From Monday (3rd April), new recipients of employment and support allowance deemed healthy enough to carry out ‘work related activities’ will get up to £1,500 less each year than existing recipients. Anyone who feels able to work and does so for over 12 weeks but then needs to reclaim ESA will be treated as a new claimant.
When this cut was announced DPAC sought the views of a barrister as to whether this could be legally challenged and the answer was once someone is affected by it then it can be challenged.
We are in touch with a solicitor who is keen to pursue a legal challenge and therefore need to find someone eligible for legal aid willing to make one. We believe this could not only be a new claimant but anyone who might wish to work more than 12 weeks but who would then be disadvantaged if they needed to reclaim ESA at a later date.
If anyone is interested in knowing more and able to help with this incredibly important legal challenge please email us firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via @dis_ppl_protest
The Institute of Fiscal Studies has put forward a useful round up of this savage cut
Cut to employment and support allowance
Employment and support allowance (ESA) is the main out of work benefit for working age individuals who are judged not to be ‘fit for work’ due to a health condition. There are currently around 2.2 million individuals claiming ESA, of whom 250,000 are waiting for a health assessment, 1.6 million are in the ‘support group’, and 400,000 are the ‘work-related activity group’ (WRAG). The latter group are those deemed healthy enough to carry out ‘work related activities’, such as CV preparation or skills training.
From next Monday (3rd April) new WRAG claimants will receive £73.10 a week – the same as jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) claimants – rather than £102.15 a week as is currently the case (those in the support group are unaffected). This change will not create immediate losses of benefit income, because only new recipients are affected. Ultimately though, of course, all claims will be assessed under the new less generous rules. To give a sense of how quickly this will cut the generosity of benefits in practice, in the recent past around 60,000 people a year have started an ESA claim and ended up in WRAG – so we would expect approximately that number to get less money over the coming year than they would otherwise have got. In the long run this is expected to save the government about £650 million per year, with around 500,000 recipients getting £1,400 a year less than they would otherwise have got, on average.
What do we know about the sorts of people who are placed in the ESA WRAG? First, around half of them are entitled to ESA because of mental or behavioural disorders. Second, they tend to be somewhat older than JSA claimants, with about half being between 50 and the state pension age compared to about a quarter for JSA. Third, they tend to be on ESA for a relatively long time, as shown in Figure 1. Hence, while this change will align the weekly entitlements of ESA WRAG and JSA claimants, it is worth bearing in mind that the ESA claimants will tend to live on these amounts for substantially longer – around four in five WRAG claimants have been claiming for over two years, compared to less than one in five for JSA.
Figure 1. Proportion of claimants by length of claim, various benefits
Note: Before being placed in WRAG or support group or being declared ‘fit to work’, claimants must go through an assessment, during which they are entitled only to the basic JSA rate. The above data include time spent in the assessment phase, which typically takes at least 13 weeks. This is part of the reason why the ‘up to 6 months’ bars are small for the WRAG and support group. However, since this policy only affects claimants post-assessment, the left-hand stacked bar does give an accurate picture of claim durations for the group affected by the policy change. Source: DWP Tabulation Tool: Employment and Support Allowance, May 2016, Office for National Statistics, UK Labour Market: March 2017, Table BEN02
People might respond to this change in several ways. First, they may not choose to claim ESA in the first place: since JSA will afford the same financial support as WRAG, the financial incentives to go through the medical assessment rather than accept the additional work conditions of JSA are reduced. Second, those placed in the WRAG might challenge the decision to try to get into the support group and receive the now much higher entitlement. At the moment around 20% of those placed in WRAG challenge the decision at least once, so there is considerable scope for this to become more prevalent. Third, as the government’s policy costing document points out, they may try to claim other benefits. The main option available here is personal independence payment, a non-means tested disability benefit. Not only does this provide income directly (between £22 and £141.10 per week), but receipt can also be an automatic passport to higher ESA entitlements. Fourth, they could move into work. Claimants may be constrained in the extent to which they can respond in this way – WRAG claimants have after all been declared by the government to have ‘limited capability for work’. On the other hand, a DWP survey found that 30% of WRAG claimants are already looking for work, and some research suggests that employment decisions among the disabled can be sensitive to the level of disability payments. However, many – perhaps the majority – will not respond in any of these ways and will therefore have to make do with an average of £1,400 a year less than they would otherwise have got.