ESA replaces Incapacity Benefit

The new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is tailor made for disabled people and people with ill-health and is part of the Government's radical welfare reforms, which aim to get 1 million people off incapacity benefits by 2015.

From today new claimants who cannot work due to ill-health or disability will be able to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Within weeks of making a claim, customers will have their capability assessed by an expert health professional through the new Work Capability Assessment. The new assessment is designed to look at what people can do rather than what they can't - and will ensure that those who can work are given the help and support they need to get back to work and will make sure that no-one is written off and consigned to a life on benefits.

People who are assessed as having the severest disabilities or health conditions will go into the 'support group' and get more money - the poorest of receiving a minimum of £102.10 per week. Everyone else will go into the 'work group.'

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell said: "In the 1990s people were written off on Incapacity benefit with no help to overcome their problems or support to get them into work. It is even more important during an economic downturn that we increase support for people not take it away."

"The introduction of Employment and Support Allowance, which marks a significant landmark for the delivery of our welfare reforms, will offer the help and support disabled people and people with ill health are telling us they want in order for them to get back to work."

Employment and Support Allowance replaces Incapacity Benefit and Income Support on the grounds of incapacity for new claimants only. Incapacity Benefit and Income Support continue in payment for existing customers.

ESA claimants who are assessed as being able to prepare for work, will be required to engage in a back to work programme and assigned a personal adviser who will help them overcome any specific barriers to work, including having a skills check and getting involved in work experience opportunities. People identified as being in the 'support group' can engage with these back to work programmes on a voluntary basis.

Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Kate Green, said: "Government commitments that claimants would not receive lower amounts on the new benefit have not been kept for all groups.

"There is now great concern that claimants will also fail to receive the level of employment support promised. Many sick and disabled people aspire to employment but lack support services and face employer discrimination in moving into work. We have not seen sufficient emphasis to encourage employers to open up decent job opportunities whilst the likely recession means fewer jobs for people to move into. Those unable to work require much higher levels of financial support to maintain their health.

"The Government has been relying on the private sector leverage to finance these services, but it is now the public purse that is propping up the banks. Rising unemployment makes it harder for disabled workers to access jobs too."