"Sickness benefit: lost in the ESA appeal system - videoMarcus has spent the last three years battling a tumour, migraines and depression, but for much of that period has had no support from the benefit system. He has applied for employment and support allowance, but is one of thousands appealing against a decision that he is fit for work"
Second Guardian article today 19.3.12 on ESA appeals
" Sickness benefit: 'They try their damnedest to avoid paying'A computer questionnaire now helps determine who is fit for work and who is eligible for benefits. But it is causing misery, with thousands of unwell people locked in a chaotic system of appeals
Amelia Gentleman guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 March 2012 20.30 GMT Article history
Peter: 'If I was a bit more shy and retiring, I might have been intimidated into not complaining' Photograph: David Levene
How sick or disabled do you need to be to qualify for state support? Is it enough to be blind or do you also need to be deaf? Is it enough to have been so seriously injured in a car accident that you can no longer walk without extreme pain, or do you have to be bed-bound?
These are the sort of questions that a new, computer-led system for determining eligibility for sickness benefit has been trying to resolve for the past year. Judging by the mounting pressure on appeal tribunals, where hundreds of thousands of people have flooded to contest the decisions, the system is not working smoothly.
There was a 56% rise during 2010/11 in the number of people appealing rulings that they are fit for work and the tribunals system has become overloaded. Since the system was trialled at the end of 2009, at least 390,000 people have gone to appeal; tribunal courts have been forced to open on Saturdays and to increase staff by 30% since January 2010, to deal with the backlog; the cost of these appeals is expected to reach £50m a year by the end of this month. The scale of the problem is startling; the tribunals service has radically increased its capacity in order to cope with a possible half a million new cases over the next 12 months.
During the past year these tribunals have become the frontline in a nationwide battle against this new system designed to assess the nature of disability and illness, variously described by MPs and campaigners as "chaotic" and "not fit for purpose".
Peter, a computer analyst (who prefers not to give his real name because he is still appealing against his ruling), was forced to give up his job in October 2008 when he could no longer see the screen well enough to work. He was formally registered blind in 2009, after 20 years of gradually deteriorating eye-sight. Because he was no longer able to do his job, he applied for the new incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance.
Despite his blindness, he was refused the benefit, and told he was fit to work. In order to qualify for the benefit, you need to be awarded 15 points in the new test, the work capability assessment. He scored nine points, which means he was denied both the benefit and also the chance of getting targeted extra support to help him find appropriate work. Had he been deaf, as well as blind, he would have secured the extra points, he was told.
Sickness benefit: lost in the ESA appeal system Link to this video He appealed against the decision, and a panel overturned it in March 2011, concluding that he should not be expected to find work. Then in October 2011, he was invited for another test, and a few weeks later was again told he didn't qualify for the benefit. He has launched a second appeal process, and is enraged at the time and money wasted on repeatedly sending him through the system..............."