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The Reality of Disability Benefits

Author: Anonymous (with comment by Simon Duffy)

Everyone is different and the benefit system is fiendishly complicated. This story is just one example of the reality of disability benefits. It shows how low they really are. But it also shows how peculiar the whole system is. Here is a man who is poor in money and who must survive on a very low benefit income. Here is a man who is actually rich in experience and talent - and who really wants to give. Making him poorer by reducing his benefits further will clearly not help solve his real problem - to get the chance to contribute, give back and use his many talents.

My story

I am a man with learning difficulties. I keep trying to find a job, and for several years I had an office job. Back in October 2011 I was made redundant. I got a small payment for my redundancy and I contacted Job Centre Plus to make a claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The form I had to fill in had:

  • 54 pages
  • 27 parts
  • over 200 questions

I was sent a medical assessment form called the Limited Capability for Work Questionnaire which had 20 pages and asked me lots of questions about what I could and could not do. I filled this in and sent this back - although I needed some help to this.

I was then sent for a Medical Assessment in December. When I arrived they were running late by an hour.

They then wrote two reports: the Medical Report Form and the Decision Makers Score Sheet. I was told to request this in writing in order to see what they’d written. As I can’t write letters I rang them 5 times and then made a formal complaint and finally they sent me the report in January. These two reports were 24 pages long in total.

On 16th January I was given an award letter for ESA. Money started going into my account then.

From 24th November I was paid £67.50 per week, but this went up in January to £94.25 per week. This will be increased to £99.15 per week for inflation from April.

I am in the Work Related Activity Group. I think this means that I am getting a bit more money because I can work, want to work, but I will also need to get some help to work. It also means that I will be sent for interviews with Job Centre Plus and will have an advisor to help me find work.

Six months since I signed on I have had two interviews so far with the Job Centre Plus. They talk to me about work and offer support. I asked to talk to a disability specialist. The specialist was lovely. She gave me some nice leaflets. So far nobody has forced me to work, but neither have I had any real job interviews.

I will get a Christmas Bonus of £10. I already get £20 per week of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which I know will now change to a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and I know I will be reassessed for this. I am worried because I know that this system is being cut and I may lose this income. I live in a council house where I also provide care and support to a family member. I have also had to claim for Housing Benefit to cover my rent of £212 per month.

This means overall, in a full year, I will get:

  • £94.25 per week for ESA = £4,901
  • £78.20 per month for DLA = £938.40
  • £212 per month for Housing Benefit = £2,544
  • £10 Christmas Bonus

Currently I am living on £8,393, including the money I need to pay my rent.

However if I do not get a job within one year my ESA may be reduced - I am not sure about all of this as it seems complicated.

When I was working I earned about £5,700 per year, plus my DLA, plus my Housing Benefit. So that is a total of £9,182.40 - so I now about £800 poorer than when I was in work.

I really want to work. I don’t feel like I’m using my talents.

Comment from Simon Duffy

There are several things to notice about this man’s story.

  1. This man’s story is anonymous because he is frightened, he does not want to be picked on by people or fall foul of the system. The benefit system is stigmatising and it provokes fear and shame.
  2. This man is very poor and he wants to work. Making him poorer won’t change his incentives, because he already wants to work. He just can’t find work. We already live in the 3rd most unequal modern society (after USA and Portugal) - making the poor poorer will not improve society.
  3. This man can work and wants to work and the world needs his talents. He is already an important care-giver - saving the government money. How can we design a system which makes it easy to work and can give people both the right supports to find that work?
  4. This man is a tax payer. In fact, given that he is amongst the poorest 10% it is likely that he pays about 47% of his income in taxes, the highest of any group. Of course many of these taxes - like VAT - are hard to spot. 
  5. The government talks about simplifying taxes and benefits but this man still has only limited information about what he is entitled to and what will change in the light of government policy changes and circumstance changes. Changing tax allowances makes no difference to him - because he has no job. Cutting his benefits will only make him poorer - he already wants to work.

In A Fair Income I argued we need a radical set of changes to the tax-benefit system - beginning with their complete integration. The benefit system should be terminated and should instead its functions should be rolled into the tax system, The tax system should be reframed to ensure it guarantees all citizens a basic income. Currently the poor pay the most in tax and yet are treated to the indignity of a benefit system that patronizes, confuses and robs them.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

The Reality of Disability Benefits © Anonymous and Simon Duffy 2012.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.