Surprising statistics reveal ESA is easier to claim than predecessor IB, reports Disability News Service

9 September 2014

Disabled people are more likely to be successful in a claim for the much-criticised employment and support allowance (ESA) than the benefit it is replacing, incapacity benefit (IB), John Ping from the Disability News Service  (DNS) reports.

The figures came in a response from the DWP to a request under the Freedom of Information Act from DNS. They show that about 33 per cent of applicants for old-style IBwere successful in their claims in the three years leading up to the introduction of its replacement, ESA, in late 2008 (there are no figures available from before 2006). But the most recent government figures show that as many as 73 per cent of ESA claimants who complete an initial WCA are now being awarded the benefit, with the numbers apparently climbing every year.

Although the two sets of figures are likely to be not completely comparable – the IB figures probably include claimants who dropped their claim before they were assessed because their health improved – the differences are so striking that they almost certainly show ESA is far easier to claim than IB.

Three leading disabled campaigners have so far expressed surprise at the figures, which appear to cast an unexpected new light on the out-of-work financial support provided to sick and disabled people.

Criticisms of ESA and particularly the harshness and inflexibility of the test used to decide eligibility – the work capability assessment (WCA) – have been a high-profile target of campaigners since the benefit was introduced for new claimants in October 2008.

Campaigning organisations have always insisted that the WCA is inflexible, and fails to reflect disabled people’s daily lives, while they say the tests are often riddled with errors. Despite the new figures, they are still likely to insist that the WCA causes unnecessary suffering to many disabled people and should be scrapped.

Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, said she was surprised by the new figures.

But she added: “I never thought that IB was that easy to get. I thought it was quite difficult. Maybe we all got sucked into the government’s rhetoric.

“We always said that was wrong and that these were people with serious health problems [and high support needs].

“But the government were talking to the Daily Mail-reading audience to make it seem as if they were dealing with the ‘scroungers’.

“The result was that it scared the hell out of perfectly genuine claimants.”

Another disabled campaigner asked not to be named because he said the figures “require further scrutiny and investigation” before public comment.

He said that it would be “interesting” to see the DWP’s explanation for the figures.

He also insisted that the WCA must still be scrapped and that tens of thousands of disabled people were being denied the ESA they were entitled to and “as a consequence are facing workfare and sanctions and the prospect of having to use food banks”.