Thursday, 19 May 2011

Essay on Employment and Support Allowance #TBofBTT

by Lucia (notcrazy on The Broken of Britain forum) - an essay for a disability studies degree course

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced by a Labour government in October 2008 (DWP 2011a). It was designed to replace Incapacity Benefit, and placed a focus on seeking employment. In order to analyse the theoretical rhetoric surrounding ESA and the reality of this refocused benefit it is important to outline the history and background that led to its implementation.

In the Seventies the Disabled People’s Movement campaigned for equal rights to employment, education and other services. (Campbell and Oliver 1996)They achieved this through the creation of a new social model theory that put the onus on society to change, adapt and include disabled people (Oliver 1996). In 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced as the government’s response to ‘the major barrier of employer attitudes towards employing disabled people.’(Roulstone 2004, p195) This Act enshrined in law the legal protection of Disabled People in certain areas of society, such as employment and the provision of goods and services (Legislation 2010). Although this law was seen as progress, according to Corker (1999) there were still several problems with the Act. The definition of disability was based on a medicalised ideology and it wasn’t broad or clear enough, leaving it open to be misinterpreted and misdefined. Due to the reactionary nature of the legislation and the difficulties in enforcement, discrimination still happened. Further, when discrimination did occur the onus was on the disabled person to prove that they were disabled and that discrimination had occurred. Corker (1999, p5) summarised the bill as ‘an ineffective legal instrument for tackling the institutionalised oppression of disabled people.’

As a result of the progress that was seen to be made in the emancipation of disabled people the government introduced E.S.A. The rationale behind this significant shift in ideology (self evident in the new name) was a focus on employment as a way out of benefit dependency and further emancipation of disabled people (Harrington 2010). The former benefit, called incapacity benefit (IB) focused on a person’s incapability’s whereas the new ESA focuses on a person’s capability to undertake employment. By introducing ESA the government wanted to stop the “neglect” of disabled people who had come to rely on IB. According to Grice (2010) Iain Duncan Smith says that ‘we must not park people on benefits’. The creation of ESA was designed to encourage disabled people back into work. According to government rhetoric (although the link is not overt) it was designed around social model ideology, although according to Finkelstein (2004, p16) this is a more ‘vague, confused and sometimes alien’ concept compared to the original. The aim was to encourage and enable people to become actively engaged with the economy through economic activity (IE jobs) (Harrington 2010). Within ESA there are two groups, the support group and the work related activity group (DWP 2011a). This is further evidence that underpinning this benefit was the social model ideology (all disabled people should have the opportunity to work) and emancipation of disabled people (Campbell and Oliver 1996). It sought to enable people by recognising the barriers that disabled people faced in seeking employment and working with them to overcome the barriers. This approach is delivered through the work related activity group. This group of people have been deemed as capable of some form of employment and are required to attend a series of appointments to discuss potential activities with the aim of a return to employment. The support component has been designed to recognise that for some disabled people a return to employment isn’t likely to be a realistic goal, and support should be provided for these people in the form of an enhanced payment and no requirement to undertake work related activity. (DWP 2011a)
It can be argued that the underpinning values of this benefit are flawed. According to Harrington (2010, p16) ‘the positive effects of work and the negative effects of worklessness are clear’ suggesting that your value is determined by your economic wealth, and your ability to work. However according to BBC Ouch (2007) ‘A human being is not an economic unit’. BBC Ouch (2007) goes on to argue that there are other ways in which it is possible to contribute to society based more on the skills you have and how you use those to benefit others. Such examples include voluntary work and education. In placing such a high value on employment above other activities could result in a narrowly focused and inflexible benefit system that fails to recognise the value of a person’s skills and not just their economic value.

As well as having an agenda of emancipation driven by the social model this policy change was also driven by the obvious economic benefits to society. If there are an increased number of people on long-term benefits then this is of great cost to the taxpayer. ESA wasn’t overtly aiming to reduce the costs involved in providing this support, as the inclusion of the support component demonstrates. However this was clearly an attractive side effect of this shift in ideology, (Harrington 2010) which became a more prominent effect from its early implementation to its subsequent continuation under a new government with an agenda to cut the welfare bill.
The difference in the original ESA policy and rhetoric and its current practical implementation are vast. Blunkett (2011) argues that ‘he agrees with the principle of the benefit but not the practice’ suggesting that a large part of this could be the difference between the current Coalition and Labour’s ideology. However, it is important to recognise that Labour was in government during the first two years of implementation and was responsible for its introduction and that other factors have also contributed to this policy practice gap.

