Is it really more easy to claim Employment & Support Allowance than Incapacity Benefit?

by richardhutton

There has been a small furore recently over Employment & Support Allowance supposedly being more easy to claim than Incapacity Benefit. The source for this seems to be government figures, provided in a Freedom of Information response to Disability News Service[1]. The DNS article does not provide a link to the Incapacity Benefit data; and the information on its assessment-outcomes does not appear to be available via any material currently published by the Department for Work and Pensions under the Freedom Of Information act.

However, it is not true that Employment & Support Allowance is easier to claim than Incapacity Benefit had been. Back in April 2010, people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit began to undergo reassessments for Employment & Support Allowance. On 27th October 2008, pre-existing benefits paid on the grounds of incapacity and disability – specifically Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance – were replaced with ESA for all new claimants[2]. In other words, new claims for Incapacity Benefit had stopped in 2008. These were people in receipt of long-term unconditional support. The equivalent of this under Employment & Support Allowance is being placed in the Support Group.

If ESA was easier to successfully claim than IB, then all of these people would have received it following reassessments – and they would all have been placed in the ESA Support Group. But this didn’t happen – instead, as of April 2014, over a million people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit had been reassessed: 20% were declared Fit For Work; and of the remaining 80% of people, c. half were placed in the Support Group. So, under Incapacity Benefit, 100% of these people had received long-term unconditional support. Under Employment & Support Allowance, only c. 40% did. Therefore ESA is harder to claim.

The statistics on this were put in a Parliamentary Briefing paper[3]:

“in late 2010 a programme began under which around 1.5 million people are being reassessed for ESA. This is due to be completed in spring 2014. To date, over 1.1 million incapacity benefit claimants have been reassessed, and around a fifth have been found “Fit for Work.” Of those “migrated” to ESA since reassessment started, around half have been placed in the Support Group”

This means that all Members of Parliament should know this – yet, apparently, nobody did.

However, while it may be more difficult for an individual to make a successful claim for the equivalent of Incapacity Benefit under Employment & Support Allowance, this does not necessarily mean fewer people actually qualify for ESA. At first glance, the general trend of entitlement for ESA supports the view that is easier to claim ESA, as indicated by the DWP’s own data-graph[4]:


But there is an important catch here, which contributes to a distorted picture of the rates. Amongst other things, Employment & Support Allowance introduced the Work Related Activity Group. There wasn’t a WRAG equivalent under Incapacity Benefit. Instead, Incapacity Benefit was paid at three different rates[5]:

  • short-term (lower) IB is paid for the first 28 weeks
  • short-term (higher) IB is paid from weeks 29 to 52
  • long-term IB is paid from week 53

So, qualifying for Employment & Support Allowance is not the same as qualifying for Incapacity benefit – because somebody may qualify for ESA, yet still be denied long-term unconditional support. Moreover, they can be subject to conditions drastically distinct from the previous system – not least of all a series of sanctions[6].

In fact, this can be seen plainly from a closer reading of the ESA/WCA Summary, cited by Disability News Service. The 73% statistic for ‘entitled to ESA’ only covers the three-month period of October 2013 to December 2013. In addition, only 19% of the ESA claimants during this period had received an outcome. It was among these people that 73% were deemed entitled to the Employment & Support Allowance benefit; and it was only 58% of this group who were placed in the Support Group. The other 27% were classed as Fit-for-work. So, it is extremely difficult to draw any decisive conclusions about assessments and qualification from these respective rates.

However, as noted, the Support Group is the equivalent of Incapacity Benefit; and only 58% of people assessed between October-December 2013 received this. This is the highest it has been since ESA was introduced – it was only during the second half of 2013 that over 50% of people qualified for the Support Group:

esa graph 2

There appears not to be equivalent data available for assessment-outcomes under Incapacity benefit. Nonetheless, taking the 73% statistic out of context distorts the reality of what has been happening to people herein, beyond recognition[7]. This is, of course, leaving aside the personal distress and misery caused by the Work Capability Assessments, and denials of support – as documented extensively[8].

All told, not only is it more difficult for people to qualify for ESA than for Incapacity Benefit, but it is also more conditional, and therefore more easily taken away from them, as well.



[1] ‘ESA far easier to claim than IB – shock government figures’ by John Pring/Disability News Service (5th September 2014):

[2] ‘Employment and Support Allowance – Incapacity Benefits Reassessments: Outcomes of Work Capability Assessments, Great Britain. Department for Work and Pensions: Quarterly official statistical bulletin (Issue: 6 November 2012)’:

[3] ‘Incapacity benefit reassessments. Standard Note: SN/SP/6855’ by Steven Kennedy/House of Commons Library (1st April 2014):

[4] See ‘Figure 1: Outcome of initial functional assessment by date of claim start, Great Britain’ (p. 4):

[5] See the archived Directgov webpage on Incapacity Benefit (dated Saturday, 25th October 2008):

[6] See the ‘Employment and Support Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations 2012’ introduced in November 2012, which initiated a more draconian system of sanctioning people placed in the Work Related Activity Group:

[7] ‘ESA: outcomes of Work Capability Assessments September 2014’ by the Department for Work and Pensions:

[8] See, for example, the Spartacus group’s report ‘The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment’ (November 2012):