You will all know that I hold the DWP descriptors largely responsible for all of the misery of ESA. The 17 narrow descriptors - "Can you pick up a pound coin" "Can you lift an empty cardboard box" "Can you lift a pint of milk" bear no relationship to a person's ability to actually do a job of work.
My answer to all of these questions and more would have to be "Of course, I have bowel disease. I might accidentally poo on the coin or vomit in the box so conveniently provided, but these descriptors do not apply to me."
When you read the ESA handbook in detail, it becomes more farcical. "This descriptor only applies on a Tuesday when there is a full moon if the claimant has grey eyes" "This descriptor must be stringently applied to those who are dead. Just because they appear to be dead at first glance, an HCP (Health Care Provider) must take careful steps to ensure that death is in fact present"
OK, I made the last two up, but it's really not far from the truth. Do open the link and take a quick look - "Special Circumstances" is particularly illuminating. Effectively, what I'm trying to say is, a good knowledge of the descriptors won't assure that you go into the Support Group, ensuring long term unconditional support. A quick read of the handbook leaves an applicant wondering why on earth they are bothering at all. However ill you might be - and lets face it, we all agree I'm pretty ill, as does my consultant, my social worker, my GP, hell even my grocer!! - there are so many exemptions, limitations, exclusions and provisos, they can pretty much make whatever random decision they feel like.
But it gets worse! I hadn't seen an ESA50 until about 3 weeks ago.
There are the usual "Who/What/Where/What do you have for Breakfast/" questions, then, loud and proud, just before you get into the "How likely are you to die tomorrow" questions there is :
"Drugs, alcohol or other substances
Do you think any of your health problems are linked to drug or alcohol misuse or misuse of any other substances?"
What? Has this always been there? I think it hasn't. Is this a Tory ideological add-on? Did Richard Littlejohn get to write a section? Will you automatically be turned down as "undeserving" if you fell into alcoholism or crack addiction? I'm sure the DWP will say it allows them to "signpost" people to the right support - I fear this "support" is a cardboard box and your own doorway to sleep in. I was shocked that it was there. Is addiction not an illness any more? Only I'm sure the entire medical profession believes that it is, as difficult to "shake off" as MS or cancer, without the right treatment.
Despite breeding more than their fair share of alcoholics and drug addicts, our elite ruling class appear to believe this is entirely appropriate if you have the funds to support your habit. The Rausings were clearly a bit "off form" but at least they weren't ignoring dead bodies on tax-payer money eh? The hypocrisy is breathtaking, and frankly, a bit sinister.
But then, as I started to fill in the form, I realised it was even more limiting than the descriptors. In fact the questions didn't relate to some of the descriptors at all. Anyone with little or no knowledge of what is expected to qualify for ESA will surely be found almost certainly "fit for work"??
"Can you move at least 50 mtrs before you need to stop?"
"Can you go up or down two steps without help from another person"
"Can you move from one seat to another right next to it without help?"
"Can you reach up with your arms without difficulty?"
"Can you pick up a) a one pint carton of liquid b) a two pint carton full of liquid c) an empty cardboard box
I could go on, but all the people who rely on oxygen to breathe, or a cocktail of drugs to stay alive, or who cannot eat food or drink drinks, or have less than six months to live, or rely on dialysis must answer the questions wondering when on earth any of it will relate to them. They will reach the end and could have had no opportunity to actually write about their condition at all. If they don't know that you have to crowbar every last detail in and write full essays for each question, often repeating yourself, they will surely send in the form, mystified, not realising this will either result in an immediate "fit for work" decision or an assessment.
The ESA 50 is misleading in the extreme. I thought DLA (Disability Living Allowance) forms were bad, but at least they lead you to give all the information you might need to give. Whilst the ESA 50 does go on to expand a little on the questions above, so much is left out, a naive claimant would never give the information they need to give without a trained advocate or representative.
Today, I will be submitting a FOI request, asking exactly how many people are immediately found "fit for work" without a face to face assessment, based solely on the information they provided on their ESA 50 and what their conditions were.
If the DWP deign to respond, I fear the results will shock us all.
**It has been pointed out to me succinctly in the comments below :
"Great blog post Sue, but on the addiction add on which is ideological and brutal, It was your party: New Labour which first introduced the concept of linking benefits to taking up treatments and consequently the new element in the form... "
Bloody shame on them, then, I say.