A man who suffers from chronic pain has said that major changes to the benefits system announced in this week’s budget will “fill many disabled people with dread”.
The reforms unveiled on Wednesday mean disabled people will no longer be forced to prove they are unable to work, said Jeremy Hunt, shifting the focus onto what they are able to do instead.
Most significantly, the Chancellor announced the scrapping of the work capability assessment (WCA) – used to determine eligibility for disability benefits.
It is being replaced with the existing personal independence payment (PIP) system – which decides the amount of day-to-day financial support a disabled person needs due to their extra living costs, even if they are in work.
Patrick Langdon, 57, suffers from Fibromyalgia – a long-term condition characterised by widespread pain and fatigue – and persistent depression, known as Dysthymia, entitling him to PIP and Employment and Support Allowance.
While he welcomed the abolishment of WCA, describing it as a process “fraught with anxiety”, the Budget’s emphasis on encouraging people back into work prompted concern.
Mr Langdon, who is currently unable to work, told i: “I think the changes will fill many disabled people with dread. They have little trust in the Government, whose record on supporting the disabled is not good.
“This will sound like an attempt to squeeze disabled people into unsuitable jobs simply to make the statistics look good and I fear that could do far more harm.
“I am sure many disabled people want to work, but it’s not any work they can do. It has to be the right work with the right employer, one who is empathetic to their needs.”
Experts have warned that the PIP system is unfit to determine employment expectations.
Its assessment focus on whether an applicant’s condition is associated with higher living costs, potentially overlooking those who do not meet rigid definitions of disability, a worry voiced by Mr Langdon.
“My PIP assessment was done face to face,” he said. “Despite being awarded it, I believe that the assessor had inadequate knowledge of Autism and ADHD and ignored the very obvious signs of distress and confusion.
“I had, and have, zero trust in the system,” he added. “If you have a physical issue – one that can be seen – or doctors reports detailing a significant illness, then you are definitely at an advantage over somebody attempting to show how life limiting an invisible condition can be.”
The Institute of Fiscal Studies, a think tank, has estimated that one million people could be forced into work and some 600,000 could lose an estimated £350 per month in support as a result of the change.
The Government has said people will be financially protected during the transition to the new system, but it is not clear what protections will be in place for those moving into it after it is implemented in the coming years.
Jeremy Hunt also announced a tightening of the benefit sanctioning system, which allows the Department of Work and Pensions to withhold funds from claimants who fail to meet certain obligations, such as to regularly search for work.
This will involve “additional training for Jobcentre work coaches to ensure they are applying sanctions effectively” and “automating administrative elements of the sanctions process, including sending automated messages to claimants who fail to meet with their work coach”, according to a policy paper.
“Benefit sanctions are a disgrace,” Mr Langdon, who lives with his partner in Dorset, said. “People cannot jump through hoops when they are sick or disabled.
“There has to be a greater understanding of individual circumstances rather than a one rule applying across the board because the system believes that A and B are identical.
“That said, I do have a certain amount of sympathy for the work coaches and administrators who have to deal with the draconian rules which rarely seem to work on the principle of common sense.”
A system that pushes disabled people into unsuitable roles “will only lead to greater levels of stress and sickness”, Mr Langdon said, making employers less likely to hire people with similar conditions.
“I fear an increase in suicide rates if people are forced into jobs only to get the government off their backs,” he added.
A Government spokesperson has previously said that the changes to disability benefits will be implemented carefully.
“The Health and Disability White Paper commits to removing the financial disincentives that exist within the current system by scrapping the Work Capability Assessment, improving support and the experience for people when applying for and receiving benefits.
“These are the biggest reforms in a decade. That’s why we will take time to carefully consider how best to implement the changes – and give security and certainty to claimants, continuing to engage with disabled people and people with health conditions, and our stakeholders, as our proposals develop, before the reforms are rolled out on a staged basis.
“We will put protections in place to ensure that no one experiences financial loss at the point at which the reform is enacted, while improving our offer of tailored support to help people find and stay in sustainable work.2023-03-18T08:27:48Z dg43tfdfdgfd