The role of incapacity benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

7  Employment support for ESA claimants

Support under the Work Programme

178.  As we have set out, the Government's main objective for the IB reassessment is to help long-term claimants move back into work. In this chapter we will explore the employment support which is available to the various groups of claimants, based on their reassessment outcome.

179.  Most of the employment support will be provided through the Government's new unified welfare-to-work scheme, the Work Programme, which was launched in June. We reported on the contracting arrangements under which the Work Programme will operate in May.[232] Employment support will be provided by prime providers from the private, public and voluntary sector. These providers will use the skills of a range of sub-contractors to ensure specialist support is available to the wide range of users.

Incentive structure for employment providers

180.  Research from the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion (Inclusion) predicts that a very large proportion (78%) of customers in the Work Programme in 2014 will have previously claimed ESA or IB.

181.  The Work Programme has been designed to take account of the particular needs of claimants who have been through the IB reassessment process. Separate Work Programme entry points have been established for: JSA claimants who have been found fit for work under the ESA migration; those entitled to contributory ESA who are placed in the WRAG; those in the WRAG entitled to income-related ESA; and ESA claimants in the Support Group and IB claimants awaiting reassessment who volunteer for the Work Programme. Providers will be remunerated under a differential payments system, based on the benefit a user is claiming when they enter the Programme, which will mean that ex-IB claimants attract the highest level of funding.[233]

182.  Professor Gregg argued that allocating claimants to the right benefit matters greatly in terms of the employment support available to them under the Work Programme.[234] The Minister agreed that "it would not be right to reassess people and then say, 'Right; you are on your own'. It is all about making sure that there is proper specialist support available to help them into work." He emphasised that "the outcome price for the JSA ex-IB group is 50% higher, and [...] for those who are mandated from ESA onto the Work Programme, the tariff is almost £14,000 to get them into work. That is really important."[235]

183.  The Papworth Trust supported the principles behind the Work Programme, that "with the right support, those people who are fit and able to work should have the necessary requirements placed on them to actively engage in work". However, it emphasised the importance of getting the reassessment decision right: "for those people found wrongly fit for work under the WCA, they will receive a third to two-thirds less support to find and retain work under the Work Programme payment structure, which is extremely concerning."[236] The Careers Development Group echoed this view:

If WCA does not lead to the correct decision being made regarding a customer's readiness for employment, prime providers may not be in the best position to provide the required level of support because of financial restrictions in the Work Programme payment structure.[237]

Advanced Personnel Management (APM), a private sector company which provides the Australian equivalent of the WCA, recommended that:

[...] referral pathways are separated from income determination decisions. This will help to ensure that customers are matched to the employment service provider that best meets their needs and to be able to commence with the most appropriate service provider with minimal delay.[238]

A4e, an employment provider, agreed that the Department should "maximise the opportunities that will be available through the Work Programme" by ensuring that eligibility for services was dependent "on need rather than benefit status".[239] A recent report by Inclusion also highlighted that the introduction of Universal Credit "will inevitably require a revised customer grouping system (as it will no longer be possible to base eligibility for the Work Programme on eligibility for different benefits once they are replaced)".[240]

184.  The measure of success of both the Work Programme and the IB reassessment will be the proportion of people helped to move from benefits into employment. Recent research suggests that a very large proportion of customers in the Work Programme by 2014 will have previously claimed ESA or IB. This highlights the challenge for the Work Programme and the need to ensure that the WCA is effective in allocating claimants to the differentiated groups within the Programme. Until the introduction of Universal Credit, claimants will be assigned to the groups within the Work Programme based on the benefit they are claiming. This reinforces the importance of ensuring that claimants are allocated to the correct benefit in the IB reassessment process.

185.  It is too early to assess whether the current grouping and incentive structure under the Work Programme will be effective in leading to employment outcomes for former IB claimants. We reiterate the recommendation in our recent report on the Work Programme: that the Government keep the payment model under review and assess the outcome for participants within and between each client group. This review should be carried out by an independent panel and repeated on a regular basis.

