3 March 2009
Hardly anyone is getting into the higher paying support group of employment and support allowance, according to a well informed source.

Twenty pound note being cutWhen ESA was introduced, the DWP claimed that around 10% of claimants would be placed in the support group. Support group members are paid at a higher rate than work capability group members and do not have to attend compulsory work-focused interviews.

Membership of the support group is intended to be for people for whom there is no foreseeable prospect of being able to undertake paid work. It is a vital safeguard for severely sick and disabled claimants to prevent them being obliged to undertake work-related activities or lose benefits.

However, writing on Rightsnet, the website for welfare rights workers, Paul Treloar, Director of Policy and Services at Disability Alliance, and co-author of the Alliance’s ESA guide, wrote that:

“Further, I have heard that the number of people entering the support group is much smaller than was expected (2-3% compared to 10-12%) and [wonder] whether this is causing people to lodge appeals.”

Disability Alliance works extremely closely with the DWP – the most likely source of such rumours. The Alliance’s guide to ESA was partly financed by the DWP and was checked for accuracy by DWP staff. Workers from the Alliance meet regularly with DWP officers right up to the level of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. So, Disability Alliance are more likely than most to be in the know about what is actually happening in assessment centres around the UK than anyone else in the voluntary sector.

If the rumour is true, this is bad news for all ESA claimants, but particularly for claimants with mental health conditions. Eligibility for the support group is much more straightforward to prove for people with severe physical health conditions than it is for people with mental health conditions. If only 2-3% of claimants overall are getting into the support group, it seems likely that an even smaller percentage of claimants with mental health conditions will have qualified.

No official figures have yet been released by the DWP about ESA. The benefit only went live on October 27th 2008 and the first assessments did not take place until November of last year.

It may be some time before any figures are officially published which confirm or disprove these rumours. Meanwhile, Benefits and Work has made a freedom of Information request for copies of any documents relating to how many people are entering the support group.


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