When this benefit was introduced for new claimants only in November 2008 the economy was relatively stable and there were still opportunities for employment in various sectors. However, since this time the recession has increased unemployment and the competition for jobs. This has also increased the national debt and the cost of living has increased dramatically. These economic factors in combination with the new government has shifted the focus from the emancipation and support agenda that was eminent when the benefit was first implemented, into the wider economic benefits as the primary reason for the welfare reform. BBC News (2010) states that ‘the government is planning to reduce the annual welfare bill by 4bn pounds’ It could be argued that implementation has become more about the drain on the economy than the support of disabled people into work.

This can be evidenced by the Medias misrepresentation of claimants on IB and ESA. The demonisation of disabled people who are incapable of work can be demonstrated by headlines such as ‘75% of incapacity claimants are fit to work’ (Peev 2010). As these figures have been sourced from DWP press releases (DWP 2011b), and from MP’s themselves the government can clearly be linked to this practice which scapegoats disabled people and blames society’s debts on them (as well as all benefit claimants). Although the press have seemingly been negative towards those on benefits the ferocity and frequency of such claims have increased since the Coalition have been in power.
ESA was originally stated to be encouraging disabled people into work and not coercing people to engage in such activity. It was meant to be social model centred and focused on societal barriers to employment (Harrington 2010). However, the experience of claimants within the system would suggest that a culture of fear exists around ESA. This can be primarily seen through the reaction surrounding the Work Capability Assessment (commonly known as the WCA or medical). Claimants have to undergo a medical (WCA) after the first thirteen weeks of claiming (known as the assessment phase) to determine whether they will be eligible for the work related activity group or the support group, or deemed fit for work and transferred onto Jobseekers allowance (JSA). The medicals (WCA) are contracted out to a private company called ATOS. (DWP 2011a)

Claimants who have undertaken this medical are overwhelming against it. Evidence from reports, and both formal and informal personal responses (BBC Ouch 2011, the Broken of Britain 2011, Benefits and Work 2011a) indicate that claimants feel criminalised through this process and that capability of work is assumed and incapability must be proven (by the claimant). Further, according to Gentleman (2011) Paul Gregg, one of the architects of the new test has been quoted as stating that the ‘new test is a complete mess’, backing up the claims and accounts from groups and individuals. Due to the practice of the medical testing that occurs, 40% of the people who appeal the decision made after their medical are successful (Harrington 2010). The statistics generated after the first two years of operation and the pre-test of the national migration from IB in Burnley and Lanarkshire are in line with the government’s predictions (Harrington 2010). In a recent interview The Socialist Worker (2011) highlights the pressures that an ATOS employee is under to ‘catch out disabled people’ (Socialist Worker 2011) suggesting a target driven culture. It could be argued that the practical application of this benefit is flawed.

There have been several reports into the new ESA and its implementation. The first that this essay will focus on is called ‘Not Working’ (Citizens Advice Bureau 2010). This report was carried out by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and was supported by many different charities. It exposed the human experiences and the reality of the new benefit from the perspective of claimants and those organisations directly involved with disabled people. As the title suggests the report concluded that ESA was simply not working and not fit for purpose. It cited examples of seriously ill and disabled people found fit for work by a medical that overstates or excludes information, depicting claimants as more capable than they actually are especially in the areas of fluctuating conditions and in mental health conditions (CAB 2010). In the majority of case studies the negative decisions that were made were overturned by appealing the original decision. However the process of appealing a decision was also described as stressful and often exacerbated conditions (CAB 2010).This is contrary to the supportive culture that it seemed that the government wished to create with this benefit.

