Written evidence submitted by Employment
Related Services Association
1.1 The Employment Related Services Association
(ERSA) is the trade body for the welfare to work industry. It
has nearly 70 members, drawn from across the private, public and
voluntary sectors and represents both primes and subcontractors.
1.2 Please accept this document as ERSA's submission
to the Work and Pension Committee's inquiry into the Work Capability
Assessment (WCA). Please note that ERSA's response is not concerned
with the rights or wrongs of the WCA from an ethical perspective,
but concentrates on the impact of the WCA on the ability of Work
Programme prime providers and subcontractors to deliver success
for those referred to the programme.
2.1 The WCA process needs to ensure that it accurately
assesses customers' ability to work so that people who should
be referred to the Support Group are not instead referred to the
Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) or moved to Jobseekers Allowance
which could then make them eligible for the Work Programme.
2.2 Such a scenario has a range of implications,
both in terms of (a) those unable to work being referred to Work
Programme providers; and (b) potential damage to individuals caused
by their experience of the process and the potential impact of
this on their ability to become work ready. Put simply, the Work
Programme will be most effective if the right people are referred
to it and if the WCA process aids the progress of individuals
to work rather than hinders it.
2.3 It is important that the WCA is joined up
to the mechanisms of 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.
3.1 A major concern is the high number of successful
appeals against WCA decisions. Providers do not want to see a
"revolving door" situation where people are referred
to the Work Programme only to appeal and then leave. The
emphasis has to be on ensuring that the WCA is right first time.
There needs to be an onus on Jobcentre Plus officials using the
reconsideration process effectively, thereby minimising the number
of decisions going to appeal.
3.2 From a statistical point of view, both the
Government and Work Programme providers will want to minimise
the number of individuals inappropriately referred to the Work
Programme. Given that Work Programme performance will be measured
in terms of numbers into jobs compared to numbers of customers
referred, a high number of people winning appeals or needing to
be re-referred will lead to misleading statistics.
4.1 It can be anticipated that ex-IB customers
who are referred to the Work Programme will have complex needs,
least of all because of their longevity outside of the labour
market. For many this will be the first time they have had to
look for a job in a very long time. Combined with the impact of
benefit changes this could made for a distressing situation for
4.2 Professor Harrington's finding that claimants'
interactions with both Jobcentre Plus and Atos are often impersonal,
mechanistic and lack clarity is a concern. The WCA must be conducted
in a way which minimises harm to customers if Work Programme providers
are in a position to realistically help them back into work.
WCA PROCESSES AND
5.1 It is important that the WCA is joined up
to the mechanisms of the Work Programme. It is intended that ESA
(income related) customers in the Work Related Activity Group
(WRAG) will be referred to Work Programme providers, some on a
mandatory and others on a voluntary basis. However, further clarity
from the government is needed regarding how this referral mechanism
will work in practice.
5.2 The assessment should be more than simply
assessing whether someone can work and should take into account
the full range of employability factors including a customer's
barriers to work. These barriers include but are not limited to,
literacy, numeracy, confidence and self-esteem. A sharing of this
information with Work Programme providers could then help to inform
their own diagnostic processes and aid their client segmentation.
5.3 A further concern is that 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.
This will take considerable resource which may be better spent
elsewhere and it is therefore important that the WCA decision
and its implications are fully explained to the customer prior
to this stage. Better communication from Jobcentre Plus might
help to alleviate those frustrations before they see their Work
5.4 There needs to be exploration of the merits
of a re-referral mechanism from the Work Programme back to Jobcentre
Plus by providers if individual assessments are felt to have been
clearly faulty. ERSA recognises that this may be seen as creating
a loophole allowing Work Programme providers to park difficult
customers. However, this needs to be balanced with the harm that
may be done to that individual if he or she does not receive an
appropriate assessment. Having said that, we believe that DWP
should concentrate its efforts on getting the referral right first