The government’s decision to end the practice of repeatedly re-assessing people with chronic conditions for their eligibility to claim employment and support allowance (ESA) has been welcomed by an autism charity.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) has said the announcement is welcome because repeated re-assessment through the work capability assessment (WCA) can cause harmful anxiety for autistic people.
At the weekend, Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green announced that repeated re-assessments for people with chronic conditions that will not get better was pointless.
The WCA has long been criticised by charities, claimants and family members as flawed, and the process of re-testing people with long-term conditions that have no prospect of improving has been described as a waste of money.
Speaking to the BBC, Green said: "If you have got a condition that has made you unfit for work and which can only stay the same or get worse, I think it is just pointless... It seems to me that re-testing and reassessing them doesn't do them any good – it might induce anxiety and stress in them – and it is also not doing the system any good because it is pointless."
It is thought likely that conditions such as Huntingdon’s, congenital heart conditions and autism are among those likely to be included in the list of conditions that will be exempt from re-testing. The criteria will be drawn up in the coming months by health professionals.
There are two levels of ESA payments, currently. Those in the ‘work-related activity group’, who are assessed as unable to work currently but could do in the future with support and training, receive up to £102.15 per week. Those in the ‘support group’, who are assessed as being more severely impaired and are not obliged to improve their chances of getting a jog, received up to £109.30 per week.
However, from next April, the amount new ESA recipients in the work-related activity group receive is set to go down to £73.
The measure will be formally announced during the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, which runs until Wednesday.
Tim Nicholls, policy manager at the NAS, said: “[This] announcement will be cautiously welcomed by many autistic people and families across the UK.
“More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK but each of them is different - some autistic people can and do excel in the workplace, with varying levels of support, while others' needs are so great that work wouldn't be appropriate.
“Employment and Support Allowance is a vital disability benefit for those who are unable to work, covering their basic daily living costs such as food, heating and clothes. The flawed assessment process can be highly stressful for autistic people who can experience high levels of anxiety meeting new people or when their routine is broken, particularly when the stakes are so high.
“Repeatedly putting autistic people who are furthest from work through this process is pointless and can cause significant and harmful anxiety. These unnecessary reassessments cost public money too, which we hope will now be saved and spent helping autistic people who can work to find and stay in jobs. This would also help the government meet their welcome pledge to halve the disability employment gap in this parliament.
“We will be looking out for more details from the government in the coming weeks and will work to make sure the proposals fully reflect the needs and experiences of autistic people.”