Disabled jobseekers get a disability premium. Disabled people who are sick don’t. Is that fair?


It seems George Osborne may have made a bit of a boo-boo over Employment and Support Allowance in his Budget on Wednesday. Let’s lay it out and if anybody can shed light on the situation, please do.

It seems people with disabilities who are claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance now have an unfair financial advantage over those who are claiming ESA, because they receive the DLA-related disability premium, while those on ESA do not.

This cannot be fair.

In his Budget speech, Osborne said new applicants for ESA, who are put into the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG), will now receive the same amount as people on the basic rate of Jobseekers’ Allowance. The extra money people receive for being on ESA will no longer be provided.

Having a disability doesn’t mean you are ill. so it is possible to be claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) concurrently.

It is also possible to be ill and have a disability, so it is possible to claim sickness benefit ESA and DLA at the same time.

DLA normally dispenses a disability premium into your main benefit (JSA or ESA) – a “top-up” amount to help people cope with the extra cost of living associated with disability.

Before Osborne opened his mouth on Wednesday, ESA attracted extra money automatically for people in the WRAG group – this is the cash that Osborne has cut.

Consider this: As DLA also dispenses extra money in the form of a premium, ESA would have attracted two pots of extra cash when it was originally devised in 2008. The government of the day – according to a Vox Political source – decided that ESA should only attract one pot of money so they ruled that the DLA premium would not be applied to people in the WRAG group of ESA .

Now George Osborne has declared that new claimants in the WRAG group will lose their extra money, leaving WRAG ESA claimants with no extra money at all.

This means people who are unemployed and disabled – but not sick – receive extra money from the DLA premium to cope with their disability, while people who are disabled and also sick receive no extra money from the DLA premium to cope with their disability.

This cannot be fair.

This blog invites readers with expertise in this matter to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, it may be time to write to your MP and demand fair treatment for WRAG ESA claimants.

* What does this mean for PIP – the Personal Independence Payment? Does this dispense premiums to people on ESA and JSA? If not – why not? Their needs are no different, just because they’re on the newer benefit. Vox Political invites comment on this, also.

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18 thoughts on “Disabled jobseekers get a disability premium. Disabled people who are sick don’t. Is that fair?

  1. Cora Uption

    Well those of of us who work as Welfare Officers are going to have to work double hard at exploiting every rule in the book to get people into the Support Group of ESA instead of the bloody WRAG. Absolutely crucial that we get the word out that people looking to apply for this benefit must get support from CAB, Age UK, Macmillan etc when filling out the ESA50 otherwise they will be screwed right from the start.

    1. Barry Davies

      If you are working as a welfare officer it is your job to ensure people are getting the right allowances, unfortunately it seems to many of your occupation are intent on preventing as many people as possible gaining the help they need and impose sanctions for the most minor of reasons some of which are frankly illegal.

  2. Spoonydoc

    This *could* be deliberate. There is now incentive for people claiming DLA but unlikely (or unsure) to get into the support group, not to bother applying for ESA in the first place. While this means unemployment will rise, it will bring ESA numbers down, which so far has been a massive failure for this government. Whether such people could cope with the rigours of a JSA regime is, however, questionable.

    On the other hand many people are unaware of the availability of this top up for JSA. If this policy remains in place (and I think it will), there should be a concerted effort to get this info out there. I doubt the job office will be informing claimants.

    I agree though that this situation is perverse. People who are “sick” in the traditional sense of the term often have extra costs such as frequent hospital visits, increased utility bills and so on. Many of these are also the exact people who are currently unable to work but may be able to in the future once their health improves. So they have no hope of getting a job.
    A disabled person on JSA does at least have a chance of getting a job, even if the barriers to work are extensive.

    Furthermore the basic levels of JSA are set at strict subsistence levels and are not meant to support anyone for any length of time. This is why ESA was set higher. It is expected that claimants will claim for longer. People will therefore need to budget for more long term extra bills such as clothing or emergencies.

    For both these reasons it is completely wrong that people who are sick are being denied the support they require. Many are unable to return to work in the short term, have extra bills and need more than a subsistence level benefit.

    P.S. PIP passports to all the same exemptions and premiums as DLA. The one exception is social care. All of daily living PIP is eligible for care contributions under “fairer charging”, whereas only up to mid rate care DLA used to be if no night care was provided.

  3. argotina1

    The danger here is that this government could decide to remove the premium from unemployed people too, to make it ‘fair’. Given their past record, I dont find this unlikely.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      That would make it more UNfair, though – quite clearly to everyone. The government would be stepping into a bear trap.

  4. Bill Kruse

    One take-away from this situation is that IDS seems to have spent hundreds of millions of hardworking taxpayers money implementing a testing system which, according to his own chancellor, introduces its own perverse incentives towards failing. The clear inference of the removal of the ESA for the WRAG group is that the test can be gamed and often is. So, is Gideon saying the WCA is no good, then? If that’s the case, why isn’t he scrapping it, and why is Duncan-Smith, overseer of this lamentable situation, still in a job? Also, why haven’t they scrapped the ESA component of the Support Group as well as the WRAG? Is Gideon suggesting the SG WCA can’t be gamed, then, despite the fact they’re the same test? He doesn’t know what day it is, does he? 🙂

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Their problem is that they want to rule more people as fit for work but the claiming system mitigates in favour of the opposite. It’s obvious, really – if you want an incapacity benefit you’re more likely to be incapacitated than not. Look at the fraud figures – 0.7 per cent of claimants try to lie in order to get benefits.
      There probably aren’t any perverse incentives that help people get the benefit – experience suggests the opposite – most obviously the number of benefit-related deaths and suicides.

