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Work Capability Assessment

Volume 785: debated on Monday 9 October 2017


Asked by

My Lords, we consulted on work capability assessment reform in the Improving Lives Green Paper and have committed in our manifesto to building more personalised and tailored employment support to help disabled claimants and those with health conditions to return to work where appropriate. We continuously seek to improve the WCA, including recently stopping reassessments for claimants with the most severe and lifelong health conditions and disabilities. We will set out further plans in due course.

I am grateful for that Answer and am glad that there is some progress. However, does the Minister agree that the WCA is particularly bad at assessing whether people with more than one impairment—constant pain, for example—are capable of doing jobs in the real world of work and not just theoretical jobs? Will she undertake to ensure that the assessment will be underpinned by rigorous research into the kinds of jobs that people with limited capability for work could do? Also, will she ensure that any new legislation in this area is piloted first?

The noble Baroness will know that this is the fifth review of the work capability assessment since it was introduced in 2008. It is important to continually reassess and review the way the assessment is carried out. That is why since April, when we rolled out the new PSP—the personal support package for people with health conditions, which may include having one or more conditions—we have recruited 300 new disability employment advisers and 200 community partners, as well as introducing peer support job clubs in 71 jobcentres. We have allocated £15 million to the flexible support fund, made changes to the permitted work rules and have almost completed the rollout of the health and work conversation. This is in line with our ambition to provide a support system that can be tailored to individuals’ needs.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Prime Minister has accepted that the system is still flawed. There have been five reviews. I follow on from the earlier question: do we not need a pilot to make sure that this review actually works?

My Lords, the Improving Lives Green Paper was published in October 2016. I am pleased that we received around 6,000 consultation responses supported by 166 accessible events across the country. That is good; it is all about us listening to people, to understand what is truly needed and how we can tailor support to meet the needs of different people. Since the Green Paper consultation, our officials have been working hard to analyse that fantastic response. We are working towards an autumn publication which will set out our response to the consultation and how it has informed what we are going to do next.

My Lords, to ensure that the work capability assessment is fit for purpose, will the Government undertake to carry out a thorough inquiry into the alarming reports that assessors are disregarding evidence of unfitness to work put before them by claimants; and that claimants are even taking their own lives as a result of the stress to which they are subjected by work capability assessments, something which has been confirmed by coroners’ findings?

My Lords, it is important to point out that we are talking about approximately 2.4 million claimants who make up the employment support allowance caseload. Obviously the references made by the noble Lord to particular individuals are of concern, but the nominal expenditure forecast for 2017-18 is £15.3 billion. In that case, we have to proceed with care in the changes we make, to ensure that the delivery of assessments works for everyone. Since the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments took over the contract to carry out assessments in 2015, a number of improvements have been made to claimants’ experience of them. The number of HCPs has been increased by 68%—

I am sorry, but I think that noble Lords would like a clear explanation. Since August 2017, the centre has ensured that claimants go through the assessment process more quickly and increased the number of mental health champions it employs, as well as appointed a head of customer experience.

My Lords, two noble Lords have asked specifically about piloting any revised work capability assessment. Will the Minister now answer that question about piloting?

My Lords, I hear what noble Lords are saying in relation to piloting. As I have said, our officials are working hard to consider the next steps. I will take that suggestion back to them. They are thinking about all the future plans and taking into account the concerns of all the 6,000 people who responded to the consultation. Of course, if there is a wish to have more pilots, I am convinced that my department will look at that.

My Lords, if the Minister is bringing forward plans, that is extremely welcome, but before she makes any positive changes will she look at the Ministry of Justice employment tribunal statistics that were published last month? They show a rate of successful overturn on appeal in ESA cases of 68%. Further, the mean period for the disposal of a case is now 20 weeks, which is three weeks longer than last year. These are important things that need to be remedied in any plans she brings forward, so a review is fundamentally and urgently needed now.

My Lords, we are committed to ensuring that people have the best support possible. That is why we have allocated £330 million for new voluntary employment support for people with limited capability for work over four years, starting with this year. The current system fails to provide the right incentives and support to help disabled people and those with health conditions toward and into work. Those people deserve better.