ESA disability benefit is ‘failing’, government document says

Man with disabilities at work

The new disability benefit is helping fewer people get jobs, while its rising cost is a big financial risk for the UK, an internal government memo says.

The memo, obtained by the BBC, says the Department for Work and Pensions is struggling to deliver employment support allowance (ESA).

ESA was introduced in 2008 to replace incapacity benefit.

The government acknowledged there had been problems but said it was bringing in a new firm to do tests for ESA.

The document also says claimants face an average nine-month wait after assessments.

‘Not delivering’

ESA is intended for people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability. Claimants undergo tests, called work capability assessments, before learning whether they are eligible.

Earlier this month the government said more than 700,000 people were waiting for an assessment, blaming the delays on delays on Atos, the private contractor carrying out the tests.

Atos, which has agreed to end its contract early, has said its staff have been “vilified” and abused for doing what was asked of them by ministers.

The memo says that ESA “is not delivering more positive outcomes for claimants” than incapacity benefit did.

The benefit is becoming a long-term destination for too many people, it says, and more people than expected are becoming eligible for it.

This is thought to be partly due to restrictions on jobseeker’s allowance leading to an increase in ESA claimants.

A key aim of the benefit is to get people off welfare and into work, but the document says that employment outcomes appear lower than under incapacity benefit.

Mike Penning, the minister for disabled people, said: “We do have problems with the ESA assessment.”

He said it was “something we inherited” from the previous Labour government – “but we are doing everything we can to address [it] which is why I’ve negotiated Atos out of the contract and we’re bringing in a new provider so we make sure that we can have proper flow of the benefits coming through.”

Mr Penning said he did not recognise the comments about financial risk to the government.

Work capability assessments are carried out both on new claimants and those in receipt of incapacity benefit before they are moved to ESA.

Some of those deemed eligible for the payment are given regular interviews to help them find work, depending on their level of disability.

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