Select Committee on Work and Pensions Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Alan Tyler


    —  Much useful work has been done in creating a suggested framework for reform and a programme for action but a lot of the momentum appears to have been lost due to the wholesale changes in the ministerial and departmental teams at the Department for Work and Pensions. This has proved frustrating for external partners looking to help move this initiative on.

    —  Pathways to Work (together with other earlier initiatives) has provided valuable lessons and the new proposals for Incapacity Benefit reform appear generally sound.

    —  The method of assessment to establish claimants' work capabilities will be important, in particular the assessment of variable health conditions.

    —  Mental health conditions produce perceptional problems which should be addressed by education but are best handled as part of a single integrated assessment and services system where there is scope for each health condition to have its own special considerations rather than being singled out for special attention.

    —  Employer engagement will be critical.


  1.  In late 2004/early 2005, the government produced a series of key documents setting out its plans in these areas:

    —  "Building Capacity for Work: A UK Framework for Vocational Rehabilitation" (October 2004)

    —  "Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People" (January 2005)

    —  "DWP Five Year Strategy" (February 2005)

  2.  These together, whilst still representing work in progress, created a comprehensive action plan which so many of those involved in this process have been looking for in order to address the key issues and provide a framework for everyone to assist in achieving both a better benefit structure and improvements in services to get more people back to work.

  3.  Unfortunately, since the election and the appointment of a new ministerial team, very little progress is evident. The date for the Green Paper has been put back by a minimum of three months and depending upon its nature, we could be looking at very little tangible progress during the course of 2005.

  4.  Few issues can have generated input from so many widely different perspectives whilst still achieving a remarkable general consensus on the way forward. Thus this delay has been frustrating for all.

  5.  The following paragraphs address some of the questions posed by the Select Committee:

6.  Reforms to Incapacity Benefits

    —  Feedback so far released by DWP indicates that the Pathways to Work pilots have proved far more successful than any previous initiative:

    —  More people are being returned to work.

    —  There is positive feedback from both claimants and Personal Advisers.

    —  Claimants have responded to:

        —  being treated as individuals;

        —  receiving help services tailored to their needs;

        —  dealing with a single access point;

        —  being engaged not coerced; and

        —  incentives that ensure that work pays;

  However, a more comprehensive review of the pilots is still awaited and much more needs to be done to engage employers and insurers more effectively in these initiatives. It should also be recognised that the successes being achieved with new and short term claimants will be more difficult to achieve with long term claimants.

    —  The proposed new Incapacity Benefit structure is certainly a great improvement on the current system and much simpler to understand. Either a dual benefit structure or a single "ladder" approach, describing all the stages from home care to full time employment appears workable. The assessment process to determine which benefit stream people qualify for will be key and must be seen to be fairly assessing people on merit. Incentives based on conditionality will work but equally, those not seen as capable of work at the time of assessment must feel protected but not written off by the system and be kept in touch with services that can improve their lifestyle whilst maintaining the possibility of a return to work at a later date. The proposals should help to reduce fraud and error levels but to what degree I cannot speculate.

7.  The Future Rollout of Pathways to Work

    —  See 6 above.

8.  Support for Sick and Disabled People to Move Back into Work

    —  The assessment of those with variable conditions represents one of the biggest challenges to the assessment process and in providing suitable work opportunities for those affected in this way.

    —  All health conditions pose their own special problems but there are also similarities between them which require much the same action. With mental health the problem is often one of perception as the presence of such conditions and evidence of recovery is frequently less visible to others (eg employers and work colleagues) compared to physical conditions. Thus diagnosis of the cause of the symptoms may be delayed and evidence of recovery more difficult to demonstrate, leading to suspicion about the risk of recurrence. In this respect, there are similarities with variable conditions. Whilst understanding of these conditions needs to be improved, to single out mental health for special treatment may be counter-productive and it would be better to treat mental health as just one aspect of a common rehabilitation programme which has its own special educational, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitation considerations alongside those applying to other conditions.

    —  Condition Management Programmes appear to be working well and should be of great help but a wider educational programme for employers and indeed, health professionals, is also required.

9.  The Role of the Private and Voluntary Sectors

    —  There are many organisations in both sectors willing and able to assist the development of these reforms and the quicker the promised framework can be established, the faster and more effectively the reform programme can be introduced.

    —  The engagement of employers will be vital and much can also be achieved in conjunction with insurers.

Alan Tyler

3 October 2005

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