The proportion of new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants getting into the support group has plummeted by more than 40% in less than three months, according to the most recent DWP statistics.
In December 2015, 56% of initial assessments resulted in the claimant being placed in the support group. But that percentage dropped to 48% in January 2016 and a month later it plummeted to 33%. The following month, March 2016 – the last month for which figures are available – it remained at 33%.
Over the same period the percentage of claimants being put in the work-related activity group more than doubled, from 8% to 19%.
The proportion of claimants being found fit for work rose by a third, from 36% to 48%
No explanation has been offered for the sudden and dramatic fall in the proportion of claimants entering the support group.
However, charts published by the DWP show a drastic fall in the number of claimants being found eligible for the support group on the grounds that there would be a substantial risk to them or somebody else if they were not found to be incapable of work-related activity.
Back in February 2015 Benefits and Work warned that the DWP had changed the way that it assessed substantial risk.
We also warned that the new scoring system deliberately makes it harder for women to qualify for the support group than for men.
For example, a man with a diagnosis of depression and a history of deliberate self-harm who is unemployed – generally the case for ESA claimants – will be eligible for the support group, according to the guidance.
But a woman in the same situation will not be eligible for the support group. Instead, she will have to also show that an additional factor – such as being homeless or divorced –applies to her.
Our guide to claiming ESA on mental health grounds has a step-by-step system to allow you to assess yourself in relation to substantial risk, using the DWP’s criteria.
Benefits and Work has now made a freedom of Information request to the DWP to find out if there has indeed been a greater decline for women than men in support group entry.
On its own, however, this change would be unlikely to account for the whole of the fall in support group entries, where the most significant drop has occurred in 2016. We are making further Freedom of information requests to try to find out more.