Reforming ESA to help disabled people into work

24th August 2015

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP, today signalled his intention to examine potential reforms to the Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the main benefit claimed by around 2.3 million people who are unable to work due to disability or illness. 

In a speech on Monday 24 August 2015, Mr Duncan Smith said that reform was needed because ESA is, “too simplistic” as claimants are deemed either fit, or unfit for work and that a new system, aligned to Universal Credit, should focus, “on what a claimant can do and the support they’ll need – and not just on what they can’t do.” The speech also encouraged employers to be more flexible in the opportunities they provide to staff who become sick or disabled.

The Government’s manifesto made a clear commitment to halving the disability employment gap. There is currently a 33 percentage point difference between the proportion of non-disabled 16 to 64 year olds in work (79 per cent) and disabled 16 to 64 year olds in work (46 per cent) which means around one million more disabled people will need to enter employment in order for the Government to meet its target. 

To help more disabled people find work, and earn more in work, NIACE and Inclusion published ideas for reforms to ESA as part of Ten Policies for Ten People in April 2015 which called for:

  • Restructuring future employment and skills support around three levels:
  1. ‘Into work’ support – for those closest to returning to work;
  2. Health and disability employment support – for those needing more intensive and joined up support; and
  3. Support Employment and rehabilitation – for those with the most significant support needs
  • A distinct employment programme for disabled people, merging ESA support currently with the Work Programme and Work Choice. This could be jointly commissioned with local areas where they can show plans and investment to boost support for disabled people
  • An urgent review of the Work Capability Assessment and Access to Work schemes
  • A new ‘What Works Unit’ to collect, review and disseminate best practices and encourage innovation in service design and delivery.