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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 244-349)

Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Karen Foulds and Dr Bill Gunnyeon

8 June 2011

Q244 Chair: We have discovered, Minister, that the acoustics in this room are not terribly great.

Chris Grayling: I will try to speak up.

Chair: Hopefully everybody will speak up. Welcome this morning. Thank you very much for appearing before us.

Chris Grayling: You are welcome.

Q245 Chair: You have probably appeared before us as a Committee more than the Secretary of State has; I am not sure whether that reflects the heavy workload that you have, or the interests of the Committee. You do not need to introduce yourself, as we know who you are, but could you introduce your colleagues for the record?

Chris Grayling: I will indeed. I have Dr Bill Gunnyeon, who is our Chief Medical Adviser to the Department, who has overall responsibility for the Work Capability Assessment Policy, and on my left is Karen Foulds, who is overseeing the migration from within Jobcentre Plus—the organisation on the ground of the Jobcentre Plus interaction with claimants and the management of the process.

Q246 Chair: All three of you are very welcome. We have visited Burnley, and yesterday morning we visited an Atos Assessment Centre, so we have had some practical insight into the process, and, needless to say, as an Aberdeen MP I have been well briefed by colleagues in Aberdeen who are involved in this. Our first set of questions is about your policy and the objectives.

Q247 Stephen Lloyd: Good morning, Minister. Thank you for coming this morning. Before we get into the details of the assessment process itself, we would like to hear from you what the Government's objectives are for the Incapacity Benefit (IB) reassessment?

Chris Grayling: The rationale for this goes back three years, when we were shaping the Green Paper on Welfare Reform in opposition, and were looking at the ideas that have turned into the Work Programme and a number of other changes that have materialised under the last Government and this Government. The one huge gap seemed to me to be the fact that at that point we had in excess of 2.5 million people on Incapacity Benefit—it has come down a bit since then—that were just being left there. There was no real process of challenge to say, "Is there something better you can do with your life if we provide you with the right help and support to get back into work?" They were being left on the margins, which seemed to me to be completely wrong.

Most sensible assessments suggested that there were a significant number who had the potential to return to work, but maybe not doing the same thing they were doing before; you might have somebody who had been a manual worker who had got an orthopaedic problem who was not able to return to manual work, but that did not mean there was not something else they could do. We recommended in that Green Paper, and the then Secretary of State, James Purnell, picked it up rapidly afterwards, the concept of reassessing all of those people, except for those who are going to be reaching state retirement age in the very near term.

The aim is not savings measure—it is not a financially based exercise, although clearly if we succeed it will save money—but is about identifying the people who have the potential to return to work, and helping them to do so. Interlocking with that is the launch of the Work Programme to provide specialist back-to-work help for those people. It does seem to me to be completely wrong that we should be in a position where we have this big block of people who we are effectively abandoning, and not trying to find something better to do with their lives.

Glenda Jackson: Good morning, Minister, and thank you for coming. If that is indeed the Government's aim, which is entirely laudable, and which everyone here would support, why has the Government sold this programme, or attempted to sell this programme, as being attacking the workshy? They have not only said it up front; it has also been the subterranean message that the majority of people who are on this benefit could easily work but simply do not want to. This has had a very serious impact on people who—and this is anecdotal—

Chair: That was actually Stephen's question.

Q248 Stephen Lloyd: That is exactly what I was coming to—thank you very much for that, colleague—because I do want to drill down to that, but I want to get to it with a series of steps, because, as you know, Minister, I have been incredibly supportive of what the Government is trying to do. It is something I am very passionate about, but on the issue around language I have real concerns, but I want to get there step by step. Are you satisfied that the Government's objectives in relation to the assessment for ESA[1] are being communicated clearly and that claimants understand them?

Chris Grayling: I think it has got a lot better than it was. Being absolutely frank—and we will go on to talk about the Harrington process and the changes that have been made in the previous few months—I do not believe that the system that was inherited, the original system that was set up for new claimants for ESA around three years ago, was up to the job. It was very clear to me last summer on becoming a Minister, when I saw some of the early feedback, that there was something amiss, and that is what led to the Harrington Process. I hope and believe that we have significantly improved the communication around that.

