This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Find out more here


To discuss how you and your organisation can get more involved with The Work Foundation, please contact us.

Call 020 7976 3575 or email

Stephen  Bevan

Two years on ESA: More likely to die or retire than return to work

Authors: Stephen Bevan Stephen Bevan

12 May 2011

The migration of people from long-term sickness absence onto Employment Support Allowance (ESA) – formerly Incapacity Benefit stands at about 3000 each week. Research published last week showed that the majority of these claimants are now suffering from mental health problems, with employers and the government seemingly powerless to stem the flow. Indeed, we know that if someone is on ESA for two years they are more likely to die or retire than return to work. The current rate of unemployment makes this even more likely.

In response, Dame Carol Black (National Director for Health and Work) and David Frost (Director General, British Chambers of Commerce) are jointly chairing a review of sickness absence and I am on the expert panel to the review.

Today’s Daily Telegraph highlights some of the challenges the Review will examine, including learning the lessons of our European neighbours. My comments in the Telegraph focus on the importance of early intervention – especially if we can prevent people with health problems or disabilities from leaving work in the first place. The Work Foundation has been conducting a large, multi-country study of workforce health.

The unhelpfully punitive rhetoric about benefit claimants ignores the fact that most people want to work, but lack the support from some GPs and some employers to retain their connection to the labour market. I’m hopeful that the Review will look at ways of ensuring that people are given much earlier support when they become ill or develop a work-related incapacity. The evidence supporting the benefits of early intervention is very powerful, and we can’t afford to ignore it.

Comments in Chronological Order (Total 1 Comments)

lizzie saunders

16 May 2011 4:11PM

Well managed and properly resourced volunteering provides individual and community benefits to help people to retain their skills and develop new ones. Accredited Local Volunteer Centers provide brokerage, good practice advice, develop new volunteering opportunities, campaign and lobby for volunteering and strategic development of volunteering. I hope that volunteering and some of the excellent research findings conducted by the Institute of Volunteering Research will feature in the review.