7 January 2009
A major advice provider stands accused of creating a guide to benefits for vulnerable people which could lead to readers missing out on money and being pushed into unsuitable employment.

The 15 page ‘Easy read’ guide to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was written by Disability Alliance with support from Mencap and the National Autistic Society and is aimed primarily at people with learning difficulties.

However, whilst the guide explains the process of claiming ESA, nowhere does it explain that the DWP sometimes make mistakes and that it is possible to challenge decisions. Nor does it warn that some Pathways agencies may be more interested in meeting targets and making profits than with ensuring that the claimants best interests are met.

The guide tells readers that they will have to have a medical to decide if they can get ESA. It goes on to say that:

“It may be that employment and support allowance is not the right benefit for you. Jobcentre Plus can tell you if you should be getting a different benefit.”

In fact, the only different benefit would be Jobseeker’s Allowance – a much harsher benefit for disabled claimants to be on and one which pays less than ESA. Yet there is no hint whatsoever that Jobcentre plus may get it wrong.

A simple paragraph, such as:

“Sometimes Jobcentre Plus makes a mistake about which benefit you should get. If you think they have got it wrong you can ask them to look at their decision again and even ask for different people - a tribunal - to decide.”

would have alerted readers to this most fundamental of rights.

The guide goes on to say that, for those who are awarded ESA:

“Jobcentre Plus use what the doctor tells them to make a decision about which group you go in to.”

Again, there is no warning that the wrong decision may be made and that it can be challenged.

Readers are told that if they go into the Support Group:

“You can do voluntary work if you like. This is work you do for a few hours each week and that you do not get paid for.

“Doing voluntary work might help you to get a paid job.”

In fact, voluntary work can be done just for the pleasure of it, without any thought of it leading to paid work.

What’s more, claimants in the Support Group can do paid work under the permitted work rules without ever doing voluntary work. The activities involved in the work can be taken into account when deciding whether they remain eligible for the Support Group, but this will apply whether the work is paid or voluntary – something else readers are not warned about.

For those who end up in the Work-Related Activity Group, there is the following information:

“You will also have to go to 6 interviews with an adviser. The adviser tries to help you get ready to work.

“You must go to all these interviews to carry on getting your full amount of employment and support allowance.”

Once more, readers are given no word of warning about the possible dangers of this process. For example, they are not told that all the personal advisers carrying out these interviews are working to targets for getting claimants back into work. Nor are they warned that some personal advisers may be more interested in meeting targets and making profits for their company than in the well-being of their clients.

A paragraph along the lines of:

“You should always talk to someone you trust before agreeing to start any work. You should also get a check done by an independent advice agency to find out whether you will get more money if you start work.”

The ‘Easy Read’ guide clearly needs to be just that. Sadly, this guide reads much more like ‘Easy Propaganda’ written by the DWP than a balanced guide produced by agencies that readers should be able to trust.


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