A campaign by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to bring urgent change to the benefit system is being backed by Bedford’s Labour parliamentary candidate Patrick Hall.
The bureau is seeking to change the administration of Employment Support Allowance (ESA), introduced by the Government to replace Incapacity Benefit for sick and disabled people unable to work.
Mr Hall said a recent report shows Bedford CAB deals with more problems arising from ESA than any other single issue. He added residents’ experiences suggest the policy causes hardship and distress to many, and wastes public money because of poor decisions, delays and appeals.
Mr Hall said: “The CAB is to be congratulated in constructively drawing attention to the evidence of people’s experience of dealing with this system.
“I am stunned many people have been told they are not sick enough to qualify for ESA, only to be turned down for Job Seekers Allowance because they are judged unfit for work.
“Such a Catch 22 position forces people to turn to charity, the Foodbank, and borrowing off friends whilst they desperately seek help.”
Mr Hall said applicants also face difficulties getting a medical certificate to back up their claim, and it can be ignored by officials if they do.
He said nationally, 15 per cent of GPs refuse to provide a medical report. Of those that do, 24 per cent do so for free and the rest can charge up to £125.
People on the assessment ESA rate receive £71.70 per week, and if they appeal a decision to refuse ESA, lose all benefit during the mandatory reconsideration period.
He added: “I am pleased Bedford CAB is trying to work with GPs through Healthwatch Bedford and NHS England to improve the situation regarding charging. This is a matter for Government and the Department for Work and Pensions. CAB is right to point out applicants should not have to travel to Luton for the Work Capability Test.”