THOUSANDS of sick and disabled Scots and their families will lose out under UK Government benefit reforms, according to new figures published by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).

For the first time, a report by the agency reveals the likely impact of transferring tens of thousands of Scots claimants off incapacity benefit (IB) or severe disablement allowance (SDA) and on to the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

ESA, introduced in 2008, had until recently only been offered to new claimants. However, in April 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) began 'migrating' existing claimants of the old benefits on to the new allowance.

Around 170,000 Scots are now being assessed at the rate of 1000 a week, and will have their sickness benefits reassessed by 2014. However, many have already been told they are not eligible for ESA.

CAS says 115,000 Scots will lose out on sickness benefits over the next three years. Of these, 36,000 will only be eligible for Jobseeker's Allowance. They will face a drop in income of at least £27 a week, and will have to seek work.

Meanwhile, 65,000 will drop out of the benefits system altogether – either because it is deemed a partner can support them, or because they have not paid sufficient contributions having been out of work for a lengthy period. This group faces a loss of at least £99 a week.

Susan McPhee, CAS Head of Policy, said warning signs had been there about the new benefit from its early stages. She said: "ESA was introduced in 2008 for 'new' claimants, and we have shown ever since how it is deeply flawed and is having a devastating impact on those who are most in need.

"Sadly, the picture remains as bleak as ever. This is a policy that is unfit for purpose and is devastating the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society."

The findings are based on a study carried out by Sheffield Hallam University last autumn, and also show the impact on people who would previously have received IB in different local authority areas.

They show, for example, that 22,500 people in Glasgow will lose entitlement to a total of £73.7 million, with 19,600 told they are not eligible for ESA.

Meanwhile, in West Dunbartonshire, 2800 people will lose entitlement, saving the Government £9.1m, but will be plunged into an employment hunt in an area where there are 20.6 people looking for every post advertised through a Jobcentre.

Other reforms to benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance and Housing Benefit, could exacerbate the problems, CAS says.

CAS says the only way for people to replace the income they will lose under the scheme is to find a job, but Ms McPhee said this was unrealistic.

She added: "With unemployment at a 16-year high, the economy struggling to grow, and former sickness benefit claimants facing discrimination from employers, many of these people will struggle to find a job."

CAS is calling on the Government to reform the ESA decision-making process. It is also asking for more support for advice agencies, to help them work with people who face problems with the new benefit.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said ESA focused on what claimants could do, rather than what they could not. She said more than 900,000 people had been on IB for more than a decade and under the new system the department would help those who could do some form of work to return to employment.

Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside a Scottish branch of McDonald's yesterday in protest against a controversial UK Government work experience scheme.

The group from the Right to Work campaign held banners as they gathered outside the restaurant in Union Street, Glasgow, to voice their opposition to the project which sees benefit payments put at risk if claimants fail to complete a period of unpaid work experience.

The move came a day after Tesco offered to pay youngsters on the scheme following a protest at a branch of the supermarket in London. Waterstones and TK Maxx have already withdrawn from the programme, which is targeted at claimants aged between 18 and 24.