The second report was commissioned by the government at the end of the first two years of ESA to provide an independent analysis of the successes and to recommend improvements in the system. The WCA review (Harrington 2010) found serious flaws in the application of the benefit, especially focusing on the WCA from both the human experience and systemic and theoretical perspectives. He published a series of twenty five recommendations in his report that the government responded favourably to (DWP 2010). However, despite the governments recognition of the flaws and promises to implement the recommendations contained in the WCA Review (Harrington 2010) it still opted to continue with the national migration of those on IB before those recommendations have been implemented (Mind 2010). Further, it has also introduced a new set of criteria for assessing claimants that has been widely critisied for being to harsh and further reducing the eligibility criteria of the benefit (Parliament 2011). For example the ability to walk has been replaced with the ability to mobilise (Tameside 2011); claimants that are not capable of walking but theoretically capable of using a wheelchair are no longer to be eligible under that criteria.

There have been widespread campaigns that have attempted to prevent the national rollout of what is widely known as a benefit that is not fit for purpose (eg. The Broken of Britain 2011, Benefits and Work 2011b). Even the original creator of the WCA has publicly attested to that fact, and has petitioned the government to at least postpone the rollout until new guidelines can be established and tested (Gentleman 2011). However, the rollout still happened on the 4th April 2011, and there is currently no indication that these changes will take place or any recognition of the flaws in the system as highlighted by the WCA Review (Harrington 2010).


BBC News (2010). Welfare spending to be cut by £4bn, says George Osborne. [online]. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
BBC Ouch (2007). Not Working, Not Whiling. Ouch weblog. [online]. Posted 24th July. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
BBC Ouch (2011). Ouch Talk. [online] Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Benefits and Work (2011a). Members Forums. [online] Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Benefits and Work (2011b). News. [online] Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
CAB, (2010). Not working, CAB evidence on the ESA work capability
Assessment. [online]. Report from the Citizens Advice Bureau, last accessed 9th May 2011 at:
Campbell, Jane and Oliver, Mike (1996). Disability Politics. London. Routledge.
Corker, Mairian (1999). The UK Disability Discrimination Act – disabling language, justifying inequitable social participation. [online]. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
DWP (2010). Work Capability Assessment independent review. [online]. Last accessed 9th May 2011 at:
DWP (2011a). Employment and Support Allowance. [online]. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
DWP (2011b) Press releases. [online]. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Finkelstein, Vic (2004). Representing Disability. In Swain, John et al, Disabling Barriers- Enabling Environments. London, Sage Publications Ltd. (p13-20)
Gentleman, Amelia (2011). New disability test 'is a complete mess', says expert. [online] The Guardian, 22nd February. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Grice, Andrew (2010). We must not 'park' people on benefits, says Duncan Smith. [online]. The Independent, 27th May. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Harrington, Malcolm (2010). An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment. [online]. Report from DWP last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Legislation (2011). [online]. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Mind (2010). Mind responds to Harrington review of the Work Capability Assessment. [online]. Last accessed 9th May 2011 at:
Oliver, Mike (1996) Defining impairment and Disability: Issues at stake. In Barnes, Colin and Mercer, Geof, Exploring the Divide Leeds, The Disability Press. 29-54
Parliament (2011). Early day motion 1651. [online]. Last accessed 9th May 2011 at:
Peev, Gerri (2010). 75% of incapacity claimants are fit to work: Tough new benefits test weeds out the workshy. [online] The Daily Mail, 27th October. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Roulstone, Alan (2004). Employment barriers and inclusive futures? In Swain, John et al, Disabling Barriers- Enabling Environments. London, Sage Publications Ltd. (p195-200)
Socialist Worker. (2011). Exclusive: ‘Sick firm told us to catch out disabled people'. [online]. 5th April. Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:
Tameside (2011). ESA Work Capability Assessment. [online]. Last accessed 9th May 2011 at:
The Broken of Britain (2011). [online] Last accessed on 9th May 2011 at:


Anonymous said...

An interesting little read, thanks. There is one thing I'd like to raise, however.

I find the phrase "encourage disabled people to work" very patronising. I understand that your use of the phrase isn't necessarily 'your view' as it seems to be common parlance (I've encountered it quite a lot at the Jobcentre too).

To me, it says "oh, disabled people don't work because they're scared or don't want to, and they need to be encouraged like we'd encourage children to eat their veggies!".