Most directly and most importantly, as we will discuss during the morning, in the direct communication to individuals whose turn comes up to go through this process, the contacts are much more personal, and the level of detailed explanation is much greater than it was. At the start of April, when we began the national rollout, we distributed articles and letters to as many papers around the country as we possibly could with the very clear message: this is not about forcing people who cannot work into work. If you are not able to work, you have nothing to fear from this, and, in fact, if you end up in the Support Group, you get more money than you do now. It is absolutely clear: we have done everything we can. It is almost impossible to stop the rumour mill, but we will do, and are doing, everything we can to dampen that rumour mill down.

Q249 Stephen Lloyd: Thank you for that. Let me read you a couple of things. "The WCA is based on the principle that a health condition or disability should not automatically be regarded as a barrier to work." I am sure you recognise this. "There is a large body of evidence which shows that work is good for physical and mental wellbeing, and can be beneficial for individuals with health conditions and disabilities." I know you believe that, and I know you know I believe that, practically, and people around the table do. Let me read you a couple of things that we have had from two professors. One of them is a professor at Atos, Professor O'Donnell, who says that, "One thing that would make a difference would be if we could find a way of explaining to people that failure to be awarded ESA is not the same as being classed as a malingerer, someone who does not have a disability, or someone who is not ill. I think we need to get that across very clearly." Clearly we are going in the same direction of travel as what you have been saying.

I would like to read you something that Professor Gregg said: he highlighted the importance of creating a culture of trust around the assessment process, exactly what you said. Professor Gregg: "A lot of the messages that are coming out—and I think the Government is guilty of this—are creating a culture where the disabled community feels the primary function is about driving them off the benefits onto lower value, less supported-type benefits, and is destroying the potential to create a trust environment. I am deeply concerned that the work related activity programme, which is for those who need significant help, requires positive engagement from individuals." I support totally the direction of travel of Professor Harrington, and I applaud the Government for taking on board a lot of his recommendations—I really do. However, the Government has singularly failed with the tabloids, with the media, and with the messages getting out: completely failed.

Chris, I feel so supportive of this programme, you cannot believe it, but I think you have failed. I think there have been examples of the Government Ministers still using inappropriate language. I certainly do not see any vision at all of the Ministers and the Government going out selling this for what it is, which is a once-in-three-lifetimes enormously positive opportunity to transform the lives of many disabled people. I think it has been shocking.

Chris Grayling: Okay.

Q250 Stephen Lloyd: What I would be really interested to hear from you as the Minister, with all the good things that you and the Department are doing, is how you can turn this around. I understand there are some irrational fears out there, but how can you as a Government Minister give a commitment that you are going to draw a line in the sand and start selling this programme for what it is, which is a hugely positive once-in-a-multi-generation opportunity to transform people's lives, with the media, starting now?

Chris Grayling: Okay. Let me take both of those points together, and let me push back to a degree on that. First, I challenge anybody on the Committee to find any quote from me or any quote from the Secretary of State that uses the kind of language that Ms Jackson referred to. I have gone out of my way in the last few months to set these reforms and the challenge of getting people back into work in the context of the specialist support we are going to be providing through the Work Programme. I have not used the language of scroungers and, indeed, I have been criticised by the tabloid press for not using the language of scroungers. Let us be clear about that. I cannot guarantee to control every newspaper outlet or every parliamentarian, but I can give a clear statement: we, as Ministers in the DWP, go out of our way to set what we are doing in the context of helping people and delivering specialist support to get back into the workplace, and we do not use some of the language that has been used in some quarters.

I would also dispute the fact that we have not sought to try to sell the kind of message you are asking for. If I look back to what we did at the start of the launch in April, we produced an article that I wrote for local newspapers, which set out what we were trying to do and the purpose of it; the fact that it was designed to identify those with the potential to work, not to force those who could not work into the workplace; that there were no financial targets attached to it; that there was specialist support available through the Work Programme for those who could return to work; and that there was actually extra money available for those who ended up in the Support Group.

That article was placed in a very substantial number of newspapers around the country: the cuttings file was about that thick. We reinforced that with a letter with the same message that went to each local paper. I did a web chat with one of the mental health charities for their members to question. I have convened meetings with the voluntary sector groups involved in this field. We have had discussions at local level between Jobcentre Plus teams and the representative groups. I have prepared presentation packs for colleagues, some of whom are in this room, to enable them to have discussions with local representative groups for those most affected by the changes about what we are trying to do and why. I have done briefings for parliamentary researchers to enable them to deal with casework, enquiries and concerns. I asked if I could go and speak to the CAB[2]'s conference in February to set out what was happening, so they could communicate to people they were dealing with; unfortunately they were not willing to allow me to do that.

