Why the Budget’s cut to ESA may backfire

One of the lessons we learnt from Gordon Brown’s budgets is that some announcements can seem minor at the time of the budget, but which come back to haunt the Chancellor in later years.  To my mind, one aspect of today’s budget might be the same.  Osborne’s change to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the out-of-work benefit for sick & disabled people, didn’t even merit a mention in the BBC’s early summary.  But not only will this hit vulnerable claimants, which may lead to more criticism in the long run than the short run, it might also defeat the Government’s own commitment to getting disabled people into work too.

What today’s announcement said

In short, the policy involves a £30 per week cut in benefits for many new ESA claimants so that they receive the same amount as unemployed (JSA) claimants, starting from April 2017.  Here is the policy in the Chancellor’s own words:

“We also want to increase employment among those who have health challenges but are capable of taking steps back to work.

“[ESA] was supposed to end some of the perverse incentives in the old Incapacity Benefit. Instead it has introduced new ones. One of these is that those who are placed in the work-related activity group receive more money a week than those on Job Seekers Allowance, but get nothing like the help to find suitable employment.  The number of JSA claimants has fallen by 700,000 since 2010, whilst the number of incapacity benefits claimants has fallen by just 90,000. This is despite 61% of claimants in the ESA WRAG benefit saying they want to work.

For future claimants only, we will align the ESA Work-Related Activity Group rate with the rate of Job Seekers Allowance.  No current claimants will be affected by this change and we will provide new funding for additional support to help claimants return to work.”

[While I’m focusing on this policy, there’s obviously lots of other announcements that affect disabled people that have been well summarised by DRUK].

So who is losing out?

There are two answers to who loses out: the technical answer, and the contentious answer.

The technical answer is that this change affects the ESA Work-Related Activity Group (the ‘WRAG’).  These are people who have been assessed (in the Work Capability Assessment or ‘WCA’) as having limited capability for work, but capable of doing some work-related activity.  The WRAG currently includes 490,000 people, compared to 1.2m who are classified as being unable to even do work-related activity (the ‘Support Group’).

At the moment, single claimants in the WRAG get £102/week (£111 – see comment by imajsaclaimant below), whereas JSA claimants get £73 £72 – but from April 2017 new ESA WRAG claimants will get the same amount as JSA claimants, which is nearly £30 less than before. Because this only affects new claimants, the savings will be <£100m in its first year, but this will rise year-on-year to £640m in 2020-21 (see the Budget Costings p57) – i.e. it’s a major change.

But this technical description conceals intense controversy about who the WRAG actually are.

George Osborne has for some years treated the WRAG as not ‘really’ disabled. So for example, whenever Osborne says that disabled people will be protected from benefit freezes/cuts (which has done on multiple occasions, including today), he means the ESA Support Group, who implicitly are considered as ‘the most seriously disabled’.  He has NOT been including the WRAG as ‘disabled people’ – and while any classification of incapacity/disability always imposes a binary distinction on the continuum that exists in real life, it is worth noting that those in the WRAG have been found to have limited capability for work. The initial reaction from many people I respect (such as Grahame Whitfield, Declan Gaffney, Jonathan Portes and Nicola Smith) has therefore been to say that the new policy will simply be a cut in living standards to disabled people who cannot work.

The difficulties go deeper than this though. Despite its claimed aims, the WCA simply does not assess whether people are capable of work-related activity.  Instead, the WRAG vs. Support Group distinction depends on three poorly-understood things (as I explain on page 28 of this Demos report, which argued the WCA should be overhauled):

  1. Multiple impairments ‘add up’ to one more severe impairment in determining capability to work, but NOT capability for work-related activity;
  2. Some impairments are considered to prevent people from work, but not from work-related activity – e.g. people who ‘cannot pick up a £1 coin or equivalent with either hand’;
  3. Some special and exceptional circumstances may make people incapable of working, but not incapable of work-related activity – e.g. the risk to the health of the claimant.

It is sometimes assumed that the WRAG is for people who are expected to be capable of work in the near future, but this simply isn’t true, and some people with incurable progressive diseases are in the WRAG.

In other words, not only have all of the people in the WRAG been found to have limited capability for work, but the flaws of the WCA make it difficult to claim that all ‘seriously’ or ‘genuinely’ disabled people (whatever those might mean) are in the Support Group.

When I recently blogged about the possibility of today’s cut to the WRAG, I said that ‘I strongly doubt that this will happen because the political consequences might be very high’.  I was obviously wrong about whether it would happen – but I still think that there is a possibility of an eventual backlash, because even if no-one has any understanding of the complexities of the WCA, too many people that the public see as ‘deserving’ will ultimately be affected in practice.

Why the change might backfire

[I added the following paragraph on Thu 8th July – it was in my original draft, and re-reading the post I thought it was fairer to include it, despite the extra length]

In his speech, Osborne explicitly said that in general he was protecting disabled people – and he would probably argue that despite benefit cuts that he felt were necessary, DLA/PIP were not cut further in any way (despite rumours they would be taxed), while a freeze on working-age benefits explicitly excluded those in the ESA Support Group. Perhaps with an eye on future budgets, at least some of the disability charities seemed to be trying to balance their criticisms of the ESA WRAG cut with gratitude for the potential cuts that weren’t made.

My further worry, though, is that the WRAG change will reduce the employment of disabled people rather than raise it, for two reasons.

Firstly, many sick and disabled people don’t know if they will able to work, or how employers will react to them. If they think that the system is Kafka-esque, they are more likely to cling onto benefits rather than trying to work – something Paul Gregg has described ‘hunkering’ down’.  And if people are worried about having enough money to live on, then this will get even worse.  The logical reaction to this policy for sick and disabled people will be to try and get into the Support Group, and then once on the Support Group to make sure they don’t try anything ‘risky’ like trying to work. This is precisely the opposite behaviour that the Chancellor said he was trying to encourage in this move.

