Migration to ESA

ESA 34

Written evidence submitted by Age UK

Key points and recommendations

· Around half of current Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Severe Disablement Allowance claimants are aged 50 and over, so the migration will have a hugely significant impact on this age group.

· Our evidence draws on the experience of our partner, Age Concern Blackburn with Darwen. This partner has been involved with the Incapacity Benefit – Employment and Support Allowance migration pilot scheme, helping individuals aged 50+ who have been affected. Its clients fall within the Burnley Jobcentre Plus pilot area.

· Many older benefit ex-Incapacity Benefit claimants have been unaware of what to expect, both from the migration process and of the post-assessment implications.

· The latest version of the ESA 50 form is not suitable for the needs of many of our clients, in particular those with multiple conditions. We recommend the Government reviews this form and ensures that it accurately and fairly reflects the conditions of all ESA claimants.

· We are concerned that those found ‘fit for work’ will not receive adequate support. Jobcentre Plus advisers must be aware of and able to manage the needs of ex-IB claimants, and the waiting period before referral to the Work Programme – once it is in place – should be abolished.

Experience of the pilot

1. 49.5 per cent of current Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance claimants are aged 50+. [1] Therefore the migration process is likely to have a considerable impact on older benefit recipients, although it is hard to predict a figure with certainty because some will retire (or die) before their re-assessment takes place. There will, of course, be knock-on implications for reliance on state benefits throughout the life course.

2. Age Concern Blackburn with Darwen has been supporting Incapacity Benefit (IB) recipients during and after their reassessment and subsequent migration to Employment and Support Allowance or Jobseekers Allowance. It has been involved with claimants from the Burnley Jobcentre Plus district, which was one of the two areas piloting the process of migrating IB claimants to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from October 2010 to April 2011. The evidence in this paper draws on their experience.

3. Clients often lack understanding of the rationale behind the migration and the process through which is takes place. Having typically been claiming IB for many years with minimal work-related support, it is then often a shock to find that their new benefit makes requirements of them to look for work. It appears that there has been a lack of communication about what people can expect as they are migrated.

4. Comments on the severity of the test are widely reported by other organisations, so we will not reiterate those here, although they are echoed by Age Concern Blackburn with Darwen. However, one point of note which we have found to be common is that the ESA 50 form is rarely taken into consideration by the medical assessor. Clients felt aggrieved that they had taken the trouble to fill this out and provide evidence of their condition only for it to be ignored in the medical assessment.

5. There is a demonstrable inconsistency between medical assessors. This needs to be ironed out to ensure the test is fair for all claimants.

6. Many claimants who are found fit for work simply drop out of the benefits system. There needs to be greater support for people who are either ineligible for benefits or who choose not to claim, in particular providing back to work support for individuals who volunteer and ensuring everyone is aware of the Next Step guidance service.

7. The appeals process has been found to be too lengthy. Many clients are told they will have to wait six to nine months, which leads some to drop out of the system. The Government should investigate how this could be speeded up.

8. The second version of ESA 50 form which was launched recently has had a negative impact on many claims. The reduced length means it is harder for people to convey the impact of experiencing multiple conditions. Also, the nature of problems has been simplified – for example it no longer distinguishes between sitting and standing, it simply asks whether the claimant can remain static for an hour. We do not believe this gives a sufficient overview of the nature of an individual’s disabilities.

9. We are concerned that those who are migrated on to Jobseekers Allowance will in particular require significant support. The pilot statistics show that 32 per cent of claimants are found ‘fit for work’ and instructed to claim Jobseekers Allowance, should they wish to. A further 38 per cent are moved into the Work Related Activity Group of ESA. [2] These people will require varying degrees of support in order to successfully find work. We are concerned that the necessary levels of help will not be in place, in particular for those found ‘fit for work’. For example, Jobcentre Plus advisers may require special training to better manage the typical needs of these claimants (who have usually been out of the labour market for many years).

10. While the introduction of the Work Programme may provide additional support for the ex-IB claimant group, they will have to wait three months to be eligible for referral. We believe that more intensive support that is tailored to the needs of the individual should be available immediately on receipt of Jobseekers Allowance.

April 2011


[1] DWP, Incapacity Benefit/Severe Disablement Allowance statistics, August 2010

[2] DWP, Interim results of Work Capability Assessments for IB reassessment trial areas , 1 April 2011