't know what to do.

  2. Thanks Bill,

    I don't know whether to think they've thought through the consequences and think that making people get to Jobcentres to sign on when they are sick is part of the "tough love" medicine to make us well again. Or whether it just didn't occur to them that people can be too sick to get to the Jobcentre to sign on..

  3. This means just one thing more Suicides, Just been to a funeral today of my friend Keith Murphy he killed himself because of this dreadful benefits system we have, inspire 2 work sent him for a course he wasn't the slightest bit interested in along with the usual threats of sanctions if he didn't attend he was suffering with addiction and depression much like myself and just like him i feel like ending it all sometimes. I won my case on appeal but i dread deeply the time i have to do it again, ps we both do/did what volunteer we could at a local chairty.

    1. Thanks Mark,
      I'm very sorry for your friend Keith. I can't believe we live in 21st century UK when people who volunteer for local charities are driven to suicide by a regime of workfare and sanctions. On the one hand the government is hailing the Big Society of volunteers who will supposedly make up for charities' funding gap. On the other hand they're squeezing the lifeblood out of those of us who volunteer because they're too sick to work.

  4. I don't think its 'tricky' or that they haven't thought through the consequences - its simply to stop people winning appeals.
    When they talk about India or China being our 'competitors' its not just wages and conditions that they look at, its welfare provision as well. They want to abolish the welfare state returning the UK to the mid 19th Century and the Poor Law. The idea that we will have to work for our pensions under threat of sanctions, is exactly that.
    We have to stop them.

    1. I so agree! Have been watching this coming for about 30 years, and wished people had woken up.

      A J S

  5. I don't think they care, in fact its probably deliberate because they think there is nothing wrong with anyone anyway! We are all scroungers and workshy!
    Stuff like this makes me think evil things and however unchristian it may sound, I hope with all my heart that one by one they all are struck down with a debilitating illness and that they lose all their money preferably to the taxman and they spend the rest of their miserable lives writhing in pain and agony for the rest of their, hopefully long lives!

    1. Evil things happen when ignorant and arrogant people hold too much power. But don't let them corrode our spirit! Amen.


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