Secondly, assessors have been placing ever-more people in the Support Group in recent years, and placing ever-fewer in the WRAG or finding them fit-for-work (as I go into in detail in the Demos report).  The main explanation is that assessors have increasingly been citing the health risk if people weren’t placed in the Support Group.  Among other reasons, this is probably because of the increasing conditionality/sanctioning applied to people in the WRAG and the deep public unease over the WCA, which makes assessors (and those providing evidence to them) ever more worried about the health consequences of being in the WRAG.

If the WRAG/Support Group distinction is made even sharper, then claimants, their GPs, Maximus assessors, and DWP decision-makers may be ever-more likely to say that there is a health risk to placing someone in the WRAG.  The net result would be that people who might otherwise be placed in the WRAG are instead placed in the Support Group – and as I’ve said, the logical reaction once in the Support Group will be to stay as far away from the labour market lest their eligibility is called into question.

A key part of the long-term solution – as I have argued in the Demos report – is to replace the WCA with an assessment that makes sense to people, which understands the barriers they face and what they can reasonably be expected to do. Instead, by making the stakes of the Support Group vs. WRAG distinction even higher, I think that today’s announcement will push the already-damaged WCA beyond breaking point.

85 thoughts on “Why the Budget’s cut to ESA may backfire

    1. Thanks for making things clear, even the bbc site doesn’t explain these changes very well and misses some parts as well as leaving you confused about others

    2. I would like to point out first that I am a claimant of ESA and I have been placed in the WRAG for some time. . I would like also to explain why I’m considered not fit for work by my GP who has tried at every turn to explain my illness to the DWP I have complex post traumatic stress disorder the reasons behind which I don’t think I need to go into detail over as I would like it to remain private . As a sort summery I would say I’m prone to boughts of psychosis and long boughts of depression but never would I say I’m OK to work . Or to be a part of work related activities as I don’t leave my house because I was detained by the police under the mental health act after being tazzered . You can imagine the feeling of being unwell and feeling as if only you had been left alone by the police it would never of happened as I was in a rage waiting for my medication to set in which would always knock me out for a day or 2 giving me time to deal with an event that had sent me over after this event I found the only feelings that made any sense to me was to end it I hate the way I feel I was a strong man that had so much pride in what I did before I got unwell I paid into the system and defended it for many years but ending it was the only way to stop it so I did the unthinkable 7 times in 12 weeks causing serious damage to my body I’m now a walking time bomb according to doctors because of the attempted medicated suicides the sum of my life is now to live I fear of losing the little I have we can’t afford to buy a house on what we have . We have no children as I take the view if I can’t pay for a child I won’t have a child . So no social housing leaving us private rented we live in a mould ridden band E house with a council tax bill of £1800 after reductions it’s £1100 a year rent of £600 per month I now have reduced pip due to cuts in my mobility as I don’t leave the house I have no need for it according to the new rules and because I have a partner who lives with me I’m not in the server disability group. I would like a member of the Tori elite to live a week in my shoes with my issues and tell me again that I’m ( not really disabled) based on a new system designed in its very nature to only hinder me as a human with rights set in stone in the European mandate of human rights to be free of persecution I feel very persecuted by everything that’s going on. I would really like to go back to work but as I can’t leave the house most days and there is no funding at all for the disabled to become self employed giving them true freedom to work and be apart of a economic recovery instead of placing them in derogative rolls with in company. The second I say pypcosis I get looked at like a social leper . Not once have I been asked how I came to be this way as far as employers go I’m unemployable where as the DWP say I’m able to take work related activates. Makes no sense to me but there you have it from my perspective as far as I’m concerned to cut benifits for the part of our nation that can’t fight back is cold an calls into question how we think as a nation. . Then to give tax breaks to what I describe as there friends and family is a travesty in its self. It reminds me more each day of what we have resisted as a nation fir over 30 years now the weak are the target for the strong .. totally unfair and servers only for votes as opposed to social justice .

    3. I think the WCA assesment is a joke as I have had my ESA stopped I have spongelitis,artheritis,in my knees,elbow,shoulder,fallen arch in my foot and have to apply for universal credit and then be assesed again to the WRAG even though I sent my sick note before my last one ran out even though the doctor I seen said I was not fit for work.
      And now I have to go to job center to sign a commitment to work form and I am in constant pain 24-7 the only time it does not hurt is when I am asleep and the assesment is done by maximus which is the same assesment as ATOS which lost the goverment contract how does that work.
      I have an M.R.I on tuesday to see what type of spongelitis I have got.

  1. One additional point…. Here we see yet another indication that the Tories seem to think that all/most of the employment barriers faced by disabled people and people with long term health conditions can be changed by the individual claimant. In reality, it is self-evident that there are structural and attitudinal labour market barriers faced by disabled people, over which they have no control. Simply making it harder for disabled people to live will do nothing to make the labour market more receptive to the contribution they can make – if, in fact, they could undertake paid work, which many cannot. And the Government’s “Disability Confident” project does vanishingly little to reduce labour market barriers to disabled people. I’m afraid this looks like a highly cynical move by the Chancellor…. and shame on the BBC for not highlighting it!

    1. As I understand it, the Government are planning quite a bit of activity around disability and employment (it was one of the Conservative Manifesto commitments to halve the disability employment gap). This definitely needs to look at the employer side otherwise it will be destined to fail, as you say – fingers crossed it will, and I think that emphasising this at every opportunity will be really important.

