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The implications of contributory ESA time limits

In this post, Louise Whittle explains the effects that the new ESA eligibility time-limit will have on her.

From today, the government limits the time for which contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is paid. The change limits the amount of time people in the work-related activity group can receive contribution-based Employment Support Allowance to 365 days. These changes are part of the Welfare Reform Act.

Louise Whittle explains the effects this change will have on her.

My Employment Support Allowance (ESA) finishes today.

The reason is that due to the Welfare Reform Act, contributory ESA has now a one year time limit. I do wonder actually how many people who are on contributory ESA know their money will run out after a year.

I applied for ESA on 1 May 2011 after a traumatic time after losing my job. I faced the dreaded Atos interview work capability assessment. They found me “fit for work” (indeed I have a pulse and that’s enough for Atos). Then months later, I won my appeal.

By then my money was coming to an end. In May 2011, I had heard rumours that the government wanted to time-limit contributory ESA. The Lords put forward an amendment which was overturned by the government.

What is in store for me now?

Financially, I will be worse off. Contributory ESA gave me financial independence, but now I will have to rely on my low paid partner. If I apply for means-tested ESA, they will take my partner’s salary into consideration and I won’t qualify because of that. I am now investigating whether I quality for Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA) and if I fulfill the contributions criteria for it.

The dramatic loss of income will undoubtedly have major consequences on some people's health. Some people may find themselves slipping backwards. They may have improved with support, but the sudden loss of income could severely damage their mental health once again - coupled with increase poverty and misery.

In my own personal circumstances, I have become more stressed and depressed about this. It makes it harder for people to survive the day-to-day experiences of life - for example, to apply for jobs, especially jobs where you need to ask for four duplicate photocopies of an application form and/or you need to budget for job interviews. Losing broadband because of cost means being unable to search on the internet for jobs. Libraries provide access to free internet, but, combined with cuts, many will find that provision will go. The government desperately wants you to find a job, yet undermines you in every way.

Certainly, one year of contributory ESA is not nearly enough. There was absolutely no need to time-limit this benefit. But with this unholy alliance, it was an ideological and vicious attack on contributory based benefits, I am sure they would love to make all benefits means-tested.

What will happen? I am sure many people who are coming to an end of their ESA will disappear off the radar and the likes of Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith will cheer loudly exclaiming that there are people coming off benefits. But where will those people go to?

Legal challenge

A firm of lawyers - Irwin Mitchell - is looking to challenge ESA time-limits. Unfortunately, I can't be part of this action as I don't qualify for legal aid. I've contacted the trade union Unite Community department (I am an unemployed member and am sure there are other members who are in the same position as me ) asking whether they would work with Irwin Mitchell, provide support, legal advice and solidarity to members in this situation. It would be well received. I'm waiting for an answer from Unite Community.

Key welfare reform changes affecting and concerning this service user:

  • Welform reform act time limit of 365 days on contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). These changes are part of the Welfare Reform Act. The change limits the amount of time people in the work-related activity group can receive contribution-based Employment Support Allowance to a year.

Louise Whittle blogs at harpymarx

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