Martine White has been assessed as requiring to undertake ‘work related activity’ in order to continue receiving Employment and Support Allowance. Ms White was born with disabilities from thalidomide. She explains: “It is impossible. I can’t walk properly, I can’t stand, I can’t pick things up, I get dizzy with the brain tumour and I’m blind in one eye and deaf in both ears. It is depressing. What am I going to do?” Many people will blame Atos, the firm undertaking the assessments, but they are doing what they have been commissioned to do. This one is down to the government.
People receive ESA because it is not reasonable to expect them to work – at least, that is what the law says. Their entitlement is assessed by a points scheme. Then some are assigned to the ‘support group’, where they will receive support, and others are required to undertake work-related activity.
When the last Labour government laid out this scheme, they promised that there would be regulations to identify who would be asked to undertake work-related activity. But they did not do so, and nor did the coalition government when they reviewed the regulations. They have relied instead on the assumption that everyone who is not specifically identified as belonging to the support group must be liable for work related activity – even though it is accepted that it is not reasonable to ask them to work. That position has still to be tested in court.