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Government admits ESA is failing

This news post is almost 10 years old

​Leaked documents show UK government is concerned its key welfare benefit is failing

Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the UK government’s re-worked benefit scheme, is helping fewer people get jobs, while its rising cost is a big financial risk for the UK, leaked memos say.

ESA was introduced in 2008 to replace incapacity benefit.

But leaked government documents show theDepartment for Work and Pensions (DWP) is struggling to deliver the new system.

ESA is intended for people who are unable to work due to sickness or disability.

ESA has been deeply flawed from the beginning, and it remains in need of major reform - Keith Dryburgh

Claimants undergo tests, called work capability assessments, before learning whether they are eligible.

Memos between senior government civil servants air concerns the system is not meeting expectations, saying that ESA "is not delivering more positive outcomes for claimants" than incapacity benefit did.

And worryingly the memos state that the cost of delivering the benefits is expected to rise by almost £13billion by 2018/19 and warn it has become "one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government."

Keith Dryburgh, Citizens Advice Scotland policy manager, said: “Ever since it was first introduced in 2008 we have been arguing that this system is not fit for purpose and is hitting some of the most vulnerable people in our society – including sick and disabled people and their families.

“ESA has been deeply flawed from the beginning, and it remains in need of major reform.

"We will continue to make the case for change and to recommend specific improvements that can be made to the system, so that sick and disabled Scots can get the support they need and are entitled to.”

ESA aims to get people off benefits and into work, but the documents say it is less successful than incapacity benefit (IB) in doing so.

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

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

"It is something we inherited but we are doing everything we can to address 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."