I have every sympathy with the “not really disabled” of Aditya Chakrabortty’s article (One ‘not really disabled’ man has won against the system. But I can’t celebrate, 28 February) – but I’d emphasise that what our government would call the “really disabled” are dealt the same spiteful treatment. It is now nine months since my deeply disabled niece was declared fit for work, and lost her ESA (employment and support allowance) and PIP (personal independence payment): a decision entirely due to the cheapskate assessment procedures introduced by Iain Duncan Smith, devised by Atos, and perpetuated by the American firm Maximus.
My niece has been subjected to nine months of very damaging stress and anxiety. Her ESA was restored when, after five months, a benefit support tribunal ruled, without her appearing, that her case was incontrovertible; the question of her lifeline PIP is still outstanding and the Department for Work and Pensions refuses to say if any back payment will be made. All the evidence shows that the DWP, at the service of “austerity”, is bent on causing distress to all categories of disabled people, “really disabled” as well as “not really disabled”.
• Aditya Chakrabortty is right to rage against a test that is more about ability to navigate a labyrinthine, heartless system than about ability to work. Things are about to get worse. The earnings-replacement benefit ESA has two categories: the support group for the most incapacitated; and the work-related activity group (WRAG) for those expected to prepare for work. Subject to a stringent means-test after a year, WRAG claimants have until now been paid £102.15 per week.
But from next month, new ESA claimants allocated to the WRAG will receive only the £73.10 paid to claimants of jobseeker’s allowance. This amount, pitifully inadequate for anyone, is even more so for sick/disabled people both because they may have greater needs and because their claims often last much longer. Around 20% of current JSA claims were started two years ago or more. The equivalent figure for WRAG claims is over 70% – and some WRAG claimants may never be fit to return to work. In years of unemployment, clothes wear out, furnishings sag, appliances break down – and there is no money to replace them.
The proportion of ESA applicants assigned to the WRAG on assessment increased through 2016. New claimants who suffer this fate after 3 April are liable to face many years of illness in dire poverty. For them, the safety net that was incapacity benefit, the predecessor to ESA, has been more or less abolished.
Patricia de Wolfe
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