      1. I find it really hard to be optimistic about this. Successive governments have been trying and failing to boost the employment rate among sick and disabled people for decades now. I wonder, what are the current government planning to do that is any different from the previous attempts? Force employers to create jobs that are tailored to the needs of those with various impairments?

      2. Well said. All this “employer awareness”and “reasonable adjustments ” Employers only engage in this because it adds to the company’s credibility precluding to support disabled people back into employment. Once they have recieved the benefit of doing so and the support provided in place has ran it’s corse, everything changes. You get treated like dirt and taken advantage of. The problems lie with Employers most definitely and it is about time this got sorted out.

    2. I agree fully with what you say here( as someone who has had long term health conditions), especially if one is not actually registered disabled. It is almost impossible to get a decent job.and often you cannot get a job at all. Employers run a mile if they can get away with it even if a person is intellectually very capable. In then end, it results is massive loss of income.

  2. Thank you for telling the truth – It just can’t be repeated often enough that a punishment-centric, punitive approach to benefits leads not to people magically finding fantastic jobs, but to loss of self-confidence, increased depression, “hunkering down”, siege mentality, and the very benefit dependency that this stupid bunch of neoliberal thugs claim they’re trying to avoid.

    Hurting people and treating them like criminals is never a good motivator.

    1. Not only that, but perfectly innocent people, who did not cause the economic problems in the first place, are also being treated like children, with the attitude of ‘we don’t trust you with money, so we will take every opportunity possible to limit the amount you get, and tell you at every stage what to do with your money’. This is thought control and should have no place in a so-called successful economy like the UK’s. The WCA’s are, in my opinion, a waste of time and money, as this represents duplication of the very commendable work the wonderful GP’s, doctors and nurses of the NHS do. I mean, it astonishes me that, so far, not one person has mentioned the fact that the WCA’s actually treat the GP’s Medical Note as though it is a pack of lies. What happened to if you get a note from your GP stating that you are unable to work, that was sufficient. If I was a GP I would be very deeply resentful of this system, as it calls into question the GP’s diagnosis, which is a disgusting attitude to take. These assessments need to be abolished now, without delay, and not replaced with an ‘improved’ system – in my opinion, the system we had before when a GP’s Medical Note was sufficient, should always be a sufficient system. After all, can people really not figure out that the more paperwork you produce, the most cost is involved? So, therefore, I struggle to find where these so called savings are coming from. It is completely the wrong people who are being targeted here to take money from, it should be the richest 1% of the country who need to stop their theft from this country, which is on an industrial scale, and pay their way – either that or leave.

    2. Conservative use excuses to steal your benefit and waste it on something else…or give it to a non contributor probably an immigrant who has never paid in. You are not the issue….complete lies.

  3. People who are ill aren’t going to get better quicker if they don’t have enough to live on and can’t afford to buy proper food, heat their homes, etc. They might not get better at all because of the reduction in ESA. £70/wk is bad enough when people are unemployed, but if they’re sick they don’t have the option of going back to work. Some who return to work too soon could relapse and delay their recovery even further.

    1. People and the media in general get the misconception that it’s all about disabled people. The government keep saying they are helping the disabled, more support for the ‘genuinely’ disabled.
      Even on social media some Tory MPs argue the toss over disabled people being able to work.

      I think it’s very important to tell them all that SICK, very ill people, long term ill people are also
      in receipt of ESA and PIP benefits. Perhaps if the words ILL, or SICK were used as much as
      the word disabled, people would prick their ears up and realize that most very ill people cannot
      work due to the nature of their condition.

      I have seen some posts on social media where a person wants to prove disabled people have no
      reason not to work, by posting a photograph of a woman artist who uses her mouth to hold a

      What is not taken into account is that sick people may be in debilitating pain, taking medication
      that affects their cognitive functioning, or creates uncontrollable vomitting and bowel issues.

      So the word sick should be mentioned too.

    1. Sorry, I was looking at the real rates when I wrote the post, but I was looking at 2014-15 rather than 2015-16, and the typo crept in somehow as I edited the post down (the dangers of trying to write blog posts too quickly) – I’ve corrected in the article above, thanks for letting me know!

      1. Thanks Ben, sorry to be pedantic. On my twitter I get a lot of wild claims about the amount of money disabled people receive, so I have become a bit of a stickler for accuracy.

    2. you sure? while on esa before I was put in the support group I only recieved the jsa rate, maybe older claims recieved the £102 not recent one’s.

      1. Or I wasn’t entitled to the work group part of the payment ,which is strange because I complied with all I was asked to do, are they not informing people of this part in order to avoid paying them this extra amount although they are entitled to it ?

        1. Did you reach the end of your application stage and placed on to ESA WRAG proper, or go back into work?
          Either ATOS passed you (Hah!) or you appealed and went to tribunal. When on ESA proper they place you on the full amount and back date the difference over the time spent on application which is only the JSA rate.

          WRAG is the lowest rate of ESA so I’m not sure how you could be on ESA and not have the £102pw. But if this did happen to you, make a complaint.

          1. If you’re getting ESA, you should be getting the higher level of payment. If you have any doubts about this, then go and see your local free advice agency (e.g. Citizens Advice Bureau), or look for online resources (e.g. Turn2us) for full – and free – benefits advice.

  4. Thanks Ben. Very useful to have early analysis like this, and I think you make a number of important points. My first thought on reading the announcement was to wonder what they mean by ‘new claimants’ in relation to appeals? There are still people out there cycling between the WRAG and JSA rates following routine re-assessments where WRAG is refused and they then have to appeal. Would this be classed as a ‘new claim’ or a continuing one do you think? Also agree that increasing polarization between JSA and Support group is problematic for their aims around work and will inevitably increase risk of parking among those who want to work but are not yet ‘work ready’ and might benefit from (non punitive) support to engage in work related activity.

