About the project
The Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) is a sickness benefit for people who are ill or disabled and unable to work. Cutbacks to legal aid has made specialist welfare benefits advice difficult to come by and people often have to negotiate the claims process for ESA without support. We gave Citizens Advice Plymouth a grant in 2016 to run a training programme for voluntary sector organisations in Devon to help them help their service users navigate the ESA application system.
This grant is one of a number we have given to legal organisations to collaborate with voluntary organisations in their sector or locality to help them recognise when a rights-based approach or a legal intervention might help their service users.
Plymouth Citizens Advice is delighted to have been awarded grant funding from the Baring Foundation to launch its innovative ‘Do Know Harm’ training initiative across Devon.
Entitlement to ESA is in most cases decided on a ‘points’ basis whereby claimants are scored in a Work Capability Assessment according to their physical and or mental health limitations. However, our research suggests that substantial numbers of vulnerable people are ending up in the wrong category and inappropriately assessed fit for work.
There is evidence from both local and national research that shows that people inappropriately found fit for work can be driven to self-harm, express suicidal thoughts, or find that their physical conditions are pushed beyond limits to the detriment of their health. In the very worst cases, there seems to be a direct link between a failed assessment and a resultant loss of life.
There are ‘exceptional circumstance’ regulations within the relevant legislation which should be protecting those deemed most at risk. However, these regulations are not well known about and numbers qualifying into this category are dropping.
This is where this vital funding comes in. We will be rolling out training to our partnership voluntary organisations across Devon over the course of 2017-2018 to help them guide their service users through the ESA application and assessment process. Ultimately, we see this as being about ensuring that the most vulnerable people are protected by Article 2 of the Human Rights Act which protects their fundamental right to life.
“Excellent course. Really made me feel think about the importance of recording conversations with clients with regards to how they feel, and of identifying vulnerabilities.”