Back-to-work support for customers moving onto ESA

186.  The Department states that the majority of ESA customers who want the more intensive support offered by the Work Programme will be able to access it as soon as they are placed in the WRAG or Support Group. Contributory ESA customers will be able to volunteer for the Work Programme and, if they wish, remain on the Programme after their contributory benefit has come to an end.[241]

187.  Most ESA customers in the WRAG who do not access the Work Programme will be expected to prepare for a return to work with support from Jobcentre Plus. The Department suggested that those with greater disability-related barriers to work may be referred to Work Choice, if mainstream support is not appropriate for them. Work Choice helps people with more severe disabilities or complex needs to prepare for work and to undertake supported employment, with the aim of progressing into unsupported employment where possible.[242] Subject to the passage of secondary legislation, from June 2011 JCP advisers will be able to require customers in the ESA WRAG, with some exceptions, to undertake work related activity to prepare for a return to work.[243]

188.  Witnesses pointed out that some people with a limited life expectancy are placed in the WRAG. Sue Royston from CAB explained that:

[...] people who have a life limiting condition—say something where they have been given a prognosis of three or four years—are not put in the Support Group. They would go to a functional assessment. If their function was such that it was found that they had enough points, they would be in the Work-Related Group.[244]

189.  We support the Government's view that claimants in the WRAG should undertake work-related activity to prepare for a return to employment. However, it is important that decision-makers have discretion to apply exceptions to this requirement, where appropriate. One group of claimants which needs to be treated with sensitivity is those with a limited life expectancy. We recommend that decision-makers should be able to exercise discretion, on the basis of the claimant's own medical questionnaire, to place these claimants in the Support Group, where appropriate.

Back-to-work support for customers found fit for work

190.  The Government recognises that former incapacity benefits claimants who are found fit for work and choose to claim JSA may need extra support to find work compared to a typical JSA claimant, particularly at a time when unemployment remains high following the recession. Customers who move from incapacity benefits on to JSA will therefore be able to access the Work Programme from three months into their claim, "in recognition of the additional challenges that may be faced by jobseekers who have been away from the labour market for a long time". They will also receive personalised support from Jobcentre Plus before their Work Programme referral.[245]

191.  It should be borne in mind that, although a claimant may be found "fully fit for work" and moved on to JSA, they may still have scored 12 points in the WCA and have a health condition which continues to have a significant impact on them. In this respect, they will not be very different from someone who scored 15 points and was found to have a limited capability for work. There may also be claimants who have been found fit for work in the WCA while their GP is still signing them off work on the grounds of ill health.

192.  The Department emphasised that, although customers on JSA must actively seek work and be available for work, the requirement may be tailored to individual circumstances, for example a limit of a certain number of hours, to take account of a health condition or caring responsibilities.[246]

Claimant engagement with providers

193.  ERSA highlighted its concern about the possible implications of claimants who are dissatisfied with the outcome of their reassessment entering the Work Programme:

The move from one type of benefit to another (potentially lower level benefit) will not be fully understood by the individual and this will mean that the first few sessions spent by the customer with a personal adviser on the Work Programme will need to concentrate on the implications of this benefit change. Many claimants will also feel aggrieved by the decision which will create additional pressures on advisers.[247]

The Papworth Trust agreed that "clients simply will not engage in employment programmes whilst they believe they have been placed on the wrong benefit".[248] This was echoed by the Careers Development Group: its experience of the Pathways to Work contract showed that, where customers believed they had not been allocated to the correct benefit, CDG had been required to provide "considerable additional support to overcome the resultant emotional issues encountered by customers".[249] Evidence from a number of individuals supported this view. One individual wrote:

I now fall into the category of those who need support in returning to work. Against all advice I am looking for a job because I feel very pressurised into doing so. Despite the fact that you are told in "work focused interviews" that you do not have to look for work if you are not ready, the underlying message is still the same, that you are a waste of resources because a doctor who cannot get a job in a normal practice or hospital has said you are fit to work.[250]

194.  Inclusion found that "while the Work Capability Assessment can identify those who are 'fit for work', in many cases it will not give providers of welfare to work services and personal advisers the information they need to support everyone into employment".[251] APM suggested that:

A greater amount of time needs to be allocated to the process to allow for maximum engagement of clients at this critical early stage. The additional time would be used to link clients to the appropriate employment service providers and source additional information from treating doctors and other medical professionals as required.[252]

ERSA highlighted the importance of joining up the WCA to the Work Programme:

The Government should consider (a) how information from the WCA can help providers in their delivery of the Work Programme; (b) how Jobcentre Plus can help communicate the changes to customers before referral to the Work Programme; and (c) consider the merits of a re-referral process.[253]

195.  Evidence shows that the accurate assessment of disabled people's employability and needs in the workplace is crucial in gaining their trust and engagement, and through this achieving employment outcomes. The Government should consider how information from the WCA can help Work Programme providers to identify the employability needs of customers.

