MS Patients Being Evaluated as Fit to Work, Receiving Lower Benefits, Charities Alert

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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work sickPatients who suffer from progressive conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), are submitted to unnecessary evaluations for disability benefits and often denied the full payment of their out-of-work benefits or deemed as fit to work when they are in fact not able. This new perspective was highlighted by a group of health-related charities, including the MS Society, which recently released data about Multiple Sclerosis, employment, and disability in order to call attention to how patients with progressive conditions are largely misunderstood by benefits assessors.

More than a third (36%) of patients suffering from MS, Parkinson’s, motor neuron disease, cystic fibrosis, and rheumatoid arthritis were evaluated as fit for work-related activity, a level of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) granted to people who are expected to recover enough and be able to work again. That means that 8,000 people suffering from those diseases are supposed to attend regular interviews with advisers, as well as apply for jobs and prepare for a role in the workforce.

The ESA is a benefit design to support people who cannot work due to illnesses or disability, and most beneficiaries are evaluated through a Work Capability Assessment. According to the results, people are placed either on the work-related activity group, or in the support group, in which they do not have to attend interviews. Also, depending on the group, the benefit is different. The first group is paid at a lower rate than the second one, and people who are in the work-related activity ESA may suffer sanctions and see their benefit payment reduced if they don’t attend interviews or other activities.

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In addition, the data revealed that 5,000 from the total of people assessed as fit to work were placed in that group despite the fact that the Work Capability Assessment stated that their return to employment was “unlikely in the longer term.” The five charities who joined forces to disclose the data are now asking assessors to show medical evidence that justifies placing patients suffering from progressive conditions in the work-related activity group.

“It is unfathomable that people with progressive conditions who are deemed by assessors to be unlikely to return to work in the longer term are still being told to seek employment,” said the Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at the MS Society, Claire Nurden. “It is vital that additional safeguards are introduced into the assessment process to stop people with MS slipping through the net.”

In addition to the MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, and The Cystic Fibrosis Trust, are all asking assessors to reconsider and place progressive diseases patients in the support group, where they wouldn’t be required to attend meetings and would receive the highest payment possible.