  5. There is another issue.
    As far as I’m aware, transitional protection details have not been published. It would however be typical that anyone undergoing a change of circumstances would lose the transitional protection.
    If you are found to be entitled to the WRAG at a reassessment, though you argue you have worsened, if you then appeal this decision, and are found to be eligible for the support group – a later reassessment to the WRAG would remove this transitional protection and the WRAG premium.

    You haven’t quite explicitly in the article mentioned the new reason why existing WRAG claimants may be unwilling to try work – that the WRAG premium would go away on a new claim if they failed likely.
    Maybe that’s implicit and understood by all.

  6. Just wanted to add, it occurred to me when I heard the announcement that new claimants for ESA who get through the WCA and assigned to the WRAG now have absolutely nothing at all to lose (and everything to gain) by appealing the decision in favour of being placed in the Support Group.

    I can’t help feeling many claimants were deterred from doing this (even when they rightly belong in the support group!) for fear that the appeal may go against them and they would be left on JSA, having been judged as ‘fit for work’.

    But now, what advantages are there being in the WRAG as opposed to JSA? We’ve seen sanctions against ESA claimants too ill to work increase and increase.

    I am not sure, because I am not in WRAG myself, but as someone who is severely mentally ill, I can’t help wondering if I was faced with a stark choice of JSA or ESA WRAG, whether I wouldn’t rather end up on JSA anyway, meaning that any decision to place me in the WRAG would have to be appealed for the sake of my health, because if I wasn’t in Support Group, I’d need to be on JSA.

    It seems there would be less chance of being sanctioned on JSA if I just made all the applications and did all the job searches that were required, whereas (from what I hear) there are a lot more appointments to turn up on time for with ESA WRAG, which would be really much harder for someone like me. I’m sure that those with learning disabilities, autism, aspergers would all fall into the same boat. Appointments (remembering them, and making it to them on time) are huge challenges that can’t be understated, and I have seen so many stories of sanctions for these things that being in WRAG would make me much more poorly than being on JSA. Although in either case, I’m pretty sure I would just not claim anything at all.

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it seems now.

    1. It seems to me, yes it is a very commendable thing to try and get those who have a disability, but are still able and willing to work to let them do so, but, the question also occurs to me, which jobs will they end up doing? I mean where are all these jobs, and how much are they paying, and what are the working conditions?

  7. Excellent post Ben. I do concur with what you have typed.

    May I add, as a 22 year old WRAG-recipient, that these rules that the chancellor has stated that will come into force in 2017 are completely erroneous, and more so for those claiming it under the age of 25 as their WRAG benefits will be cut to the c.£52 mark; making those on housing benefits seemingly impossible for them to pay their rent… I know this because I’m in the process of trying to rent my first private property with reliance on my WRAG and LHA (local housing allowance) benefits…

    … I need to move out of my parents home to reduce the stress in my life, to reduce my levels of social anxiety and OCD, to help give me a proper chance in life to finally complete my A-Levels, to let me go to university and then to let me get a job and then to let me pay my taxes… I WANT TO DO THIS! Not because someone is forcing me, but because of my own ambition; the government seems to have this notion that everyone who is on benefits is lazy, how wrong they are.

    If what your saying is correct, I should be safe from my WRAG-benefits being cut?… As I have been on it since about last January. But what of those who are in a situation like me, but will apply for their WRAG-benefits after 2017?… They will be trapped.

    The are too generic, and not individualistic enough in the WCA’s (I remember mine with that indifferent fool at ATOS). Why not instead of punishing people for problems through no fault of their own (the majority; like me), they give us counselling, therapy, social group invitations, self-help books (all the former I had to arrange myself with little help from the state), but most imperatively, help people get ambition and motivation and the wanting to contribute in life; you don’t do this by cutting their benefits and making them feel worthless.

    Anyhow, I could go on, but from personal experience I can say that being FORCED to do things will NEVER be as fruitful as WANTING to do things yourself; only you know yourself better than anyone else; your own thresholds, capacities and physical and mental strength. I just hope the government climbs down from their own backside and realize this too, or people will suffer.

  8. People do not understand that being sick and disabled are paid benefits its what they are entitled to .I worked from age 16 yrs in the coal mines for thirteen years even though i had polio at age 4 and was paralysed down the whole left side of my body in leg calipers until i was 11yrs .I paid national insurance until i had a brain tumor diagnosed when i was 54yrs and after the return of post polio syndrome after radio therapy .Where has all the national insurance contributions gone no audit ever done to say how much has been paid surely a breach of law as these payments are if you are ill and cant work as myself so please get your facts right they are not benefits but insurance payments and should not be allowed by law to be messed with full stop by anyone no govt has the right to touch thses insurance payments.

  9. I think it will stop people in the WRAG, who may feel a little better, attempting to try work, because if they find they cannot actually do it, they will have to make a NEW claim for ESA, (because of the change to the linking rules) and will fall foul of these new rules. Who is going to risk losing £30 a week by “trying out” a job? They are indeed, going to “hunker down”

  10. I hope i’m mistaken, but I see one further flaw. People in WRAG are still regularly assessed so whilst those in WRAG at the moment are protected from the reduction until 2017…surely anyone currently in the WRAG who gets a re-assessment, which I believe is then classed as a new claim, and therefore they will be hit by the cut also?

    1. We don’t know because that stuff is to be set out in regulations and the regulations don’t yet exist. The April 2017 date isn’t even set out in law yet.

      However the assumption is if it is only covering new claims, then the important date is the date of claim. If you claimed before 1st April, the current rules will apply and WRAG will be paid as before no matter what happens in the lifetime of your claim.

