Employment Support Allowance

Having worked in the Welfare to Work Industry for a number of years, I have to say that the number of people choosing to claim Employment Support Allowance has surprised me greatly. I work as an Employment Advisor and I am now regularly getting clients approach me saying they are now claiming Employment Support Allowance for issues such as stress and Alcoholism. Whilst I don't deny that there needs to be a support mechanism for people who are not fit for work, I do question the benefit system that provides an income stream that is not monitored to any great level. I am very sympathetic to clients needs and requirements but given the choice of Job Seekers Allowance which is now very heavily monitored and Employment Support Allowance which is barely monitored, I do believe there is a swing toward Employment Support Allowance to provide an income stream for lifestyle Job Seekers Allowance clients to move on to when they wish.

I'd have to say that disability activists would disagree about the 'barely monitored' comment.

ESA claimants should have a Work Capability Assessment within 13 weeks. This deadline has been extended due to many process issues. They should get repeat WCAs on a regular basis. Again, the process issues have intervened.

Many people have been found 'fit for work' as a result of the WCA. However, appeals leading up to legal precedents together with the independent reviews have led to the proportion found fit for work falling.

In other words, don't believe the Daily Mail - the WCA is tough, and where Judges have reduced that, it is on the basis of strong medical evidence, often dealing with mental health.

Work Programme participants in the Work Related Activity Group may well have mental health issues - and ones where they may either not disclose or indeed themselves have low awareness of their own issues.

Caution advised.

I note with interest again that Margaret Hodge is passing judgement on the Work Programme again about the lack of clients claiming Employment Support Allowance gaining employment through the Work Programme.

I can't help but think that she is not aware of the challenges involved in working with ESA clients who are either not mandated to attend their appointments on the Work Programme as they are in the Support Group or are in the Work Related Activity Group with numerous ailments that realistically prevent them from starting work in 5 years let alone the two years of the Work Programme.

One of the frustrating issues from my point of view as an Employment Advisor is people like Margaret Hodge passing judgement without any real foresight into what's required to get somebody into work who has been on long term sick.

I do believe that more frequent WCA's for ESA clients will improve the rate of clients going into work that have previously been on ESA as there is very little an Employment Advisor can do on the Work Programme within the DWP processes that we can use.

See NAO report on the Work Programme:


The Department set a minimum performance level for new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance of 22 per cent, which the Department now accepts was too high. Only 11 per cent of participants who have completed the Work Programme have secured a job outcome. The Department forecasts that this will rise to 14 per cent by the end of the Work Programme. Performance is below what prime contractors expected when they bid and is broadly similar to that of previous comparable welfare-to-work initiatives (Figure 13 on page 31).

I believe it has to be said that those claiming ESA are vigorously tested for areas of depression, alcoholism... etc. So, it's hardly a simply task to complete - especially for those who are suffering from such illnesses. Additionally, there seems to be both a political and evidently a practical stance on the ground that a recession did not take any casualties. This, obviously, remains a distressing policy and attitude issue for those who have not incurred 'failings' that has led to business losses, homelessness and mental health challenges.

For me, it's not difficult to join up the dots here. However, one would hope that a consultant should be more understanding of such challenges and the incurred pressures on many who have ONLY a Work Programme to support them.

Finally, given the diversity of challenges - both psychological and employment - that job seekers are facing, is it not imperative that such a dominant Work Programme is fit to deal with this and harnesses the skills of such clients towards developing a more broader array of employers to meet the employment and career needs of said clients?