Benefits changes ‘will fail HIV sufferers’

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Changes to the benefits system will “fail” HIV sufferers, a leading AIDS charity says.

According to the National AIDS Trust, testing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants fails to take into account the fluctuating nature of HIV.

ESA replaced incapacity benefit in October 2008. All applicants must now complete a work capability assessment (WCA).

According to figures released this week, three-quarters of the 842,100 people who applied for ESA between October 2008 and February 2010 were found fit to work.

The system takes into account cancer sufferers and people with mental health problems, but NAT says that people with HIV can have “vastly varying” health issues.

The charity says that the assessment does not fully reflect the impact that fluctuating symptoms, fatigue, side-effects of HIV treatment and depression can have on capacity for work and claims that some applicants do not get the chance to fully discuss their illnesses.

In addition, it says that the assessment does not take into consideration key HIV clinical markers, such as CD4 count, which indicates a person’s immune system strength.

NAT chief executive Deborah Jack said: “HIV is a disability, and like many other disabilities, people living with HIV can have vastly varying experiences relating to their condition. Whilst some find they can still work, many others find the impact of HIV or their treatment means employment is not an option at the moment and they need to claim disability related benefits.

“As it currently stands, the WCA is based on an outdated model of disability which only recognises a narrow medically defined set of physical and mental impairments. Also, it does not appropriately acknowledge the fluctuating nature of the condition and the impact that low self esteem due to HIV related stigma can have on a person’s ability to work.

“NAT has submitted our ongoing concerns to the independent review of WCA, lead by Professor Malcolm Harrington, and hopes these will fully considered before any new rules are finalised and come into effect.”