      I’d strongly suggest taking a look at this briefing paper (particularly section 5) for info on what is known so far – http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7649

  11. From my experience of being on ESA and the work programme, most people in the WRAG group are far too ill to be seriously trying to find work. I was much more concerned about looking after myself and staying alive. The same could be said of many people found fit for work and turned down for ESA. I think the statistics show this too – very few people in the WRAG group find work. Most who do, probably it’s because their health has improved.

  12. Thanks all for the interesting comments and sorry I can’t reply in more detail till the middle of next week, I’m at a family memorial event in Canada. But the points about transitional protection and the definition of a ‘new claim’ will be really important, let me know if you see any details about it, and I’ll blog when I see anything too.

  13. Reading in more detail the next paragraph in the legistlation published so far, it seems clear that for people with their WRAG protected, migrated onto UC, they lose the WRAG component.
    New claims to UC of course don’t get it.
    People entitled before this bill comes into law, to the WRAG component under UC will be protected.
    It is currently planned to have all legacy claims for benefits finish in 2016, and 2017 has been stated as the ‘completion’ date.
    Exactly when most ESA-WRAG protected claimants will be converted over to UC is a question that requires a considerably better crystal ball than I own.

    1. Ian, is that definitely what the bill means?

      The relevant sections are #13 and #14 here. According to the accompanying explanatory notes, “the intention is that regulations will include provision for claimants who are already in receipt of the work‐related activity component or limited capability for work element to continue to receive that component.”

      I’m not a lawyer so I’m not competent to judge on this – but if it’s a concern, we should try to make sure that the Bill Committee go into this when discussing the details.

  14. What is the definition of new ESA claimants? Am I right in thinking that they seem to mean from April 2017 these new rules will come into effect for claimants. ie people on WRAG getting same amount as JSA?

      1. Yes I want to know the date when the ‘new claimant’ rules would apply for ESA. If we applied for ESA today which rules apply, current old rules, or these newly announced rules?

  15. Really interesting Ben and great response. Completely agree about likely impact and risks. Wondering about Adam’s comments ie. an individual’s motivational and aspirational factors. Is this rightly the preserve of an individual or are there other, relational factors that are known to help or hinder this? How can this be considered?

  16. Looking at Schedule 2 of the ESA Regulations it is clear that to qualify for ESA at all one has to be so severely disabled as to have virtually no prospect of returning to work.

    When the Government in 2007 decided, for whatever reason, that too many people were getting Incapacity Benefits there were two possible rational responses; to try to move qualifying people back towards work (by some combination of rehabilitation, sticks and carrots) or to make them cease to qualify by changing the criteria. These were alternatives and essentially mutually incompatible. In fact however the then Government (followed by its successors) tried to do both at once and this has caused many of the bizarre anomalies and paradoxes since.

    If I may be excused a small plug, I have considered the logical basis of ESA in a brief e-book called ‘The Work Agenda’ published by Chartist.

  17. I was glued to the budget as I knew ESA would be hit. This change means that people who want ESA, who could well be currently employed, will find the necessity to work higher than their ability to recover.

    Its the difference between existing and living and that is paramount to recovery. We can’t have a situation like in the States where becoming ill is not allowed. The NHS is free, but time and space is also medicinal and yet this unwanted £30 cost to the Gov will place claimants in a situation that may encourage an unemployed person back into work, but for them is a threat.

    In my case it was work that gave me my mental problems and ESA allowed that much needed space and time to reclaim my health. The £30pw meant that I was able to progress greatly with my condition allowing a semblance of normality that the JSA rate did not.

  18. I am also not a lawyer – however.

    In general, secondary regulations can only operate with powers given to them under primary legislation.
    Part 13.4 of the WRA 2015 says ‘The SOS may make provision for transitional arrangements’. Para 5 gives specific cases where new claims of ESA may still get WRA – and only lists conversions from prior benefits.
    This does not apply at all to 14- which removes section a from http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/5/section/12 – universal credit, not ESA.

    This totally removes the possibility for any payment of WRA under any circumstances for a UC award – and does not indeed (as I mention earlier incorrectly) even give a savings provision for those on UC already getting it.

    If this goes into legislation as planned, secondary legislation cannot ever give anyone migrated over from ESA a LCW payment, and anyone on UC and getting a LCW payment will have it stopped.

    The removal from UC of the LCW is modifying a completely different act of parliament, and there is no way you can read 13.4 – modifying the welfare reform act 2007 – as having any powers to modify either the WRA 2015, or the WRA 2012.

  19. Two quick things that I’ve spotted since the original post:
    – An interesting exchange between the BBC’s Nick Robinson and the excellent Declan Gaffney, where Nick initially described ESA as for people who are ‘deemed capable of work’ (see links here)
    – A great post at The Spectator by Isabel Hartman, one of the journalists who is most knowledgeable about disability benefits. She writes:
    “Now, it might be that ministers really think that a lot of people in the ESA WRAG are actually fit to work, and are just loafing about. If they do think that, then they need to look again at the test that enables the DWP to put those people in the group. But if they accept that the test is largely doing its job and putting people who are not fit to work in a group designed for people who are not fit for work, why are they suggesting otherwise when trying to sell the benefit cut?”

  20. I have had mental health problems since 1997. In 2011, Atos found me ‘fit for work.’ I appealed against this, and a tribunal moved me into WRAG. I duly turned up at my JCP for the required appointment. The interviewer almost immediately told me that I should be in Support. I appealed again, and was transferred to Support. This process take three whole years, during which I broke down into tears at the tribunal, as well as panic attacks at the JCP and in a doctor’s waiting room. A few months after winning my appeal, I had to go to another Atos assessment. After having been moved to Support, I panicked when I received yet another assessment form from Atos (the third)…

    1. At least JCP did something for you. Despite knowing I had mental health issues they kept me signing on JSA for over two years, despite recommendations to help MH claimants being published previous to my claim.

