Taking the Support Out of Employment and Support Allowance

We will say to people that if you can work, and if you want to work, we will do everything we can to help you. We will give you the training, we will give you the support, we will give you the advice to get you going and get you back at work.
David Cameron.


Bold and encouraging words there from our Prime Minister. Words that reassure you that systems are in place to support you if you have found yourself out of work. Words that tell you that the government’s main objective is getting the unemployed employed, getting the people living on welfare off benefits and into the workplace. Excellent. Bravo. Well said Mr Cameron.

But wait. I want to work. I’ve found a way that means I can work and yet this very morning I have walked away from a voluntary meeting at my local Job Centre Plus being told that there is nothing they can do to support me into work.

So here’s my situation. I’m a single mother. I have been since just after my son’s first birthday. When my son was three I decided that I’d had enough of trying to survive on Income Support and, much to the shock of the JCP adviser, I decided to go back to work. I had a nursing degree and had worked as a Ward Sister in a Marie Curie Hospice before the birth of my son. I got a job as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Palliative Care, I was doing what I loved, looking after patients in the NHS as they approached the end of their lives. As much as I loved my job I started to become unwell; I was having panic attacks, crippling insomnia and levels of anxiety that interfered with my ability to do my job. After a period of sick leave I was given no choice but to resign and try and concentrate on getting well. I was then back on Income Support.

My diagnosis jumped around, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and I was eventually diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. I have been under the care of the mental health team for over two years, according to the Disabilities Act I can class myself as disabled.

The British people think that if someone is disabled, then they should get all the care and support that we can offer.
George Osborne.

When my son turned 5, in February 2013, I came off Income Support and applied for Employment and Support Allowance. The way that ESA is set up you are supposed to be at the pre-assessment level for 13 weeks and then placed in either a support group or a work group depending on your assessed work capability.

35 weeks after I started claiming ESA I was due to have an Atos assessment. I was having an especially mad few months, daily panic attacks and symptoms that frankly I’d rather not talk about here and therefore I contacted them asking for it to be rearranged. 25 weeks later and I never have received another appointment.

Recently, even though I am still under psychiatric care and I know I am not well enough to cope with the pressure of employment I have been thinking about ways the I can be self employed and therefore come off ESA. I booked my appointment to discuss what support I could get and that is what took place today.

The short answer is none. Zip. Zilch. There is a scheme called the New Enterprise Allowance, it is made for people like me. It supports you in setting up as self employed, takes you off ESA/JSA and then gives you a payment of £60 for 13 weeks and £30 for 13 weeks as you get yourself on your feet. It would be the ideal support for me as I built up my copywriting client base. Except I don’t qualify. To qualify you have to be ‘fully on ESA’, ideally in the work group. In order to be in the work group then you need to have been assessed as capable to start looking for work. The Job Centre couldn’t tell me when I might get another assessment date through. The Job Centre insisted that the government no longer using Atos was not having an effect on the time it would take to be assessed. Apparently me saying that I feel able to start doing some work, and that I want to work is not enough. So I have no choice. I can’t start working for myself, or at least if I do I have to do it with no support, no financial cushion for the first few weeks.

The system is broken. The system isn’t built to get those who want to work into work. It is built to demoralise and humiliate people. To ensnare them into a benefit trap so that they can be sneered at by the rest of the country. Excellent. Bravo. Well done Mr Cameron.