Welfare that Works: Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Stef Benstead


This review of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has been written by Stef Benstead with support from the Spartacus network of disabled researchers and advocates. It examines the failure of the current ESA system and makes ten recommendations for interim improvements to ESA, with the ultimate aim of pointing towards radical changes in the welfare system so that it can benefit all, but particularly disabled, sick and other vulnerable people. Inter alia, the report reveals that, contrary to the latest official report, first-year Review recommendations have mostly not been adequately implemented and that the experience of those subject to assessment is negative and damaging.


Chapter 1: ESA data (page 2).
Chapter 2: Individual’s Experiences (page 6)
Chapter 3: Implementation of first-year Review recommendations (page 12)
Chapter 4: Recommendations improving ESA (page 35)


Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is not working. Any test that works has to be able to be repeated with consistent results and has to produce results that accurately reflect the real world. Data and evidence from the test can be considered to provide information on the reliability and validity. With ESA, there are multiple data and evidence that ESA does not work. These include: inaccuracies in ATOS reports; variability in ATOS assessments; inaccuracy of guidelines for assessors; variability in decision making; the 42 per cent success rate at appeal; the fact that the majority of overturned appeals are themselves overturned on new oral evidence; and low employment rate of claimants 12-18 months after a decision.

The experience of individuals in relation to ESA, document and quantified at length, is often negative and harrowing. As one respondent to a survey said: “[T]here is no support - you've been thrown away regardless, and none of it was ever about illness, disability, ability or recovery: for them it was always only about the money. And they keep insisting we're not cheap, but I feel cheap.”

Regarding first-year Review recommendations from Professor Malcolm Harrington. After careful analysis, this report finds that of 25 official recommendations for change to ESA, almost two-thirds have not achieved success. Three were not implemented at all; five were implemented with limited success; and eight were not fully implemented, which consequently also means a limited success. This lack of success means that the recommendations have not brought about the improvement to the ESA system that they could have brought, had the government fully accepted and implemented the recommendations.

There are ten recommendations for interim improvements to ESA. These are: (1) mandatory reconsideration; (2) accessible centres of assessment; (3) minimum limits on reassessment; (4) mental health champions; (5) division of cognitive and physical descriptors; (6) recording assessments; (7) new Evidence Based Review descriptors; (8) moving away from superficial 'snapshots'; (9) taking into account health professional evidence; and (10) independent assessors.

Read and download the full report here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document, 37pp, 872mb on disc): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/spartacusreviewesa.pdf

Co-published with acknowledgement and gratitude to Spartacus: Disabled people's views on welfare reform (http://wearespartacus.org.uk). This document is © Spartacus and the author.