      I didn’t know the benefit system and just tried to deal with what was in front of me. It was all I could do at the time. Those two plus years stagnated any improvements in my condition, yet it took one meeting with an outsourced careers advisor to tell me about ESA. The moment I was placed on to that my health improved 50%. When I was fully passed at tribunal 13 months later the same happened again.

      It pains me that years of my life and career were taken away. I should have been where I am now but 30 months ago.

  21. A critical unknown is emerging in the welfare reform and work bill: whether sick and disabled people can survive in the WRAG on Jobseeker’s rates. I recently submitted a FOI to the DWP, requesting the number and percentage of ESA (WRAG) claimants who have been assessed but failed to qualify for PIP benefits.

    Full disclosure: Since January 2012, I have been reporting voluntarily to the UN’s human rights office, in Geneva, on the welfare crisis for Britain’s sick and disabled. [Fellow Canadian Leilani Farha (@leilanifarha) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing; see http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/LeilaniFarha.aspx. You can tweet her on UK housing issues or e-mail her at the UN’s human rights office: srhousing@ohchr.org; she does follow my Twitter account.]

    (Montreal, Canada)

  22. I don’t actually see how cutting WRAG by 30 pounds a week to align it with JSA…will get more support for those in WRAG to get into work?

    “We also want to increase employment among those who have health challenges but are capable of taking steps back to work.

    One of these is that those who are placed in the work-related activity group receive more money a week than those on Job Seekers Allowance, but get nothing like the help to find suitable employment.

    For future claimants only, we will align the ESA Work-Related Activity Group rate with the rate of Job Seekers Allowance.”

    Now..its made out to be all about the support…but basically all thats happening is another cut, as I read it?

    Anyway, I came across this page while looking for help with my situation. I received 0 points in my recent maximus WCA. The report is full of glaring inconsistencies and I have no doubts I can prove this assessment to be false, just from the decision makers reasoning, this is before I have even received a copy of the full assessment (an example… ‘when not in pain, claimant has no issues with doing X, therefore I give 0 points’ type things. However they have also acknowledged that I spend 18-20 hours a day averagely in massive amounts of pain due to my illness. So the 0 points stuff is based on 6 hours per day max, sometimes I don’t get a break at all, and during the break if I exert myself the next pain bout is much longer and much more intense. I have pulled apart this reasoning using the ‘repeatedly, reliably, to an acceptable standard and safely’ reasoning…however I expect the MR to fail anyway despite this as from what I can tell, its just an excuse to drag out the appeal process even more to make it more difficult for claimants.

    When I asked for MR on the phone I was told if I want to recieve an income I must sign on for JSA, and that the JSA staff can amend my agreement to fit my illness.I had doubts then, but I went to the appointment this morning anyway. Only to be told, before I had even spoke, just by the advisor looking at the amount of pain I was in, that I was very clearly not fit for any kind of work and if she signed me on, I would be committing fraud by signing and she would be committing an offense by signing me when she could see I was incapable of work. She said that some adaptations an be made to the agreements for people waiting on ESA appeal, BUT the amount of changes that would be required for me would make the claim invalid. Fair enough..I understand that, but now I am stuck in limbo. I don’t know how long a MR might take, and I am apparently not ill enough for ESA but too ill for JSA…I can’t get hardship payments as I am not sanctioned. I really don’t know what I can do here. I have no doubts that with the medical evidence I have plus the tribunal panel just…seeing me, I will pass no problem. But until this MR thing is over, I literally have 20 pound to see me til the end of it…

    1. Hi Vicky – thanks for your comment. The situation you’re in sounds terrible… I can’t give benefits advice, but I definitely think you should go to a free local advice centre (a Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or something else similar) for benefits advice. They’re very used to dealing with these situations, and can tell you both where you can get immediate support, and how to go about your appeal.

      Beyond that, all I can say is that this is the sort of thing that needs to be changed in any replacement for the WCA…

      1. Thank you for your reply. I have contacted my MP about it and he says he is going to speak to the DWP and get back to me, but I know hes likely to be really busy so it could be weeks before that even happens. CAB when I called said its a flaw in the system (lol..intended i expect) and the only option is to use foodbanks and such until I can get my ESA re-instated, which is apparently as soon as the MR is turned down. I even tried calling ESA to ask them to automatically turn down my MR as I expect they will do that anyway after ‘reading’ it, if they even read it so thought I may aswell get it over with. But no again.

        Luckily I do have family who can lend me and such for the moment, though if it goes on for months I probably won’t. Also there is a slight doubt in my mind about the tribunal, slight, but its there. Not getting passed…will mean I do not get the backpay I am expecting and then I will struggle paying people back for what they have lent me. Trying not to dwell on that too much though as from what I have read, the tribunal panels are independant and very fair, and tend to value actual medical evidence above that of the ATOS/Maximus reps. But I guess there is always the risk…

        The system is so flawed it is unbelievable. And its only going to get worse. IDS has blood on his hands but he doesn’t care..why would he, its never going to affect him…

    2. Hi Vicky,

      Do not worry on the zero points. This is par for the course when dealing with bent assessment companies. I was awarded this by ATOS, whose actions I thought to have been turned around but obviously being copied by Maximus.

      Presumably you will appeal this decision. In which case you will go to tribunal? Maybe that system has changed now, as mine was in early 2013.

      Anyway, what I said to the judge and doctor was this. That the person taking the WCA only wanted to know what I could do, not what I could not. And also that they made no reference during the WCA to the ESA application.

      Now, providing the same still applies, this is important because every question on the application form will correlate directly with their form on which they award you points. This points form will be in your appeals pack.