Employer attitudes

196.  A number of witnesses argued that the Department needed to recognise the additional barriers that people with disabilities face in returning to employment. Liz Sayce's independent review for DWP of disability employment support referred to recent research which estimated that over 300,000 people move from work to incapacity benefits each year through ill health, when in some cases they could stay in work. She found that some employers were fearful of taking the "risk" of retaining or employing people with disabilities or health conditions.[254]

197.  One individual agreed with the Department's policy to "focus on people's abilities, and not on their disabilities" but suggested that:

[...] there is a difference between what should be happening in an ideal world and what actually is happening. Unfortunately, we live in the kind of world where people with certain types of impairments are not employable in the mainstream job market; in particular, employers are generally not willing or able to accommodate the needs of those suffering from chronic, fluctuating illnesses [....] it is much easier to deal with an individual's (supposed) deficiencies than to tackle socio-structural barriers, make radical changes to working practices, or influence employers' attitudes, but social policy should be based on reality and not on wishful thinking.[255]

198.  The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign's Trailblazers Young Campaigners Network is a group of young people with neuromuscular conditions campaigning for social inclusion for people with disabilities. Their report, Right to Work, found that there was a severe lack of appropriate employment opportunities for people with disabilities, who also faced a poor understanding of disability among employers.[256] The Papworth Trust stated that its own experience showed that:

A major barrier for our clients is that employers often seek "ready-made" employees who are proficient in their role with minimum training, support, cost or perceived risk to the employer. Extra support or training is viewed as inconvenient, time consuming and costly.[257]

199.  Roy O'Shaughnessy from the Careers Development Group suggested that "As long as there is a job fit and the person is accurately assessed that they can go into that opportunity, the employer is more than willing for that person to be considered." However, he also noted that:

[...] many of the mental health issues of individuals coming in make the employers more reluctant. Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will be tested quite heavily with our employers as to how we really are able to help those individuals coming off Incapacity Benefit and into the jobs that are available. That will probably be the biggest challenge for us and other organisations.[258]

Jane Harris from Rethink pointed out that:

One of the things that we did not think that Pathways addressed enough—and DWP's research on the experience of people with mental health conditions through Pathways suggests this—is that stigma is still a real issue. [...] We do think it is important that there are some attitudinal interventions as well as individual interventions. That is one of the fundamental issues. If the Work Programme is not going to repeat some of the mistakes of Pathways, it is essential that there are interventions to deal with that.[259]

200.  Professor Gregg believed that "The onus is very much on the providers to be doing the kind of groundwork of relationship building with employers in order to get that trusted relationship: 'We believe this person can do the job and they can be taken on'." However, he added that "there are things that the Government can be doing about wider change of attitudes, [...] to get messages from employers out there to say that this is worth supporting, which individual providers cannot do, because they are too small".[260]

201.  In almost all of the discussion of the Government's plans, the emphasis is on getting the claimant ready to go back to work. However, the Government will only achieve this laudable aim if employers are willing to employ someone who might have been on incapacity benefit and out of work for some time and who might still have substantial health issues. This will require a great deal of co-operation and change of attitude from many employers. Providers of employment support have a crucial role to play in building relationships with employers so that they can gain trust and an understanding of the challenges and benefits of employing former benefit claimants. However, it is also the Government's responsibility to engage in changing attitudes and spreading good practice amongst employers. The Government must pay as much attention to this side of the "back to work" equation as it does to getting the claimant "work ready".

232   Fourth Report of Session 2010-12, Work Programme: providers and contracting arrangements, HC 718 Back

233   For more details see Fourth Report on Session 2010-12, HC 718, Chapter 4. Back

234   Ev 89-90 Back

235   Q 340 Back

236   Ev w72, para 22 Back

237   Ev 84, para 30 Back

238   Ev w108 Back

239   Ev w68, para 8.3 Back

240   Inclusion, Opening up work for all: The role of assessment in the Work Programme, June 2011, p 35 Back

241   Ev 78, para 129 Back

242   Ev 78, para 130 Back

243   Ev 78, para 132 Back

244   Q 43 Back

245   Ev 79, para 134 Back

246   Ev 79, para 135 Back

247   Ev w110, para 5.3 Back

248   Ev w73, para 23 Back

249   Ev 85, para 31 Back

250   Ev w16 [Sarah Ross] Back

251   Inclusion Press Release "Without the right assessment, guidance and support employment will remain closed for some, says think tank", 9 June 2011 (for release of report on Opening up work for all: The role of assessment in the Work Programme). Back

252   Ev w108 Back

253   Ev w109 Back

254   DWP, Getting in, staying in and getting on: disability employment support fit for the future, A review to Government by Liz Sayce, Cm 8081, June 2011, p 80 Back

255   Ev w46 [Elina Rigler] Back

256   Ev w55, para 9 Back

257   Ev w71, para 6 Back

258   Q 77 Back

259   Q 77 Back

260   Q 77 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 26 July 2011