When people are making a claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) they all have 2 things in common – they’re unwell, and don’t have enough money. This might sound obvious, but these factors are seriously stressful. Add to that a 20 page application form which is asking you to focus on your ill health, and the prospect of a medical, and it paints a painful picture.
We know a lot of ESA claimants have problems with their mental health – and this application process isn’t helping.
Our aim was to create content that helps people get their form right first time, and get the money they’re entitled to as quickly and easily as possible.
To make this happen we have to take any potential stress points out of the content – and a lot of that is about language. We found 3 things that caused stress when looking at the content:
- the way we wrote about illness and disability
- talking about work
- talking about the DWP
Testing our pages with claimants
We tested a draft of help to fill in your ESA50 form with people who self diagnosed as having problems with their mental health,. We’ve also had feedback from experts at a charity that supports people with learning disabilities. We thought we wrote in plain English – but it turns out we could be a lot plainer.
Talking about illness and disability
Our feedback told us that we should avoid the word “condition” – we say “illness or disability” instead because it’s plainer. We talk about “people like doctors, nurses or physios” not “medical practitioners”.
We changed the way we talk about specific illnesses and disabilities, and try to avoid referring to complicated medical terms – for example we replaced “nausea” with “feeling sick”. We found that people got distracted and unsettled when they saw a word or a term they didn’t understand, and this affected how well they read and understood the rest of the page.
Each question has an example of a person and how their illness or disability affects them. We found that not naming specific illnesses in the examples usually made it easier for people to think about how their own illnesses and disabilities affect them.
Talking about work
Most people who claim ESA are put in the “support group” which means they don’t have to think about looking for work or prepare to get a job because of the severity of their illness or disability. Referencing going to work was stressful for some people, and just a bit alien to others.
From draft to live content we removed most of the references to work, and replaced them with everyday things that people might have problems with – like getting to an appointment or speaking to a neighbour.
Talking about the DWP
The people who looked at our draft pages felt negative about the DWP. Some felt that they would be looking for reasons to not give them ESA and were looking to ‘catch them out’. Our draft content mentioned the DWP quite a lot. We’ve tried to remove some of the references other than when it was really necessary.