The Benefit System, Welfare to Work, Work Capability Assessment

-Lib Dem have new policy on ESA

Lib Dems’ pass motion in conference on ESA 

On the first day of the Liberal Democrat conference,  a significant motion became party policy.

The motion was ‘Liberal Democrats in government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA’. The time limitation on Employment and Support Allowance is in the Welfare Reform Bill. If you are too ill to work, given ESA and are able to work ‘sometime in the future’, it actually means one year including the 13 week assessment period, during which time potential ESA claimants only receive benefits at the equivalent level of Job Seekers’ Allowance.

In reality therefore the period you can claim the higher rate of sickness benefit is nearer 9 months.

There are two key objections

  • The first is that you can only qualify for contributory ESA if you have paid sufficient levels of national insurance. But how would you feel if you’ve worked for 30 years find that you can only claim for nine months.

Whilst one can claim ‘income based’ ESA, it is paid at the same rate as ‘contributory’ ESA,  but it is means tested and only those on the lowest income receive it, and your partner cannot be working or claiming ESA either. So he will have to claim Job Seeker’s Allowance, which has a string of potential sanctions

  • Why one year?

Yes Minister Comment

Well, well well…..



Motion on Employment Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments
Conference notes that the Government has stated an aim to move people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and into work. The ESA aim is part of a target, in light of the crisis involving public finances, to make savings of £11 billion to the welfare budget over the time-frame of this Parliament. As part of this, 3.5 million people on ESA are and will be undergoing reassessment over a three year period starting from 2011.
Conference further notes that:
  • a) Work Capability Assessments determining eligibility for ESA are carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare.
  • b)  It is reported that Atos Healthcare is paid on a target based system where they earn more for every claimant assessed fit to be removed from claiming ESA and back into work.
  • c) 70% of case rejection decisions by Atos assessments which go to appeal are overturned.
  • d) The appeal success rate is much higher for those with representation than those without.
  • e) The way in which work capability assessments are conducted have been regularly criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.
  • f)  Anecdotal evidence shows that many faulty assessments are made, especially with relation to time variant disabilities such as mental illnesses.
  • g)  The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses a “tick box” technique, does not taken into account the claimant’s medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
  • h) The estimated rate of fraud for ESA is 5% and deliberate fraud is estimated to cost no more than £25 million in year.
  • i) Several claimants have committed suicide as a result of the stressful and distressing assessment process.
Conference believes that:
  • a) It is the duty of a compassionate society and the Government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.
  • b) The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses the “tick box” technique, is “not fit for purpose” as it does not take into account the claimant’s medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant. This factual medical evidence is totally discounted.
  • c) That the Work Capability Assessment is inaccurate, as evidenced by the high successful appeal rate, and fails to take into account the wide and various range of disabilities claimants may have.
  • d)  Any medical assessments should be carried out by trained medical professionals and that the regular criticism of Atos Healthcare over assessments shows that they are unfit to perform them.
  • e) Whilst recognising the understandable need to remove false claimants from the system, Conference believes that it is wrong to have a system where the primary focus is on keeping people from claiming the benefit and treating every claimant as a potential fraudster, rather than a focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable get the support they need.
  • f) A system where 70% of decisions are overturned at appeal is not cost effective due to the high cost of holding appeal tribunals and associated administration costs.
Conference criticises ministers and other official spokesmen for using misleading statistics which feed the misconception that the majority of claimants are benefits scroungers, for confusing DSA with IB/ESA and for presenting those in the work-related group are fit to work.
Conference also criticises the media (and the press in particular) for perpetuating the myth of work-shy scroungers and for distorting the facts in order to support the myth. Conference believes that this myth damages public sympathy for many of those who genuinely deserve it.
Conference, therefore, resolves to require our Parliamentary Party to:
  • a) Call for all medical components of Work Capability Assessments to be undertaken by the NHS which, in most cases, will be the body which diagnosed claimants in the first place.
  • b) More broadly to call for an overhaul of the entire assessment process with a focus on ensuring greater accuracy in assessment, a less stressful assessment process and on ensuring that the disabled get the support they need, rather than on saving money.
  • c) Call for any new or revised assessment process to take into account the claimant’s medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
  • d) Support and call for the scrapping of the arbitrary time limit on the length claimants can claim ESA if they are put into the work related activity group.
  • e) Call for the assessment criteria to be made clearer so that claimants and society in general understand what constitutes an illness which is so debilitating as to warrant ESA being paid.
  • f) Campaign for the appeal process to be speeded up and for all claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation.


  1. Can you let me know who the proposer was as I have a slightly diferent version that makes some contra implications to what is said in the above document. The pdf can be found at

    Of course we all want the best and most up to date information so would appreciate your help in this matter.

  2. From the who are in a long pitched battle with Atos because they do not want and will not allow claimants to tape record their bogus medical proceedures in order to check what was asctually said against what the so called professional medical paractitioners have put on the discredited computer programmes. This is a breakthrough and supports all of our previous assertions that Atos and their computer programme are not fit for purpose.

    Great stuff,

    Kind regards

    Stephan Toth for the Consumer Defence League.

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