That is just a snapshot of what I have done. There has been a very determined effort. I make no bones about it; there are moments in which one would love to control the editorial tone of the newspapers, and there are strong feelings about this issue out there. In my view, on the record, we are clearly dealing with some people who are claiming Incapacity Benefit who are perfectly fit for work. The majority of those who could return to work are people who are a long way away from the workplace, who have become detached from the world of work through that length of time on benefits, who probably no longer have the self-confidence to get back into the workplace, and who often think they do not have the ability to work. I have talked to some of them myself who do not think of themselves as being able to work, where somebody else has no doubt that they could.

The challenge for us, through the reassessment process, and then through the Work Programme, is to re-energise those people and focus them on the things they can do. I do not profess that this process will always be perfect, but we have done everything we can to get things back on to the straight and narrow and deliver a package that is thoughtful, considerate and sensible. There is also a duty on the part of the representative groups, who are, on occasions, apt to voice strong opinions themselves, which can exacerbate the very real concerns that are out there, and there are real concerns. We are not going to remove those concerns; we are putting people through a process that is quite difficult for them, potentially quite life-changing for them, and some of them will find it very difficult. I think they will look back in a few years' time and say, "That was the best thing that ever happened to me," but it probably will not feel like that at the time. But I passionately believe it is the right thing to do.

Q251 Stephen Lloyd: Good. One more question, Chair, and then I will pass over. I am reassured by a lot of what you say, and I believe you, because I have watched your direction of travel over the last eight to nine months on this whole process. What I would add is, we still have not broken the fixed way of looking with the tabloids, middle market media, and the media generally. I would like you and your team, the Secretary of State to the Department, the DWP, to keep that focus absolutely remorselessly for the next few years. You have not turned the tide yet; there is still all this nonsense out there, there is a lot of fear, there are still people on IB that you and I know should work, and their lives would be transformed if they were supported back into work. To change that narrative, what I would urge is make it one of your three priorities in the Department—constant: again, and again, and again. Eventually we might begin to get the message out to the media, and they might begin to sell it the way it is. Until that is done, we are still fighting against the tide.

Chris Grayling: One of the things I am very much hoping is, as we go through this year and we start to see people move into work, there will be more role models that we can use to communicate this message. Therefore it starts to be a story about what we are achieving rather than the theoretical direction of travel. I very much want to use role models. We have people that have in the past moved off ESA into work; we have a few from the trial areas who look like they have got into jobs. As we start to build up a portfolio of people who have got into work and are saying, "This is much better," we will have some positive stories to tell. I hope that will come up.

You made reference to Professor Gregg. I want the Committee to be aware that when Professor Gregg first made criticisms of the process and the system, shortly after we were elected last summer, the Department tried to contact Professor Gregg. I left a message on his mobile phone saying, "Please phone me: here is my mobile phone." As of yet we have had no response whatsoever from him—a total lack of willingness to engage and come back. He admitted in a radio interview when challenged about this that he had not come back to us. I want the Committee to be aware that I was, have been, and am still very happy to brief Professor Gregg, but, as far as I am concerned, he does not have current information about what we are doing, despite being offered the opportunity to be briefed on what we are doing.

Chair: I am sure he will have heard you this morning.

Q252 Oliver Heald: The charities and representative groups have argued for years that people with disabilities could work: hundreds of thousands of people are missing this life-enhancing opportunity. Now that you are finding out what people's capabilities are, offering them help to work, these charities seem to have turned their backs on the whole project, and seem to be complaining about every aspect of it. Do you feel you are getting adequate support from these groups given their long­term aims and ambitions?

Chris Grayling: They are in a slightly difficult position. We have, generally speaking, a good and constructive relationship with these groups. They have been involved at all stages of the development of the Work Capability Assessment, the development by the previous Government of the Internal Review, the Harrington process, and are continuing to be engaged in the Harrington process. Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of Mind, became one of the Harrington Review Group at my specific request, because I wanted to see somebody with real mental health expertise in that environment. At the same time, I recognise there is a lot of uncertainty out there, a lot of concern out there, and to some extent they have to voice that.

