False Economy ran from 2010-2015. This site is no longer being updated, but the False Economy research team continue to report at Sentinel News.
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Everything you wanted to know about…

Employment and Support Allowance

Employment and support allowance is a benefit for people who are unable to work because they have an illness or disability and/or who need support in work.

People are assessed for this allowance in interviews that are run by private company Atos Healthcare and are extremely controversial. The assessment is widely described as unfair, extremely stressful and inaccurate, (in June, the British Medical Association called for an end to it).

ESA applicants are placed in one of two groups – the support group (not expected to find work), or the work-related activity group (expected to find work).


Many people have been found fit for work and told to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance, where they have to show they are actively looking for a job.

Others are placed in ESA's work-related activity group, when they believe that they should be placed in the support group.

This has caused enormous controversy. Many of Atos original assessment decisions have been overturned on appeal.

This year, the government also placed new restrictions on the amount of time people can receive ESA. People on contributions-based ESA are now only eligible for that benefit for one year. The government plans to make means-tested ESA part of the Universal Credit (more on that soon).

Interviews with people affected

In this video, Weymouth outreach worker Angela Barnes talks about her own experiences of homelessness and the problems that people with mental health problems and drug and alcohol addicitions have trying to negotiate welfare and survive on benefits.

See also:

Audio: a group of the Weymouth men Angela Barnes works with talked to us in May 2012 talk about trying to live on ESA and JSA and their experiences of homelessness:

Find out more

A shorter version of this section is available for download as a pdf factsheet.