28/10/2008

All Change On NI Sickness Benefits

People who are unable to work through long-term illness are facing a shake up in the way their benefits are paid.

This week sees the launch of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaces Incapacity Benefit and Income Support, paid on incapacity grounds - but only for all new claimants, or customers, as they are now known.

ESA aims to provide the poorest, most disabled people in society with more financial support, while providing other disabled and long-term ill people, who could work, with greater help to find employment.

NI Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said: "Evidence demonstrates a clear link between working and improved health. Employment and Support Allowance is a huge step forward in helping those that are currently unable to work to start back on the path to employment.

"We can provide for those who are able to take steps towards work, we can provide a greater degree of financial support, faster, for those that are too ill to do so," she explained.

Evidence shows that the right type of work can be therapeutic for both mental and physical health problems. It can also help promote recovery, and even improve an individual's condition.

ESA builds on the successful Pathways to Work programme, which has been fully rolled out in Northern Ireland as of April this year, and has helped more than 2,000 people into work.
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The Minister said that ESA uses a similar support infrastructure to Pathways to Work and provides customers with personal advisers, in-work support, and assistance in managing illness and disability issues through partnerships with healthcare professionals.

All new claimants will now undergo the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) - a new medical test designed to look at what people can do rather than what they cannot.

ESA claimants will then be split into two groups, depending on the outcome of the assessment covering a 'Work-related activity group', or people who pass the assessment and are identified as capable of taking part in some form of work-related activity will be entitled to claim ESA at a rate of £84.50 a week.

They will be required to attend work-focused interviews through the pioneering Pathways to Work scheme, to help them overcome their barriers to work and support them into long-term sustainable employment.

Secondly, the 'Support Group' will be those identified as not able to take part in any work-related activity (the most severely disabled group) will not be expected to take part in work-focused activities unless they want to, but will not face any sanctions.

"This group with a guaranteed income of £102.10 a week (£17.60 more than the long-term rate of Incapacity Benefit), while everyone else in this category will receive a minimum of £89.50 a week," explained the Minister.

(BMcC)

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