Peter Dwyer, Jenny McNeill, and Lisa Scullion introduce our latest briefing paper, on disability and welfare
Welfare conditionality has only relatively recently been extended to disability benefits. The change has brought reclassification of some people as fit for work, alongside increased requirements for many others with impairments to undertake job search and training activities or face harsh benefit sanctions. All of that has made the rights and responsibilities of disabled people a flashpoint of recent welfare reforms.
Ongoing fierce debate about the rights and wrongs of the current policy has seen some accuse politicians and the media of inculcating a ‘’vilification’ that presents disabled people as fraudulent benefit scroungers abusing the public purse. Many advocates of conditionality argue that claimants are actually unemployed rather than incapacitated – so they need to be compelled or cajoled back into paid work . Critics on the other hand argue that the extension of conditionality and its more rigorous application is inappropriate, punitive and largely ineffective in helping disabled people into paid employment. They stress structural factors such as adverse labour market conditions and disabling prejudice among employers as key factors in the ongoing exclusion of disabled people from paid work.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), introduced by New Labour in 2008 and subsequently enthusiastically endorsed by the Coalition Government, is at the heart of such debates. Its key component, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), is subject to particularly widespread criticisms. The inefficiencies and insensitivities of ATOS, the company who carried out such assessments, have been widely reported. It remains to be seen though if the newly announced contractor, US firm Maximus, will do any better in making fair assessments of an individual’s level of impairment and their fitness for work.
Alongside ESA, other major developments have led some to claim that disabled people are being affected especially badly. Changes include the phasing out of Disability Living Allowance and its replacement by Personal Independence Payments, cuts in Housing Benefit and the introduction of the spare room subsidy withdrawal (also known as the ‘bedroom tax’). Against this backdrop our briefing paper highlights how the ongoing attempt to ‘rewrite the welfare contract’ for disabled people has become a key battleground within UK welfare policy.
Read the full briefing here.
Social tagging: Disability