Review of Employment and Support Allowance work assessments

February 11, 2010

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to review the Work Capability Assessment test for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), this was after criticism that the system would lead to many disabled people being unfairly penalised. The ESA is to replace incapacity benefit, and the government had intended to reduce welfare expenditure by reducing recipients for this benefit by one million from its current total of 2.7 million.

Over the next three years the Government intends to test all those on incapacity benefit to find out if they are genuinely unable to work. They will then be placed on ESA, which has different payment levels depending on the level of disability. Anyone who fails and is deemed to be fit for work will have their allowance replaced by jobseekers’ allowance, which has much lower income. Once all 2.7 million have been tested, incapacity benefit will cease to exist.

Figures show a disproportionate number of disabled people in poverty, it was hoped the new system would rectify this. Disability groups have condemned the assessment for not reflecting how an impairment impacts on someone’s everyday life or ability to work.

Neil Coyle, director of policy at Disability Alliance, said the tests were too rigid. ‘They do not measure ability to perform work functions, for example typing, packing or sweeping, but are based on someone describing their average day and simple tasks like picking up a coin from the floor,’ he said.

Evidence from the first tests for ESA showed that many people who needed help were being wrongly judged as fit to seek work. As a result, they were being placed on jobseekers’ allowance and denied access to programmes to help them find suitable employment, such as Pathways to Work, which was set up to help those on incapacity benefit. Figures for new claimants for ESA showed that, of the 193,800 people who made a claim between October 2008 and February 2009, 36 per cent were found to be fit for work and therefore not eligible for the higher benefit.