      What you do then is correlate your application answers to this form and argue why you deserve to be awarded the attributed points.

      I argued to the judge and doctor for 47 pts,only 15 was required, though in the end they didn’t need to award any as before this comes a decision on whether someone should be passed on ‘special circumstances’, which I was.

      The people who have to look at your appeal will know full well the behaviour of the assessment companies and following the above means that you will already have done the work they would which enables them to see the obvious abuse of the system that you have met with. My judge said I had a very well presented case!

      So to put simply, I…

      1, State that they only asked what I could do, not what I couldn’t, that they made no reference to the application form, and wrote up their assessment on this basis.
      2, Correlate your application answers with the pts form they use, which will be in your appeals pack.
      3, Argue why you should be awarded pts using your application form answers to drive home their avoidance in awarding pts.
      4, See if you pass under the ‘special circumstances’.

      I think its moved away from the judge and doctor tribunal route, to a paper based system, but the principles will play the same.

      Fortunately as a current ESA claiment I still receive the higher ESA rate, Not only did this help with my mental health when it came through, if it went back to JSA rate I’d be down to zero pennies to spend each week, so I do feel for you and hope the above in someway helps your claim.


  23. Damian Green’s response to my letter generated by the MIND campaign:

    Thank you for contacting me about a recent report into changes to Employment and
    Support Allowance (ESA) for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group
    We need a welfare system which supports vuln erable and disabled people, and ensures
    they are able to play a full part in society . In the last two years, the number of disabled
    people in work has increased by 339,000, but I know the Government reco gnises that
    the ga p between the employment rates of disabled people and non – disabled people
    re mains too large. That is why the Government is committed to halving it. Changes to
    ESA are a crucial part of achieving this.
    When the WRAG was created , the original estimates were t hat far more claimants
    would move into work than has turned out to be the case. People in the WRAG
    currently rece ive higher payments than Jobseeker’ s Allowance , but are often not
    getting enough appropriate support to move into the workplace. This dispari ty in
    payments could discourage claimants from making the most of opportunities to help
    them move closer to work . This reform remove s these disincentives while also
    providing additional support to these claimants.
    The report you cite calls for more support tailored towards people’s individual needs
    and conditions. The Government has committed £100 million of additional funding per
    year by 2020 – 2 1 specifically to help meet the needs of people with limited capability to
    work. It also calls for engagem ent with employers to increase awareness of disability
    issues. I am pleased to say that the Government’s Disability Confident campaign is
    about doing precisely that.
    The w ritten submissions to the report , including the Disa bility Benefits Consortium
    data, do reflect important views. However, the data were not collected in a
    representative way and cannot be generalised to the whole WRAG population.
    I recognise that some people may have additional costs as a result of their condition,
    and that is the purpos e of the Personal Independence Payment. T he Access to Work
    scheme is also available to help people overcome barriers to work . Thousands of
    people with learning disabilities are supported by Access to Work, and the
    Government is expanding those services to make even more specialist support
    Yours sincerely,

    1. So he all-but dismisses the report – presumably the one recently completed by the Disability Benefits Consortium – by saying it’s not representative. But the Government would be quick to criticise any charity that committed significant funding to collect “representative data”!!

  24. In reply to G total rubbish just more words to justify an ever increasing population in the uk so as the population grows so will the disability of the nation that is why the bill is getting bigger what’s not being told is how many EU Claimants get disability in the uk that they would not get at home not to open a can of worms .not that I’m saying there not in titled to it at all I just would be interesting to know theses numbers and as for some 300.000 esa Claimants being in work now it’s funny what you call work are theses people in well paid jobs that are meaningfull and give them what they need or are they minium wage factory work for limited capabilites again not saying it’s not a job but more a question of there quality of life has improved or just that there esa and DLA was removed so there only option is to go to work and few years down the line will end up so messed up they will turn to drink and drugs and end up on the specail rules . What i can can tell you G is facts from my own experience ex service man not eligible for AFPIP as I came out before the date that a claimant can claim for ( as told by DWP) was entitled to DLA High rate care middle rate mobility. Now on PIP middle rate can no mobility was on the first round of ESA and was told ( unfit for work forever) due to my service in the milatry and the my severe psychological disorders and my constant cluster migraines .then told 3 years later that I needed to see ATOS again and seeing a nurse not a doctor as before placed in the WRA and told I had to go to the job centre for appointments even though I couldn’t leave the house after all this the only way forward was for my partner to work but she couldn’t earn the kind of money needed to support us both so I said to her the best thing to do is get a education to move forward which she did getting distinctions at collage as a mature student then she got a place at uni and has almost completed her studies .but I would like to add her student finance a “lone” that we will have to pay back was taken from my money as a “income” which means the government got away with paying me over 15.000 pounds over 4 years that we will have to pay back even though we have done it all ” the right way” all our lives she has now got a placement to become a physics teacher in state run schools and we will be able to come off of benifits in about a year how did the government help us to achieve that in anyway it’s been nothing but issues and I’ve had to fight for every little penny I got even though I gave 10 years of my life in service to my nation.! Please tell me how much extra money I can apply for seeing as we have to pay back the student loan does that mean I get the 15.000 back in retrospect of benefit not paid after paying back the loan I guess the answer would be no . So there are the facts that I’ve encountered . Not the twiddle I saw wrote above ..

    Your right the system is broke . Just like the promises made . And a covenant broken due to cuts in the milatry and the cuts to disability. … the bill on disability has gone up and yes taxes have been used to bolster the fund but the money is spread over all disability and has gone down to the individual a 100 million is a pebble in a pond considering the cuts save 630.000 million but the government says ” the total spend is going up ” but they don’t say spread out and individual Claimants are 80 pounds worse off due to PIP and a cap on housing benefit now we will hit the again with another 30 pounds a week a total of 120 pounds per month making a grand total of 200 pounds a month then we are going to take in your partners student finance and hey presto your service is worth 10 pounds ESA a week total and 245 pounds a month in PIP . Where as if I told my partner to leave me I would get server disability with no reductions it’s a joke and open to exploitation. ..

