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Time limits on ESA and what they mean in practice

October 21st 2010

Sometimes the devil is in the detail.

One of the initial reactions to yesterday’s comprehensive spending review concerned the change to make employment and support allowance (ESA) time limited for one year. Tom Clark in the guardian explained the implications of this;

“Singles will be able to fall back on a means-tested safety net, but everyone else will be forced to rely on the generosity of their partner. Expect wheelchairs in Downing Street as the coalition does away with the long-established principle that people who have contributed their own national insurance in the past, and then become sick and disabled, should expect a modest stipend from the state in recognition of this”


This kind of change would no doubt have been particularly cruel on people with severe disabilities, so I think it was important to check the accuracy of the guardian article. So, after some further digging, it appears that the Guardian were slightly incorrect. The real change is written on page 29 of the spending review document:

“time limit contributory Employment and Support Allowance for those in the Work Related Activity Group to one year”

What this means is that ESA will be time limited for those assessed as capable of some work. Those assessed as unable for work will not have the benefit time limited. This means we are back into the realm of deciding who is suitable for work, and who isn’t. Last week, Victoria explained the work capability assessment in more detail and outlined some of the issues with deciding who is fit for work.

 Those with experience of the work related assessments carried out by the DWP (or contractors with a financial incentive to move people off ESA) know full well that there are already major issues with this process.  The Citizens Advice Bureau reported in May how people suffering from Cancer were being wrongly assessed and failed by the system, and some cancer charities have had anecdotal evidence of people diagnosed as terminally ill being told they are capable of work. People with ME (or chronic fatigue syndrome) have also had difficulties in claiming ESA and being wrongly assessed as capable of work. Mental health charities have also expressed concern about work related assessments being unable to measure whether somebody’s mental health issue affects their ability to work.

For years, there has been a perception that many people on incapacity related benefits were ‘scrounging’ or taking the system for a ride. No doubt such perceptions have laid the groundwork behind yesterdays move to time limit ESA for the work related group, but as the evidence linked to above shows – it is already extremely difficult to obtain ESA at the higher rate (i.e assessed as incapable of work), and people with severe disabilities are often wrongly assessed. It is those people who will suffer from yesterday’s changes.


4 Responses to “Time limits on ESA and what they mean in practice”

  1. […] – die Idee, Beihilfeempfänger zeitweise zu manueller Arbeit zu zwingen. Es gibt ebenfalls ernsthafte Sorgen über die Art und Weise, wie Menschen mit Behinderungen derzeit behandelt und falsch eingeordnet […]

  2. […] measure –the idea of forcing claimants to undertake periods of manual labour. There are also serious concerns about the way people with disability are currently being treated and wrongly assessed, and these […]

  3. […] hay mucha inquietud porque las personas con discapacidad están siendo mal atendidas y mal evaluadas y estas […]

  4. […] manière dont les personnes handicapées sont actuellement traitées et évaluées est aussi très préoccupante et le problème n’a pas été abordé dans les propositions de changements. De plus, il y a […]


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