    2. Florence

      As someone who has been through the WCA I am disturbed by the claim that the test can be “gamed”,i.e fraud. Your straw man argument is that recipients of ESA (Wrag or support) have cheated the system. While you recover your argument in favour of claimants actually being ill / disabled (ESA support) by then the damage is done. I do not see any evidence in the budget moves for a response to gaming or otherwise, so I am intrigued where you find this explanation.

      The triumph of Osborne over IDS is personal triumph and political high point for neolib doctrine. Osborne will get what he demanded where IDS failed, simply by financially abolishing ESA WRAG. It is the triumphal destruction of welfare state support of those too ill / unable to work, and puts us on notice they will be hacking away root & branch all other disability and sickness benefits.

      The sinister & sociopathic language from Osborne tells us all that the poor will no longer be tolerated if they don’t work, even in illness & recovery. The benefits system will be presented as paid for all, used by the feckless, and a gullible public will follow meekly to it’s destruction.

      To couch it in terms of “gaming” or otherwise by claimants fails to see the true size and destination of Osborne’s ambition.

      1. Mike Sivier Post author

        That’s a quote from the leaked DWP document on shaking up benefits. I reported on it too.
        It’s a report by DWP officers to ministers in that Department.

      2. Florence

        The quote is about “perverse incentives”. My question was about how you get from that to claiming people have been “gaming” the system.

        The notion of “perverse incentives” is itself perverse given the difficulties / checks / system bias etc against claiming the higher benefit at all. Do you not understand this? People crumble and are destroyed by the process, but you sniff-out “gaming” for a bit more money.

        The huge differential between disabled and non-disabled employment rates (from on benefits, and also in the workplace generally) is also demonstrably nothing to do with the benefits received, but is a reflection of the discrimination in the employment process against the disabled. Given that 40% of those on sickness benefits are suffering from mental health problems, it is a searing indictment of our society if taboos and discrimination against MH in particular is turned back and weaponised against those affected. This is a very big stick, with a nail through the end, used to beat up those who can work, and want to, (and demonise those who can’t, but might recover) who are treated with disdain by employers.

        Please answer the question. How did you make the leap between cod “incentives” as a political statement about people staying on benefits, to your suggested scamming by (the majority) to just get on them?

      3. Bill Kruse

        I understand Osborne to mean this and this is his reason for cutting the ESA component. It’s clearly incoherent as I’ve said. If people are staying on in the WRAG when they’re recovered, which I think is what you’re saying is Osborne’s complaint, then they’re gaming the system just as much as if they were gaming it to get on it in the first place. My point is the system’s supposed to be ungamable, else why have we spent all this money in it? What he said was this, “We also want to increase employment among those who have health challenges but are capable of taking steps back to work.

        The Employment and Support Allowance was supposed to end some of the perverse incentives in the old Incapacity Benefit. Instead it has introduced new ones.

        One of these is that those who are placed in the work-related activity group receive more money a week than those on Job Seekers Allowance, but get nothing like the help to find suitable employment.

        The number of JSA claimants has fallen by 700,000 since 2010, whilst the number of incapacity benefits claimants has fallen by just 90,000. This is despite 61% of claimants in the ESA WRAG benefit saying they want to work.

        For future claimants only, we will align the ESA Work-Related Activity Group rate with the rate of Job Seekers Allowance.

        No current claimants will be affected by this change and we will provide new funding for additional support to help claimants return to work.” so I’d guess it’s open to either interpretation.

  5. Jim Round

    I have a feeling that in the very near future ESA will become JSA/Universal credit.
    There may or may not be a disability premium.
    As I have said several times, support for job seekers both disabled and non-disabled is shambolic.
    My thoughts are that some businesses will employ under 25’s to get round the wage increase, then find a dubious reason to “let them go” just before they reach 25.
    I see that there is no review of why pay in some sectors is so low.
    It is mainly SME’s care homes etc..and the likes of the big 4 supermarkets who pay these wages.
    The latter is the only one likely to benefit from the Corporation Tax cut.
    Smaller businesses usually pay outdatef business rates, IPT which has just increased and maybe som VAT.
    So really the real issues are left alone again and The Tories voting demographic are looked after once again.

  6. Andy (NCCLols)

    What makes you think ESA WRAG claimants won’t get the disaability premium if they also receive a qualifying benefit? I haven’t seen the detail but the policy announcement is that ESA WRAG will be reduced to the level of IJSA, via the removal of the WRAG component. The implication of that is that if DP would be payable if the claimant was getting JSA, they would also get it if they were getting ESA if all else was equal. That was my understanding anyway.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The disability premium was deliberately removed from ESA WRAG calculations. We have seen nothing to suggest that it will be reinstated.

  7. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady

    The Equality Act 2010 at section 6 states;

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/6 (definition of disability)

    Section 13 then states ;

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/13 (unfair treatment)

    The government, in essence would have to prove (on the balance of probabilities) that there is an objective justification for treating the two groups differently (and of course they won’t be able to)

    Ipso facto, this is direct discrimination which is illegal under the Equality Act 2010

    Read it and weep tory boys!

  8. S

    “their needs are no different” – we’re very much aware the welfare system isn’t needs-based. I’m a disabled student on medical leave in exactly as much need as a person who quit or was forced to leave their course, but we’re not eligible for any sort of benefit unless we also receive DLA/PIP. No, we can’t claim student finance during this period, and I have correspondence from Esther McVey saying that the current “only severely disabled people need money to live on” system of tying suspended students’ ESA to receipt of DLA/PIP is totally fine, justified, and never going to change.

    Don’t forget you can claim JSA instead, if you’re in this bind. Except, if you’re not well enough for full time work, doing so is fraudulent.

    oh yeah – for an extra kick I was refused Housing Benefit because the period I’d be without income for (until I’m well enough to study) is indefinite.

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