I find it patronising and just generally insulting. There have been times where the Jobcentre have basically said "If you start work, you'll get £40 a week! :D".

They're slightly neglecting the fact that I have some of the best neurologists in the country trying to treat me for a disease which by its definition makes work impossible; which has no recognised treatments which only affects 140,000 people in the EU.

It's clearly just an issue of me not being "encouraged".

Anyway, sorry for the rant!

lucia/not crzy said...

Yes, I think I chose encourage to be patronising and provoke a reaction. I think the government does think that they are 'encouraging' people into work when in fact they are doing the complete opposite with ESA. They are frightening and forcing people back into work before they are ready. Its certainly the way I feel.

I think that true encouragement back into work would involve a voluntary (and comprehensive) programme of re education, re skilling in collaboration with employers (who imo, need more re training and re skilling than disabled people).

I think the government have approached this all wrong and by increasing the return to work bonus and introducing a return to full time education and self employment and perhaps a volunatary work premium on benefits would have been a better investment and seen much better results.

I haven't yet seen any headlines or news articles about how the introduction of ESA has led to an increase in the numbers of disabled people in work, or claiming ATW or disabled tax credits. Surely there should be a correlation if ESA is doing what it says on the tin?

fourbanks said...

[b]Obama Middle East speech which was good he praised the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi,[/b]
mohamed was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that was allegedly inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. His act became the catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country. Anger and violence intensified following Bouazizi's death, leading then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on January 14, 2011, after 23 years in power.

The success of the Tunisian protests sparked protests in several other Arab countries, including a similar revolution in Egypt, and an ongoing civil war in Libya. The protests included several men who emulated Bouazizi's act of self-immolation, in an attempt to bring an end to their own autocratic governments. Those men and Bouazizi were hailed by some Arab commentators as "heroic martyrs of a new Middle Eastern revolution.

[b]We must remember him says obama[/b]

Indeed we should and it should be a lesson to all government's to make sure that their citizens have a voice at least we have mp's but their are some who are very slack we need to get rid of those ASAP and root them out

We also need to have the government of the day to show respect and to treat with respect those in need and those whose health is poor and not to beat them with a stick every time they talk about them on the news etc

We dont wont to see any sick or disabled people who have to act like Mohamed Bouazizi and set fire to themselves so that justice can be served but it may just come to that as the pressure builds which will be to much for some

fourbanks said...

Well try to make head or tails of this email sent to me by Steve

DLA cuts – who will lose out?

Dear fourbanks,

The DWP have now published much more detail about how they intend to assess people for personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance (DLA) for working age claimants. And it’s already clear who some of the people most likely to face DLA cuts are.

Current claimants aren’t actually due to be forced off DLA and assessed for PIP until 2013, but the DWP is in a hurry to get the regulations in place and let Atos start creating new software and preparing for the mass migration. So they have now published a list of the activities and descriptors that will be used to decide who gets an award of PIP and at what rates.

PIP awards will be based on the number of points you score for the different daily living and mobility activities. The assessment procedure is very similar to the one used for employment and support allowance. Unfortunately this will include filling out a questionnaire and then, for most claimants, having to attend a medical at an Atos examination centre where a doctor or nurse will use a computer programme to assess you.

We don’t yet know the scores for descriptors - except for details of which activities will be high, medium or low scoring - but then neither does the DWP. First they have to try out the new system on ‘volunteers’ who already get DLA, so they can fiddle with the scores until they can be sure that their target of a 20% reduction in payments is going to be achieved.

But we do know enough to be able to say which current DLA claimants are most likely to lose out under PIP, simply from knowing which activities will and won’t be taken into account. For example, it’s clear that claims where problems moving around indoors are a major factor will be less likely to succeed under PIP. The same looks to be true of claims that rely heavily on night-time care needs, claims where supervision is the main issue and many others.

It’s important to make it clear that these are only draft assessment criteria. But given that the DWP have already started testing them and intend to have the whole system worked out and published by October, it seems unlikely that they will be keen to make any dramatic changes.

It looks like 2013 -2014 will be especially difficult for claimants and advisors alike as a number of ‘reforms’ will all be taking place at once. Amongst other things, claimants will be being transferred from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance, from employment and support allowance to universal credit and from DLA to PIP. Then there’s the possible abolition of the social fund and of council tax benefit too, both being replaced by a babel of individual local authority schemes.

