Contributions Based ESA

As you are aware, I’m disabled and as a result of my specific impairments unable to find employment outside of the voluntary sector. I can’t claim Jobseekers Allowance, so I claim Employment Support Allowance (the new name for Incapacity Benefit).

ESA comes in two forms. Income based (ESA-IB)- which is given to everyone who has no income or a low income (partners income is assessed when working this out) and varies depending on severity of your condition. The other is Contributions based (ESA-CB) – which is given to you if you paid ‘enough’ NI contributions into the pot before you become unemployed/unemployable.

I got my first part-time job at 15 working as a waitress, I then graduated to part-time employment with a supermarket which I carried on with throughout college and university. After uni I had a few part time jobs until I started working as a low-level stock broker (no deals over £50k) and team supervisor full time. I left to start doing a PGCE in secondary science but it was at that point I became disabled. I was 26. I’d been working and paying NI pretty consistently for 11 years.  I assumed I would be eligible for both ESA-IB and ESA-CB, I was wrong. Many letters later I was told I had simply not paid enough into the pot to get any ESA-CB. Had I worked for another decade before I became disabled or been privileged enough to grab a high paying job early on then it would have been different. So I am only entitled to minimal rates of ESA-IB which is negated pretty much by my partner being in receipt of a Student Loan (designed to only support him).

I dislike contributions based ESA because it tells people like me, people who became disabled earlier in life who had worked (but not enough) or those who have been disabled since childhood that our contributions weren’t valid enough. It re-enforces the idea that we are leeches on the system. By becoming disabled at 26, before I was able to pay more NI, I get less money than someone with an identical condition that got struck down at 46 after 31 years of work. I think that’s unfair, why is someone who had an extra 20 years of good health more deserving than I am? In ‘rewarding’ those who don’t fall ill until later on you are sending out a message to those who fall ill earlier.

As I’m sure you are aware, there is a big furore around the governments proposal to time-limit contributions based ESA. The MS society is campaigning against it by sending a Christmas message to those in the coalition asking them not to bring in;


“…an arbitrary time-limit on Employment and Support Allowance for those who’ve paid into the system and still need support.”

What about the rest of us? Do we not count? Are we not worthy of support? Lisa Ellwood talks more about the charities focus here at Where’s The Benefit?

You get a pitiful amount of money to live on if you are disabled and unable to work, so taking away some peoples extra money is seen as really unfair. I’ve read a lot of argument’s from people that are being threatened with loosing their ESA-CB in the very near future, they all stem around the following themes;

  • I won’t have enough money to live on if you cut off my ESA-CB
  • My partner works so I wouldn’t be eligible for ESA-IB, I’d have no money of my own which would make me more dependant and vulnerable.
  • I’ve paid into the system so I deserve the promised financial safety net of ESA-CB

What these arguments all seem to be ignoring is the plight of those of us that weren’t eligible for ESA-CB to begin with. Lets go through those three arguments quickly.

  • If people getting ESA-CB can’t reasonably be expected to live on the amount the rest of us get then why should those of us who due to a twist of fate were not eligible for ESA-CB have to live on that little? If ESA-IB is too little to live on then why don’t we all fight to improve the level that allowance is paid at rather than simply fighting to make sure that those getting extra keep getting extra?
  • There are thousands of people, myself included, getting only ESA-IB who are forced into dependency on their partners because of the way joint incomes are assessed. Some people get ESA-CB which helps them not to be so dependant. What about the rest of us? If dependency is so bad then why are we only fighting for those with eligibility for ESA-CB to avoid the trap? Why are we not fighting for every person in that position to have their own personal income to protect them?
  • Why is it fair that someone who had the good fortune to fall ill after 40+ years of good health should get more money than someone who fell ill/ became disabled at the age of 21? Young people with disabilities that stop them from working don’t get the chance to pay into the system. There is no way they can get the contributions up over the little or no time they have. Is that fair?

By telling some people that because they worked for longer (which can be read as ‘didn’t become disabled enough to be unable to work at a young age’) or had the good fortune to be earning vast sums of money for the 3-5 years before they became disabled that they are more deserving of money & support. You start to develop a damaging deserving disabled vs undeserving disabled rhetoric. People with ‘x’ NI contributions are more deserving than those without. That is messed up.

I don’t have a race-to-the-bottom mentality, I don’t believe that because I’m not getting extra money that others shouldn’t too. I believe that we should all get a respectable amount of money to live on regardless of the age when we became disabled and our individual fortune up to that point when it came to finding work. I believe we, as a community, should be campaigning for a fair rate of ESA for all. Not just for a select group.

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  1. This really is outrageous. When we pay tax, we're not putting money away for our own personal rainy day, we're putting it in for everyone, if and when they need it. Most people have children in their 20s and 30s, one might argue that only people who have worked 20 years should get free maternity care, child benefit and free education for their children – after all, the young parents haven't paid in all that much yet and their kids certainly haven't.

    I got sick when I was fifteen, which is a pretty tough break, and there's a reasonable chance that I might never work. Fortunately, that happened long before all this, so (I think) they'll treat me as if I've paid in all along. But there's folks like yourself and so many of the cute disabled kids that charities use as their poster children are in the same position as us – they either won't work, or they'll have significant periods unable to work.

    There are worse things than becoming disabled at a young age, long before you've had a chance to build the kind of buffers that, to some extent, protect some middle aged people who get sick (like a home of their own, stable relationships, children, maybe a little pension, even insurance). But nobody should be punished for the timing of their misfortune.

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  2. I didn't become disabled until my 40's however I also receive income support on the grounds of disability rather than the contribution related benefit. I worked weekends from the age of 14 and then in a series of not too well paid jobs with only a brief period of unemployment. In my 30's I became self employed – I didn't realise how this would impact on any future need to claim benefits and besides like most people who become sick later in life – I never expected to need to claim. I never earned very much money, but I worked and brought up a family. However, it was not enough.

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