Q253 Oliver Heald: But isn't he a signatory this week to a letter in the national press that is highly critical of the whole process, and makes no reference to Harrington, his role in the Review, at all?

Chris Grayling: There are sometimes a few frustrations, I would say. Perhaps Bill Gunnyeon could talk a little bit about how they were involved in the shaping of the Work Capability Assessment in the first place?

Chair: We will be coming to that later; we have a lot of questions on that. At the moment we are looking at the perceptions of the press.

Q254 Glenda Jackson: I want to take you back, Minister, to your assertion, which I entirely accept, that "workshy" or "scrounger" are not words that have been used either by you or other Ministers. It has undoubtedly been the case, since the whole introduction of the change to welfare and to benefits, that the Government's line has been that the comparison is between those people who are hardworking families and those who are claiming benefit. I cannot remember the precise percentage of the statistics, but for example when the first report came out of the pilots of the schemes that were running in Aberdeen and Burnley, the whole thrust of what the Government was putting out was that the majority of people in those schemes were fit and capable for work. When I remember the enormous lobby that there was here in the House of Commons only a few weeks ago of people with disabilities—The Hardest Hit, I think it was called—your message is clearly not getting through to them, that this is actually supportive of what everyone in this room supports: of assisting people back into work. They regard it as some kind of punitive action on the part of your Government. Who puts out these stories? Do you have a press office that is linked in to the philosophical arguments that you are putting forward, or does somebody just hand out the figures? None of us in this room are prepared to accept that the stories Government puts out are not stories that Government wants to put out?

Chris Grayling: First, we have some requirements to put out statistics. The periodic publication of the ESA new claim figures are a statutory requirement that has run through both Governments, so there are some figures that we have to publish come what may. If you look across the last few months at the press releases we have put out, the news stories we have pushed, they have had one single consistent narrative, which is that there are people there with the potential to get back into work, and through the Work Programme there will be specialist help for them to do so. That is a message I stand by four square.

We have delivered on that: we are doing the official launch for the Work Programme on Friday. There will be support for many hundreds of thousands of people; there will be premium prices for job outcomes for people coming from ESA, being mandated into the Work Group. There should be better support than we have had before. One of the ironies is that on the list of subcontractors for the Work Programme are some of the very same groups that Mr Heald was talking about. He is absolutely right: there is an interesting challenge there in terms of the relationships that we have. I personally believe there is a real expertise to capture, and I am delighted that some of those organisations are going to be working on the Work Programme.

The message that we are putting out is absolutely consistent: that there are a large number of people on benefits who have been there for an extremely long period of time that have been effectively abandoned on the fringes of society. We want to help those that can potentially get back into the workplace and do something more with their lives to do so. We are carrying out the assessments so that we can identify those people who can return to work, and the Work Programme will deliver specialist support to them to help them get back into the workplace. That is the sole and single message we have put out as a Department over the last few months on this subject.

Q255 Chair: Do you not accept that some of the responsibility on your Department is to make sure that the press releases that go out do contextualise the statistics? As Glenda referred to, after the initial statistics came out of the trial in Aberdeen and Burnley, your own press release said the trial found 70% of people could work. It was that that allowed, not just the tabloid press, but The Telegraph and others, to be censured by the Press Complaints Commission[3], because of the misleading nature of the statistics. It was the phrase in your own press release that allowed the tabloids to say, "All these people could be working, therefore they must be workshy," without the subtleties that 30% that did not qualify for ESA were going on to JSA[4] but would still need extra help to get into work, and the other 40% might be fit for work sometime in the future if they got better. The subtleties were not reflected in your own press release. Your press release was quite short.

Chris Grayling: I will have to check back on the original wording, but, as far as I am concerned, we have always presented the distinction between the fit for work and the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG). The Work Related Activity Group is made up of people who have the potential to return to work. It may be that they cannot return to all roles, as I have said, and every one of those people will have access to the Work Programme, and some of them will be mandated to the Work Programme. I share the goal of all of the voluntary sector groups that I have ever spoken to of helping as many of those people into the workplace as possible. I sat with a group last week who all wanted to work.

Q256 Chair: There is no disputing that we want people to work—that is not the issue. It is about the language that is being used, or the way that those who could work sometime in the future have now been stigmatised as being able to work now and just trying to avoid work. It is the language around all that. Does your press office in the Department, when they see something that is clearly wrong—and a lot of the coverage around the trial statistic was clearly wrong—get in touch with those media outlets and point that out?

