Disabled researchers propose alternatives to failed job tests

LONDON & EDINBURGH, Weds April 9th, 2014: A report published today (9 April) aims to kickstart a significant new debate about the failure of sickness and disability support in the UK, why and what must be done to improve it, and how current systems should be re-designed so that all members of society can achieve their goals and aspirations.

The report, entitled Beyond the Barriers (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/beyondbarriers), is based on the responses to five separate consultations receiving over 1,200 responses from sick and disabled people going through the ESA system (Employment and Support Allowance, previously Incapacity Benefit or IB) and the Work Programme.

Entirely researched, written and supported by disabled people, the report from the Spartacus Network - endorsed and backed by the think-tank Ekklesia and other NGOs and charities - draws on the widest evidence considered and presented to date.

Beyond the Barriers makes constructive recommendations throughout every chapter, based on evidence from both home and abroad, alongside a wide range of case studies.

It is easy to simply criticise the status quo, say the authors: but this report aims to offer a comprehensive alternative vision for sickness and disability support in the UK.

The report :

* Examines what works and what doesn't for sick and disabled people in other countries, and makes a series of recommendations based on the evidence.

* Challenges the assumption that a punishing, penalty-based system produces results and calls for a 'whole person' approach that enables everyone to be included.

* Lays out an entirely new vision of how an assessment for 'sickness benefits' might work, and offers both immediate and longer term recommendations.

* Recommends that people who meet the tough qualifying criteria for ESA are no longer forced to participate in the Work Programme. Instead, they should co-produce plans for their own support where appropriate and commission it directly.

* Offers a range of innovative solutions to enable those that can work to fulfill their potential whatever their impairment. It recommends a holistic, 'one-stop' approach to support and that all valuable contribution should be recognised. This contribution does not always mean paid employment, as caring and volunteering are not adequately supported in our present system.

Sue Marsh, founder of the Spartacus Network of campaigners and researchers, said: "As I say in my conclusion to this report, a system that works for sick and disabled people, while also creating value for taxpayers, need not be a contradiction in terms. But to achieve it, we must first be prepared to listen."

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns manager at the mental health charity Mind, said: "Mind shares many of the concerns raised in Beyond Barriers. The Work Capability Assessment continues to let down people with mental health problems, leading to many people getting the wrong outcome from their assessment. On top of this, the system that is supposed to support people back to work is failing to do so and, even worse, is making many people with mental health problems more ill because of inappropriate pressure and the threat of sanctions. It is vital that significant changes are made to this system and Beyond the Barriers provides interesting and constructive suggestions for how this could be done."

Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, said: "A great deal has been written and spoken about the failures of the government's reforms to the out-of-work benefit for disabled people, Employment and Support Allowance. There has been much criticism of the eligibility test for ESA, the much hated Work Capability Assessment. However, it is proving difficult to describe what a 'good and fair' test might look like given that there needs to be a test to determine who should get the benefit and at what level of help. The Spartacus document is an important contribution to this debate."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia, said: "This is a vital report. It demonstrates from a wealth of evidence the failure of the current ESA system and the assessments driving it. It also proposes a credible, alternative approach rooted in the experience and expertise of people living with long-term health conditions and disabilities themselves.

"Beyond the Barriers shows the way for future policy-making on welfare. Government by ill-fitting, top-down solutions based on false money-saving expectations is bad for the country, bad for democracy and especially bad for the most vulnerable people in society. Once again, Spartacus researchers have illustrated why a major turnaround in attitude and approach is required on ESA, WCA and the Work Programme."

Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of Scope, said: "It's vital that disabled people get the support they need. We need to have the right assessments in place to ensure this. We strongly welcome the contribution of the Spartacus Network to this debate."

"Work for those who can, security for those who can't, support for all" is the watchword of the Spartacus Network.

* The full report can be accessed and downloaded here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/beyondbarriers

* All the latest on 'Beyond the Barriers': http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/beyondbarriersnews

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1. This press release is issued for the Spartacus Network by the think-tank Ekklesia. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a socially progressive Christian perspective in dialogue with others, both religious and non-religious. It is an independent, ecumenical think-tank which is not aligned to any denomination or corporate interest. More information here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/about

2. The Spartacus Network (http://www.spartacusnetwork.org.uk) is a group of sick and disabled people, collaborating online and analysing government policy on welfare freeform, ESA, WCA, the Work Programme and more. It began in 2012 with the report Responsible Reform on DLA. Spartacus reports are available via the Centre for Welfare Reform here (http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/projects/the-spartacus-network.html) and Spartacus material can also be found on Ekklesia here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/spartacus

3. The Lead Researcher and Academic on the project producing the Beyond the Barriers report is Stef Benstead, who can be contacted on 07806 757645 or at: stef.benstead AT cantab.net

4. There are currently 1.8 million people claiming ESA.

5. 562,620 have been mandated to the Work Programme for work related activity. Just five per cent have sustained work.

6. Successful appeals against ESA decisions are currently running at 43 per cent, the highest of any benefit.

7. Atos have now walked away from the ESA contract leaving delivery uncertain and the contract is being audited by Price Waterhouse Cooper.

8. Over a quarter of a million decisions have been found to be incorrect in law and overturned. *Fraud is one of the lowest of all benefits at less than 0.5 per cent

9. Out of work sickness benefits make up just six per cent of the entire social security budget.

10. Figures have not been "rising out of control for years" but have remained static or falling since 1998.

-----

Further comment:

Sue Marsh (suey2y AT gmail.com), press and political spokesperson for the Spartacus Network: 07851 547217.

Ekklesia comment: Simon Barrow, co-director, simon.barrow AT ekklesia.co.uk, 07850 120413.