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New benefit a “disaster”

SHETLAND’S Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has revealed how a new and controversial welfare benefit is causing misery and distress for hundreds of sick and disabled people in the isles.

The Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced 18 months ago to replace Invalidity Benefit to help more sick and disabled people into work.

But Shetland CAB manager Les Irving said on Wednesday that in reality the new benefit was failing some of the most vulnerable people in the community.

The national organisation is now calling for a review of the ESA system.

“The Employment and Support Allowance has been a complete disaster for many sick and disabled people in this area,” Mr Irving said.

“For one thing, there are huge delays and administrative problems, so people’s payments are often late.

“But even worse than that is the high number of claimants who are told they are ‘fit for work’ when in reality they can often barely walk or even stand up.”

He added that most people on benefit were not “scroungers” but had worked for many years and paid tax into the welfare system.

Mr Irving said that nine out of ten appeals against ESA decisions had been successful, but were taking up a lot of office time that was not available to help other clients.

“Over about the past 12 months we have lodged 33 ESA appeals here, 65 per cent of all our appeals.

“A total of 20 cases are still pending, many for over six months, which suggests the tribunal system is in difficulty if not actually in meltdown. Of the remaining 13, we withdrew three appeals, nine were successful and one was lost.

“Of those appeals actually heard this gives us a 90 per cent success rate.

“So we are calling for the whole ESA to be reviewed. We need a benefits system that treats people fairly and with dignity. Certainly local people here deserve nothing less,” he said.

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