The BBC has obtained DWP internal memos which says that employment and support allowance (ESA) is worse than incapacity benefit at helping people back into work and now poses one of the biggest financial risks faced by the government. The memos also imply that the jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) sanctions regime is partly to blame for the rising number of ESA claimants.{jcomments on}

According to the BBC, the leaked memos say that the DWP is struggling to deliver ESA and that claimants now face an average nine month wait for assessment rather than the intended three months. Although one of the main aims of ESA is to move claimants back into work via work-related activities, the memos say that ESA is less effective at doing this than incapacity benefit was. In addition, the cost of ESA is expected to rise by £13bn by 2018/19.

The BBC says that the documents claim that one of the reasons for the rise in numbers is the restrictions placed on JSA. Whilst this comment is not clarified by the BBC, it seems likely that the implication is that the extraordinarily harsh sanctions regime is pushing people into making a claim for ESA when they would otherwise have remained on JSA.

The BBC says that:

“Too many people find themselves as long-term recipients of the benefit, the document says, and more people than expected are becoming eligible for it.”

Mike Penning, DWP minister for the disabled responded by claiming that the coalition had inherited the problem from Labour.

In fact, after a period of stability under Labour, the DWP’s own figures show that the proportion of claimants being put in the support group has increased almost sixfold – from 10% to 57% - under the coalition. Meanwhile, the percentage of claimants being found fit for work has more than halved. And this is not a recent phenomenon: the proportion of claimants going into the support group has risen every single quarter since the coalition came to power.

Moreover, Penning made no attempt to explain why, if they already knew there were unsolved problems with ESA, the government chose to introduce the massively complex new universal credit and attempted to replace most disability living allowance claims with personal independence payment.

Read the full story on the BBC website.


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