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Introduction of Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment – key elements of Labour’s welfare reform which aims to use conditionality to cut spending on out-of-work benefits.

What: Employment and Support Allowance is introduced as the benefit for new claimants of out-of-work sickness and disability benefits, replacing Incapacity Benefit, severe disablement allowance and the incapacity element of Income Support. The new Work Capability Assessment is introduced to test eligibility for ESA.

Why significant: The introduction of ESA was a key element of the Labour government’s welfare reform agenda, which was introduced with the intention of cutting spending on out-of-work benefits through a stricter conditionality regime (Purnell, Work and Pensions Secretary). Steve Griffiths would later say that the heath data did not support the government’s target figures for getting people off incapacity benefits and into paid employment: “One explanation for the immense stress and error imposed by the introduction of ESA is that there has been a major policy misdiagnosis based on selective attention to evidence.”


'Employment and Support Allowance Volume 481: debate', Purnell, 2008
'Welfare trends report', 2018
THE WORK CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT, Child Poverty Action Group, 2008