CAB evidence on the first year of employment and support allowance administration
It is a year since the introduction of employment and support allowance (ESA). From 27 October 2008, the new benefit replaced incapacity benefit (IB) for new claimants who could not work because they were sick or disabled. It is a central plank of the Government’s policy to help people move off incapacity benefits and into work.
The introduction of the new benefit has been a huge challenge for Jobcentre Plus who administer it, the independent advice sector and claimants. It represents a new approach to incapacity and sickness benefits, and makes new demands on all those involved. The benefit itself is more complicated than previous incapacity benefits – there are more routes through it and therefore more decisions to be made, a tougher, more ‘work-focused’ test of entitlement, known as the work capability assessment, an additional ‘workfocused health related assessment’ and a 13-week assessment period.
In addition to this, ESA was introduced only a fortnight before major changes were made to lone parent benefits, and at the same time as Jobcentre Plus faced unprecedented demand for their benefits and services, as huge numbers of newly-unemployed and redundant people needed their support for the first time, as the economic downturn turned into a full-blown recession. We are concerned that the substantial increase in resource made available to Jobcentre Plus in response to the recession has been concentrated on jobseekers allowance (JSA) and the social fund, resulting in a lack of support for ESA claimants.