Press release: Government declaring people too fit for one benefit but not fit enough for another

Edinburgh East MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore has today accused the UK Government of leaving people stuck between benefits. This follows a case where a constituent was declared too fit for Employment and Support Allowance but not fit enough for Jobseekers Allowance.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008. To get it claimants have to be assessed as unfit for work as a result of a disability or health condition. Since its introduction many claimants have been incorrectly assessed as fit for work and refused ESA.

People in this situation are encouraged to apply for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), which requires claimants to be fit for work. However a recent case shows that people can be declared too fit for ESA but not fit enough for JSA.

Sheila Gilmore said:

My constituent Rose Burgess suffers from arthritis and depression. Earlier this year she applied for ESA but was declared fit for work. However when she applied for Jobseekers Allowance, she was told she wasn’t fit for work. In effect Ms Burgess was being told that she was too fit for ESA, but too sick or disabled for JSA.

I raised this in a letter to Mark Hoban, then the Minister responsible for this area, and he replied suggesting that Jobcentre Plus staff can amend the criteria for receiving JSA so as to take account of people’s health conditions. But given Ms Burgess’ experience, this clearly isn’t happening in practice.

People shouldn’t be caught between benefits like this. I believe the UK Government should act to ensure people don’t fall through cracks in the system.

Sheila Gilmore noted that this could become a bigger problem in future:

When claimants are incorrectly found fit for work during a period known as reconsideration – in effect an informal appeal to civil servants that has to take place before a case can be passed to independent Tribunal Judges – they can be paid ESA at a reduced rate during this period. However in future they will have to apply for Jobseekers Allowance, meaning that many who will eventually be awarded ESA will not qualify.


Notes to Editors:

  • Mark Hoban’s letter can be found here.
  • Sheila Gilmore led a debate on the issue of the support given claimants during the reconsideration process in September. You can read more here.
  • Sheila Gilmore is a member of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. You can view the committee’s website here.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or