A SAFETY net for disabled people trying to return to work will be removed next Monday.
Those people who left Incapacity Benefit (IB) to re-enter the workforce will lose the current protection that allows them to return to IB within two years should their health decline, the job prove unsuitable for them to continue, or the contract ends.
The change applies to anyone who left IB to begin working after 1 February 2009, but may particularly hit those employed on six-month contracts through the Future Jobs Fund scheme.
The change also creates a lack of consistency in how disabled people are supported, as people claiming Employment Support Allowance (the benefit which has replaced IB for new claimants) before starting work, still have the protection promised.
Steve Winyard, head of campaigns at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, says: “This effectively breaks the contract that many blind and partially sighted people believe they have with the Government, whereby they return to work, but are offered protection should their health decline.
“Despite repeatedly promising fairness it seems that the changes this Government are introducing are driven by the need to reduce spending, not on achieving real reform to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society.”
Clive Jones, 36, from South Wales, lost his sight ten years ago and has other physical disabilities. He spent 12 years in the army, but has been looking for work for seven years.
He says: “With the old scheme I was able to take a job, but if my health meant I couldn’t maintain the work, I had a safety net.
“From the end of this month, I would lose my incapacity benefit if I were unable to continue in work. I’d be financially worse off and my family would suffer, too. After seven years looking for a job, it’s very difficult for me to know how full time work would impact my health.
“I really want to work – it would make life more worthwhile and let me earn my own money, but this makes no sense. The Government say they want to help people get back to work, yet with these changes disabled people are being penalised.”
From next Tuesday, those impacted by the new rules will have to make a claim for ESA if they become unable to continue working.
For the first 13 weeks of their claim, new ESA claimants are only eligible for the assessment rate of the benefit. This will provide a significantly lower income – at least £26 a week less – than former IB claimants were promised, at the time they started work.
RNIB, and other organisations supporting disabled people to find work, were alerted to these changes by a letter from Job Centre Plus earlier this month.
The charity is now seeking assurances from the Government that they will either reinstate this safety net for disabled job seekers or inform affected claimants of the new rules.
RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999