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From social assistance to employment: is the plan working? (UK)

November 19, 2012

A recent UK paper details the experience of migrating people with disabilities who are capable of working, away from the social assistance system and into employment.

Exploring the UK Coalition government’s efforts to transition persons with disabilities into paid work, the paper, titled, “All in it together? Disabled people, the Coalition and welfare to work,” focuses particular attention on the measures designed to support their (re)entry by way of the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The changes are grounded in the Coalition’s philosophy that “work is the best form of welfare” and as such, changes to housing benefits, reductions in disability living allowances, sanctions, and time limited benefits have been introduced. The ESA’s focus is to get recipients into employment.

A tool used to assess people’s ability to work is the Work Capacity Assessment (WCA). Based on results, the WCA places recipients into one of three categories:

  • Support group (highest level of benefits and no conditions attached);
  • Work related activity group (lower level of benefits with an expectation that the individual will work, or a
  • “Fit to Work” group wherein recipients will be taken off ESA and offered a job seekers allowance. Graduated levels of sanctions will be applied to those that do not work.

To date, the Work Capacity Assessments have placed most recipients in the “Fit to Work” category. The Coalition has a target to migrate all 1.5 million Incapacity Benefit recipients to ESA by March 2014. These targets are hastened by the time-limited constraints placed on ESA.

The report warns that there are grave concerns about these measures, especially the job capacity assessments that are being used to justify these transitions. For example, there are particular concerns about the WCA’s ability to assess fluctuating mental health conditions and health issues. Assessments are failing to correctly assess employability, which has the effect of moving recipients who are not ready to work into the wrong categories. Furthermore, the authors conclude, these assessments are based on a medical model and therefore do not take into account the social barriers to work that prevent people with disabilities from entering the workforce.

Work Choice is also a new program to provide specialized support for disabled people. However, the program is too new to assess its effectiveness. There is, the paper purports, a need to address all barriers to employment, which will provide a more level job search field for all job seekers.

See, “All in it together? Disabled people, the Coalition and welfare to work,” available at

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