In a speech to the Conservative Party conference on 1 October, Mr Green stated it was ‘pointless’ to re-test ESA claimants who had no realistic chance of getting better. However, the speech did not include further details of the change, or identify the specific qualifying criteria.
Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, said: “We warmly welcome this long-overdue improvement to the process of claiming this vital benefit.
“Not only will it ease the stress and anxiety of thousands of individuals and carers, but also it will result in significant cost savings.
“It is important that the government clarifies the conditions that will be included in this exemption. In doing so, it must ensure it consults with appropriate medical experts who specialise in complex conditions such as ABI, as well as liaising with patient representative groups to ensure that this measure positively impacts all those it is designed to help.
“It should also consider extending the change to Personal Independence Payment, as many claimants of this vital benefit also experience repeated and often unnecessary assessments.”
The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for ESA has been much maligned since its introduction in 2008. Despite frequent reviews and consultations, with input from charities such as Headway, brain injury survivors continue to report problems with non-specialist assessors not understanding the fluctuating or hidden nature of their condition.
A year after the latest review in 2014, Headway surveyed its members to see if changes to the WCA had led to improvements. Sadly, the results of the charity’s research suggested the assessment was still failing people in need of support.
Despite the failings, ministers also announced that many new claimants face a cut in the money they receive.
Following a WCA, successful claimants are put into either the support or work-related activity group (WRAG). From April 2017, new claimants in the WRAG category will only receive £73 per week – a reduction of 39% from the current payment of £102.15.
“While we welcome the move to ensure people with long-term conditions will be spared re-assessment, we remain concerned that the WCA is not meeting the needs of survivors of a Brain Injury. In addition, the proposal to reduce the amount received by those deemed unfit for work is deeply concerning.
“Ministers argue that this is because too few people in the category are moving in to work, but we believe that too many of these people are incorrectly assessed as having capacity to seek employment.
“In our survey, 50% of brain injury survivors stated that the support provided to help people back into work is not suited to those with brain injury.