Meanwhile, in order to cope with the avalanche of extra work the ‘reforms’ will create, Jobcentre Plus are . . . closing offices and getting rid of thousands of staff.

Perhaps it was this knowledge that there will be so many empty desks in Jobcentre Plus offices that prompted Chris Grayling to tell MPs that he is trying to persuade Citizens Advice Bureaux to move into them. Could this ever be a good idea? Tell us what you think.

No doubt in preparation for the huge number of appeals that the enforced transfer of DLA claimants is likely to produce, the tribunals service will be recruiting disability wing members for DLA tribunals in November. Anyone who is disabled or who has knowledge of disability through their work can apply. You need to be available for a minimum number of sessions a year and you get paid a reasonable amount per session – I don’t know how much it is now but I believe it used to be over £100 a session. You can register to be sent an email when the recruitment process begins.

You are welcome to reproduce this newsletter on your blog, website, forum or newsletter.

You can also read this newsletter online.

Good luck,

Steve Donnison

RockHorse said...

Although I agree that the phrase 'encourage disabled people back to work' is widely perceived as being patronising I think you are right to use it in the essay as it has entered into common parlance when benefit reforms are under discussion by both Ministers, Departmental spokespeople and other commentators.

Your further comment and question on any correlation between numbers of disabled people in work plus take-up of ATW or disabled people's tax credits is a very interesting one. Perhaps an area for research and another essay?

I'll look forward to reading more :)


lucia/not crzy said...

To wokstation on twitter. I do not have a twitter account, nor do I want one. However I can read twitter, and I can read your comments. Thanks for pulling apart my essay but its not needed. I am studying for a degree in disability studies not English. I have mental health problems and dyslexia. The fact that I am able to write such an essay (albeit with mistakes) is (imo) enough of an achievement without needing it to be 100% grammar and word perfect.

Sorry for the disruption, if your interested please go to twitter to see what I am going on about...

(word verifcation code of funse... yea its all funse)

WokStation said...

Heya Lucia,

I wasn't intending to pull it apart, and I didn't leave the comments here on the article for exactly that reason. The only reason I pointed out the typos was because it was labelled as an essay, so I thought I was helping out the author by pointing out errors that the auto-correct wouldn't pick-up.

I've worked with kids for a long while, including those with disabilities and learning difficulties. My daughter is autistic. I've suffered mental health problems in the past, and suffer physical health problems now. I have absolutely no reason or intention to be mean, obnoxious or patronising to anyone, regardless of their health or ability.

I saw a couple of errors in an otherwise pretty good article and thought you may find it useful to correct them if it's an academic submission. That's all. Nothing more than that.

I apologise if you took it in any other way.

fourbanks said...

I get that quite a lot workstation
where my spelling and grammar are not good
However on a podium delivering a speech I'm more than a match for any mp prime minster included which is dowm to a vast experience of experiences of which no mp could ever match
Im sure most of us here have that ability my mp thinks I'm good especially in the very detail of what politicians have historically always left out from their speeches

fourbanks said...

My apologies
It should read above very fine detail of what politicians have historically always left out from their speeches

WokStation said...

I'm the other way round, fourbanks. In text I can take my time, work out what I want to say and if need-be, edit it repeatedly before it sees the outside world.

Face-to-face, I fluster quite easily, trip on my words, my mouth works quicker than my brain, etc. Twitter and IRC can be a bit like that too, 'coz I'm typing in a hurry! :D

fourbanks said...

Some 25,000 Spanish protesters have defied a government ban and camped out overnight in a square in the capital, Madrid.

The protesters object to the government's economic policies and have occupied the area for the past week.

Spain's electoral commission had ordered them to leave ahead of local elections on Sunday.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Madrid said that the demonstration was continuing well into Saturday and that such a spontaneous display of protest was unlike anything seen in Spain before.

This could be us i feel in a few months time who knows but by the way things are going for us it looks certain although i doubt we have 25'000 fit and able to undertake such a drastic measure ?

lucia/not crazy said...

this essay got a first YaY