Incapacity Benefit is no longer available to new claimants. Yesterday (27 October 2008), a new benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), was launched in its place, to give people the support they need to improve their health, their skills and look for work.
ESA is tailor-made for disabled people and people with ill-health, and is part of the government's radical welfare reforms, which aim to get one million people off incapacity benefits by 2015.
From now on, new claimants who cannot work due to ill-health or disability will be able to claim ESA.
Claimants will have their capability assessed within weeks by an expert health professional through the new Work Capability Assessment.
The new assessment is designed to look at what people can do rather than what they can't. The government hopes it will ensure that those who can work are given the help and support they need to get back to work and that no one is "written off" and consigned to a life on benefits.
People who are assessed as having the severest disabilities or health conditions will go into the "support group" and get more money – the poorest receiving a minimum of £102.10 per week. Everyone else will go into the "work group".
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell said: "In the 1990s, people were written off on Incapacity Benefit with no help to overcome their problems or support to get them into work. It is even more important during an economic downturn that we increase support for people not take it away.
"The introduction of ESA, which marks a significant landmark for the delivery of our welfare reforms, will offer the help and support disabled people and people with ill-health are telling us they want in order for them to get back to work."
ESA replaces Incapacity Benefit and Income Support on the grounds of incapacity for new claimants only. Incapacity Benefit and Income Support continue in payment for existing claimants.
ESA claimants assessed as being able to prepare for work will be required to engage in a back-to-work programme and assigned a personal adviser who will help them overcome any specific barriers to work, including having a skills check and getting involved in work experience opportunities.
People identified as being in the "support group" can engage with these back to work programmes on a voluntary basis.
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