Disabilities: Government warned forced activities ‘could make health worse’


Plans for people with disabilities to be forced to undertake ‘mandatory activities’, even though they have already been assessed as being unfit for work, is being opposed by disability groups such as the MS Society.

It is good to see the society urging the UK government to scrap plans, included in the Green Paper Improving Lives, that would require people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to participate in those activities or risk facing cuts to their benefits.

disabilityThe ‘Green Paper’ is a supposed consultation document that sets out what the government calls its 10-year vision for helping people with chronic conditions – who can and want to – find and stay in work. It also includes other areas, such as health and changes to disability benefits.

In a statement issued on Friday, the MS Society said: “We’re really concerned about changes to disability benefits proposed in the Government’s Green Paper on work, health and disability. And we let them know in our detailed response today.”

Society policy manager Laura Wetherly said: “The government must recognise that many people with MS simply can’t work because of their condition and may not be able to return to work in the future. For these people, work has become impossible and in some cases could actually make their health worse.

“Putting pressure on people already deemed unfit for work won’t help their condition improve, will only make the system more stressful for them, and won’t help to close the disability employment gap. We’re urging the Government to make the welfare system make sense – the most vulnerable people need to be properly supported.”

According to the government’s own figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group and are currently people not expected to carry out any work-related activity.

The MS Society says its January survey of more than 1,300 people with the disease revealed:

  • Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) say they are not employed.
  • Over half (53%) of this group say they would ideally like to work, but the vast majority (77%) say their MS means it’s not possible for them to work.
  • 62% of those not working feel they couldn’t return to work even with appropriate support.

According to Government figures, of the people with MS claiming ESA, 92% are in the support group. Currently people in this group are not expected to carry out any work-related activity as they tend to have the very highest support needs.

On its website, the society highlights the story of Carole Bennett, who is 58 and from Leeds, was diagnosed with MS in 2003. It says:

Around five years ago, she had to give up her job as a local government officer because her symptoms became too severe to carry on. Shortly after, she started receiving ESA.

Carole says: “I wouldn’t be able to do anything without this money – it’s my main form of income. I do very little as it is because the amount I get is only just enough to get by on. I enjoyed my job and if my health was better, I’d love to get back into work. But MS is so unpredictable – some days are better than others and I never know when I’m going to be ok. If I were forced to look for a new job now, the stress would make my symptoms worse and my life would be even harder than it is at the moment.”

I firmly believe that the plans should have no place in what, in the 21st century, should be a caring, tolerant and decent society.


ian-skype_edited50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/disorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.


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