    Nice play you penalised a guy that has no kids because I can’t afford them so I will not have one till I can who wants to be off benifits and has no way out at all and has been totally penalised for wanting a better life and doing it all the right way

    But you will be expecting your cut of her wages when she is a teacher and I’m a stay at home dad …see the wording there stay at home dad ? .

    Doing it the right way does not pay at all .

    1. Jay – just quickly to say that I think G was quoting a letter they’d received from Government, rather than repeating their own opinion! But thanks for sharing your own experiences on the blog, and sorry that the system has let you down…

  25. And to top it of a 2% rise in council tax that in our area is £200 a year which is more like a 22 % rise to pay get this from my own social care that I will never see …. makes all of your said ideas fade to grey rather than black and white

  26. I am in the WRAG category and have been to about 9 work focused interviews at JBC+.

    Last year (October) I was diagnosed with breast cancer which has exacerbated my other health conditions. I had surgery in November and have been on chemotherapy since January and still undergoing. Have two more to go.

    Then I start radiotherapy around end of May daily for three weeks, followed by medication for 5 years.

    I should probaby be put in the Support Group BUT I am TERRIFIED that if I apply for this all my benefits will stop. I DO NOT TRUST THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS.

    I really could not bear to go through the assessment process again. Also what happens when my cancer
    treatment has ended? Do they consider me cured? The oncologist cannot even declare someone
    cured of cancer. It is only after the 5 year medication has ended that a further prognosis can be
    tentatively made. An oncologist would say ‘at this present time there is no evidence that cancer is
    present’ which doesn’t mean the cancer has gone completely.

    I told my WRAG work coach (or whatever they’re called) over the phone that I would be unable to
    attend my forthcoming interview……”and what may I ask is the reason for that?” she asked in the
    most offensive tone. “Because I have cancer and will be having chemotherapy, do you need a letter
    to prove this?” I replied. (Felt like going to her to show her my mastectomy scar and bald head,
    and puking all over her desk….and saying IS THAT PROOF ENOUGH?- RANT over}

    She did not ‘signpost’ me back to ESA calims dept. I HAVE told someone working for DWP that I
    have cancer…..her. I don’t know if she has made a note of it.

    BTW due to vein damage in arm during chemo there is limited use of that arm, plus restricted us
    of right arm due to lymph node removal during mastectomy.

    Currently I cannot speak, another side effect of chemo so am unable to even phone up and discuss
    this with DWP.

    I’m just NOT ROCKING THE BOAT at the moment so I can continue to recieve the benefit I have.

    1. Hi Polly, I know you’re not with the finest vocal chords presently, but if your JC+ rep cannot answer that question for you (probably not as they’re bottom rung of the civil servant entry exam) then have someone call up the DWP. There will be a process. It did used to be called a supercession request, though I’m a couple of years out of the loop (my well connected DWP friend says WRAG claimants will not be re-assessed as there’s a huge back log with new claimants. I’m already 15 months over due). If the DWP do not give you answers, then an email to your local MP can shift things along.

  27. My partner recently had to go for the medical examination and we got the decision back today, it says he is no longer eligable for ESA or LCW, I won’t go into to much detail about what a crock this report is apart from a few which says it all, “He can hear with both ears” my partner has been deaf on his right side since birth, in fact he doesn’t actually have an ear on his right side, and although “he has uncontrollable episodes of aggressive or disinhibited behaviour” he would not be a danger to others in the work place, having seen him lose it with people he knows I wouldn’t trust him in a work place, I don’t even trust him going into shops after he called one of the people working the till a c**t amoung other things because he thought she was starring at him, we are going to appeal this decision, but what I would like to know is we’ve had conflicting information about what happens next, we’ve been told that even though he is no longer eligable for ESA or LCW he will still get his DLA and I’ll still get carers, even though he now has to claim JSA, so we’re not sure, what to expect, so if anyone can give me a straight answer I very much appreciate it as I couldn’t get one over the phone.

    1. Hi Carrie – sorry, I only just saw this now. You should definitely speak to a local advice service like Citizens Advice – they will be able to give you the best advice about both appealing the decision (via ‘mandatory reconsideration’), and about your entitlement to other benefits. Good luck…

    2. Hi Carrie, DLA is completely separate from ESA, and is not dependent on ability to work. So your partner will continue receiving DLA even if he has to claim JSA while waiting for the decision to refuse ESA to be reconsidered. If anything relating to his DLA award is changing DWP will write separately about that. I hope that reassures you a little!

    3. Thank you Ben & Jane for your replies, it helps knowing that he still gets his DLA, we had to go into the job center yesterday and a very nice lady in there explained that if I was still in receipt of carers and my partner was on middle care that I could put in a claim for income support, she was quite surprised that no one over the phone had told me this, so on Friday I have to go down there and sign a declaration, fingers crossed I should get it, but at least for the time being I know that we can cover the basic bills and get the basics in.

      1. Carrie my advice is to not stop his aggressive behaviour. Do not restrict him or do as you would normally as his carer. Next time he gets frustrated angry let him rip at the jobcentre or down the phone to the DWP. He will be classified as aggressive or dangerous to DWP staff. When they put the marker on for that he cannot be found work fit. Providing its on medical grounds and doctors support the issue. Demonstration of the issue is a good thing. Let him go to the jobcentre without you one day and get frustrated. So the DWP can see just how employable he is.

What do you think?