From 27 October 2008 Employment and Support Allowance replaces Incapacity Benefit and Income Support paid on incapacity grounds for new customers.
The principle of Employment and Support Allowance is that everyone should have the opportunity to work and that people with an illness or disability should get the support they need to engage in appropriate work, if they are able.
In Great Britain, over 2.6 million people depend on incapacity benefits, and yet nine out of ten say that they want to return to work.
Employment and Support Allowance offers personalised support and financial help if people are not working due to an illness or disability. It gives people access to a specially trained personal adviser and a wide range of further services.
Central to Employment and Support Allowance are the new medical assessments which examine what people can do, rather than what they can’t, and identify what personal support they might need.
Most people claiming Employment and Support Allowance will be expected to take appropriate steps to help prepare for work, including attending a series of work-focused interviews with a personal adviser.
Under Employment and Support Allowance people with an illness or disability that means they are unable to undertake any form of work-related activity will not be expected to prepare for a return to work.
From October this year, all new and repeat claimants will undergo the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – a new medical test designed to look at what people can do rather than what they cannot. ESA claimants will then be split into two groups, depending on the outcome of the assessment:
- The “Work-related activity group”: Those claimants who pass the assessment and are identified as capable of taking part in some form of work-related activity will be entitled to claim ESA at a rate of £84.50 a week. They will be required to attend work-focused interviews through the pioneering Pathways to Work scheme, to help them overcome their barriers to work and support them into long-term sustainable employment. Those who don’t fulfil these conditions without a good reason could have their ESA partially cut.
- The “Support Group”: Those identified as not able to take part in any work- related activity (the most severely disabled group) will not be expected to take part in work-focused activities unless they want to, but will not face any sanctions. The poorest in this group will get a guaranteed income of £102.10 a week, while everyone else in this category will receive a minimum of £89.50 a week.
All people claiming ESA may also continue to be eligible for other benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance and Housing and Council Tax Benefit.
Those who do not qualify for ESA must instead apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance and will be expected to take part in the work-focused interviews and programmes to help them get back to work.
The main changes to the current system of incapacity benefits announced in the regulations are:
- A move away from an inactive benefit to an active benefit which takes away incentives to stay on benefit for a long period of time. At the moment the amount of money someone gets goes up after six months and then again after one year.
- Removal of the ‘age addition’ which gives more money to people who start their claim before they are 45 – taking away another outdated incentive to stay on incapacity benefit for a long time.
- Medical assessments to be conducted much sooner – within 13 weeks – helping to prevent people from falling into benefit dependency. Those who need it receive support much faster and those who are able to work get the help they need to get back into the workplace.
- A simpler benefit – people will apply for just one benefit instead of the current system where they either claim Incapacity Benefit or Income Support on grounds of incapacity, or even a combination of both.
The idea is to get a million people off benefits and back to work of any kind.
The state wants to reduce the amount it pays out and what you get may depend much on the whim of a local low-paid over-worked state employee.