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2 February 2011

The DWP have released their latest collection of employment and support allowance (ESA) statistics which show that success in getting into the support group can vary from 56% down to 2%, depending on the type of health condition you have. They also disclose the types of descriptors which claimants who got into the work-related activity group (WRAG) were most likely to score their 15 points for. 

Classification
The categories of health conditions used by the DWP are taken from the World Health Organisation classification system known as ICD10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems).  More details are available from Wikipedia

Each ESA claimant is assigned to one of the ICD10 classifications, such as diseases of the respiratory system or mental and behavioural disorders, based on what their GP has said their primary disabling condition is.

From the statistics provided by the DWP, we know that only 6% of all those who apply for ESA get into the support group.  We also know that 36% are there because one of the support group descriptors, such as problems with walking or reaching, applied to them.  A further 21% are there because there would have been a risk to someone’s physical or mental health if they were not in the support group.  16% are there because of chemotherapy, 10% because they are terminally ill, 1% because of pregnancy and 15% for other reasons.

Thanks to these latest statistics we also know a lot more about the conditions that people in the support group are most likely to have.

Malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities

The highest percentage of people entering the support group are those with congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities.  This includes conditions such as spina bifida and Down’s syndrome.

56% were placed in the support group, with another 19% being placed in the WRAG, 12% were found fit for work, 11% closed their claim before being assessed and 3% were still waitng for a decision.

Cancer
Claimants with neoplasms – cancer and other tumours –  are the next most likely to enter the support group.

51% were placed in the support group, with another 13% being placed in the WRAG, 14% were found fit for work, 20% closed their claim before being assessed and 2% were still waiting for a decision.

Mental health

Claimants with mental and behavioural disorders have much less chance of being placed in the support group.

Just 5% were placed in the support group.  17% were placed in the WRAG, 45% were found fit for work, 28% ended their claim before being assessed and  4% were still waiting for a decision.

There are other groups with lower percentages in the support group - especially people with diseases of the musculoskeletal system (see below) -  but it is nonetheless a surprisingly low total.

Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue
This includes arthritis, lupus, sclerosis, hypermobility, spondylosis, spinal problems such as disc displacement and fibromyalgia.

2% were placed in the support group, with another 20% being placed in the WRAG, 49% were found fit for work, 28% closed their claim before being assessed and 2% were still waitng for a decision

Diseases of the respiratory system

This includes bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and pneumoconiosis.

8% were placed in the support group, with another 19% being placed in the WRAG, 43% were found fit for work, 28% closed their claim before being assessed and 2% were still waiting for a decision.

Nervous system
Diseases of the nervous system include post-viral fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), Huntington’s disease, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, migraine, muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy.

16% of people with these conditions were placed in the support group, with another 27% being placed in the WRAG, 33% were found fit for work, 22% closed their claim before being assessed and 3% were still waiting for a decision

Why do people close their claim

The media and politicians make much of the fact that so many claimants drop out before being assessed. There are probably many reasons why people do so – and none of them are anything to do with fakers fearing being ‘caught out’ as the tabloids allege.  Because all that happens if you are found capable of work is that your ESA stops – there is no penalty of any sort.  So there is no incentive for the supposed cheats to drop out early.

It also seems extraordinarily unlikely that GPs and patients are colluding in putting fake diagnoses, such as cancer, on medical certificates.  Yet one in five people diagnosed with a tumour drops out before being assessed.

In fact, the most likely reasons people end their claim are:

  • Getting better - because they only had a short-term health problem in the first place.
  • People with variable and ‘flaring’ conditions such as lupus whose flare ends before they are assessed or people with cancer that has gone into remission following treatment.
  • Reaching pensionable age
  • Death.

Which WRAG descriptors
There’s other valuable information in the statistics too, such as the types of descriptors which people who got into the WRAG  scored points for. 

So, for example, we know that 50% of all claimants in the WRAG scored some of their points for lower limb descriptors – such as walking and standing - but only 10% scored points for upper limb descriptors, such as reaching and manual dexterity.  Even 11% of those whose primary condition was a mental health rather than physical health one, scored points for lower  limb descriptors, but just 2% scored for upper limbs. 

This may be of particular relevance when the new WCA is introduced and people who have walking difficulties will also have to show that they would be unable to propel a manual wheelchair.

There’s also clear evidence that some of the mental health descriptors are more likely to score points than others. Overall, whatever their diagnosis :

  • 40% of all claimants in the WRAG scored for the adapting to change mental health descriptors (activities 17 and 18, coping with change and getting about),
  • 31% for the understanding and focus descriptors (activities 12-16, such as memory and concentration), and just
  • 22% for the social interaction descriptors (activities 19-21, such as dealing with other people).

Looking solely at those with mental and behavioural disorders as their prime disabling condition: 

  • 77% scored for the adapting to change mental health descriptors,
  • 57% for the understanding and focus descriptors, and
  • 43% for the social interaction descriptors.

Specific conditions
There is no detail about specific conditions in these statistics, only groups of conditions.  Benefits and Work will be making freedom of information requests to try to get statistics about individual illnesses, such as depression, ME/CFS and fibromyalgia.

But what they clearly demonstrate is that, for the vast majority of conditions other than cancer and some congenital illnesses, the chances of an individual claimant getting into the support group are very low. Out of 21 groups of conditions, 9 have  fewer than the average 6% in the support group.

The DWP claim that there will be a small increase in the numbers getting into the support group when the new WCA comes in, whilst considerably fewer will get into the WRAG.  Time will tell.

You can download the full statistics from this link.