Pain Concern

Everyone in pain should read this

19 June 2014 Last updated at 21:38 Share this pageEmailPrint


ESA sickness benefit is 'failing', government documents say

Documents say the rising cost is "one of the greatest fiscal challenges" facing the government as a whole

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The key sickness benefit is helping fewer people get jobs, while its rising cost is a big financial risk for the UK, internal government memos say.

The memos, obtained by the BBC, say the Department for Work and Pensions is struggling to deliver employment support allowance (ESA).

ESA was introduced in 2008 to replace incapacity benefit.

The government acknowledged there had been problems but said it was bringing in a new firm to do tests for ESA.

The documents - which include six memos written by civil servants and advisers - also say claimants face an average nine-month wait after assessments. The target is three months.

'Not delivering'

Julie Newman, UK Disabled People's Council: "The government seems to be very confused about what outcomes they want"

ESA is intended for people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability. Claimants undergo tests, called work capability assessments, before learning whether they are eligible.

The memos say that ESA "is not delivering more positive outcomes for claimants" than incapacity benefit did.

The payment's costs are expected to rise by almost £13bn by 2018/19, the documents say, warning the increase is "one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government".

The benefit is becoming a "long-term destination" for too many people, they say, and more people than expected are becoming eligible for it.

This is thought to be partly due to restrictions on jobseeker's allowance leading to an increase in ESA claimants.

Staff 'vilified'

A key aim of the benefit is to get people off welfare and into work, but the documents say this appears to be happening less than under incapacity benefit (IB).

"Employment outcomes actually appear lower than under IB", they say, and the "wider policy problems facing ESA will persist" despite the change in the company in charge of the assessments.

Earlier this month the government said more than 700,000 people were waiting for an assessment, blaming the delays on Atos, the private contractor currently carrying out the tests. Ministers say Atos had a backlog of 200,000 when the government came to power.

Atos, which has agreed to end its contract early, has said its staff have been "vilified" and abused for doing what was asked of them by ministers.

Mike Penning, the minister for disabled people, said: "We do have problems with the ESA assessment."

He said it was "something we inherited" from the previous Labour government - "but we are doing everything we can to address [it] which is why I've negotiated Atos out of the contract and we're bringing in a new provider so we make sure that we can have proper flow of the benefits coming through."

Mr Penning said he did not recognise the comments about financial risk to the government.

ESA is "fit for purpose", he said, adding: "It needs to evolve, it needs to change as we go forward and we need to make sure we get the right decisions - as in any other benefit - the right money goes to the right people and that's what the taxpayer would expect us to do."

Nearly two million people are currently claiming ESA, which entitles them to just over £100 a week.

Work capability assessments are carried out both on new claimants and those in receipt of incapacity benefit before they are moved to ESA.

Some of those deemed eligible for the payment are given regular interviews to help them find work, depending on their level of disability.

5 Replies

Every sick and disabled person in the land should know this.

Every person in the land should know this too.

Most of us already do know this.

Pat x


I am on ESA. I have regular interviews. (3 monthly intervals). It has been agreed by the interviewers that I work. It is also agreed by the interviewers that there is no way that I can engage in working for an employer because of chronic pain issues.

There is a massive difference between working at a rate to meet employer expectations and working in a way that your chronic pain problems allow.

I try and keep my skill base intact, but that is very difficult. I have met many people on incapacity benefit who believe that that they are entitled to have one long holiday at the tax payers expense. They make no effect to develop an employable skill base.

Those of us on Incapacity or ESA need to face facts there are not enough tax payers to fund our benefits and all the other things that tax payers fund. I have seen the statistics of the number of tax payers as a percentage of the population falling over the next 50 years.

What I have not seen is the government dealing with the issue that there are a lot of people with skills who have health disabilities and are unemployable because firms cannot afford to employ them.

I never know from one day to the next what sort of condition I will be in and whether I will be up most of the night from pain. A firm which employs me as an IT consultant/Information engineer will need to employ someone else as a backup for the times that I am unable to work. I know of no company which is able to do this in todays competitive tendering environment.

Occasionally I look at job adverts. The advert says must be able to work under pressure. This prevents many people who have had mental breakdowns from applying. They may be able to work under little pressure but are unable to work under pressure. Effectively someone who has a health disability has been thrown on the scrapheap.

I have spoken to MP's about the issue. I have learnt that those of the labour persuasion like to pretend the problem does not exist.

The problem needs to be addressed there needs to be work for people who have reduced employment capacity because of health disability.

I will stop at this point to see what relies are generated.


Hi Johnsmith,

I could not agree more with you about doing some kind of work despite this pain having a very significant hold on my life,like you said difficult to determine from one minute to the next what the pain will do.

Myself I enjoy singing and when the pain in manageable I can sing to a crowd, so I intend to do that as and when pain allows. Plus it is therapeutic for me a way to cope with the pain.

No govt will look at the very real issue that you raised about how to tap the obvious wealth of talent among disabled and chronic pain sufferers like you and me.

Nonetheless people still need help to make the most of their lives and have a goal, which a job will provide.There are no easy answers.


Become self employed - what better employer could there be than yourself? you have a good skill set for freelance work, which could be done remotely. You can take on other self employed IT workers too when needed, work as a small team.

Fedupwithmypain, the govt does help. They have a disability officer at the job centre, who helps you find suitable work, can arrange for you to build your hours up to what you feel is maximum for you. They offer re-training which is often free if you want to change track. And they support you setting up your own business if that's what you want to do.

I'm self employed and I work when it suits me. I have a 2 week turn around on small jobs and 6 weeks on big jobs. Best decision I ever made. Very little stress as I control the deadlines. Even if I finish a small job in a day, I return it to the client after 2 weeks, otherwise they will be expecting a quick turn around all the time. Also it makes you look busy, when you might not be.

There are many more social enterprises being set up to employ the less abled. Again this is on your terms, and they have a duty to accommodate your irregular working patterns. It may be that they have a team of people with the same skill set who work together on projects, even during the night if you want to work when you can't sleep.

There are plenty course about to learn how to set up a social enterprise yourself, and there's plenty funding about to do it. It would give you a managerial salary.

The opportunities are there if you go out and look for them. The going to work 9 - 5 scenario is no longer the norm, life work balance is creeping in, which gives you more control over your pain.

Fedupwithmypain, if you love singing, why not do a singing group for children? you could start with one session a month and build it up to weekly. Or if you want to offer it weekly from the beginning, find someonecwho is prepared to work at short notice to do any sessions you can't. Ensure that person is self employed, they just invoice you the amount per session. And you only have to pay them for work done, not a wage. They do all their tax and pensions too.


Hi Zanna

Thanks for the reply.

I would not recommend a singing group for children. The hoops you have to go though to set that up could well lose Fedupwithmypain any ESA that they may be getting.


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