Chris Grayling: I have had personal discussions with a number of media outlets about the need to be careful about how the issue is presented. I will carry on doing so, because it is very important that we get the balance right. I do not control the editorial approach of the tabloids, and sometimes stories run in ways that completely bemuse me and are certainly beyond any expectations. We have had a couple of times when stories that were of not particularly great news significance in our eyes actually soared to the top of the news agenda in some of the newspapers. I cannot control the editorial approach of the tabloids, but I have had a number of conversations with people in the media about the need for care in this area. Indeed, if you look back to a number of the papers in November, I was accused of watering down our approach on welfare reform, because I made the point that it is important not to judge people as scroungers but as people who were a long way away from the workplace and face big challenges.

Q257 Chair: People who have gone through the new WCA, have found themselves on JSA, and despite the help they get still cannot get a job. Can they expect headlines in the tabloid saying, "Look, they are continuing to be workshy even when they have been moved off Incapacity Benefit"?

Chris Grayling: No. First of all, if you look at the people who have been through the pilots, in Burnley a number of them are working with Vedas. In Aberdeen a number of them are working with people in the voluntary sector to find jobs, and some have. What I will be championing in the future is those who have succeeded in getting jobs. There are the people who are long-term unemployed who are trying to get a job and have not succeeded, and I see our job as to help them.

Chair: Can we move on to questions around the contract with Atos?

Q258 Kate Green: We are going to ask some questions later about the actual content of the service that Atos provides, but first of all I would like to ask some questions about the contract. There has been a lot of interest in the contract, and people have asked questions and not been able to get information, sometimes perhaps for commercial reasons. I hope you can be quite open with us today. The first question is straightforward: the Department told us last September that the contract with Atos had been extended to 2017 in order to allow for the ESA migration. Atos told us in oral evidence last month that it has been extended only to 2015, so we would like to understand which is correct.

Chris Grayling: It is 2015. I do not know where the 2017 has come from. It is definitely 2015. I took the decision to extend it, because, first of all, I think it would be good for the marketplace in this area if there were more than one supplier in it, but it seemed to be a bad idea to try to change the supplier in the middle of the migration process. Having inherited a contract for this work with Atos it seemed wrong and impractical to try to make a change in 2012, which is when we would have been doing so otherwise.

Q259 Kate Green: You will re-open a tendering process before 2015?

Chris Grayling: Yes.

Q260 Kate Green: We have been told that the contract extension is subject to Atos delivering substantial savings against the current cost of £100 million a year. We are interested to know how the requirement to achieve those savings will work in the context of the national rollout, which will require them to assess and accelerate a number of claimants—up to 1.5 million—by 2014?

Chris Grayling: I will ask Bill to talk about the detail, but I will give you the overall context. Atos were one of the suppliers who went through the renegotiation process with us and the Cabinet Office. After we took office, the Cabinet Office summoned in all of the Government's major contractors and effectively beat them down on price. I was one of the Ministers involved in some of those negotiations, and the starter for 10 was: you are getting a lot of business from Government, we expect you to cut your prices accordingly—reduce your margins, reduce your day rates and so forth. That is one part of the savings that have been built into the work with Atos for the next few years. Bill can talk about other elements of that.

Dr Gunnyeon: It is reasonable to expect any organisation to look at how it can do things more efficiently, and certainly Atos have been doing that. There has also been a move to look at how we can use different healthcare professionals, and that is in keeping with what is happening across healthcare generally: for example, the use of more nurses to undertake assessments after appropriate training. That happens in different aspects of the NHS, where there is more responsibility being devolved to other healthcare professionals who have the right skills to do things, and that has an impact on costs as well. A number of things were part of that process.

Q261 Kate Green: But we are in a position where you have beaten them down on price, they have an increasing caseload—up to 11,000 assessments a week—and we understand that the payments are based on the number of assessments that they undertake—that is what Atos told us in the oral evidence session we had with them last month. With that payment structure, and with pressure on Atos to do things within a smaller overall financial envelope, how does the payment system guarantee quality and effectiveness in the assessment process?

Dr Gunnyeon: It is important that the payment is based on a report that is acceptable to the decision maker, and the decision maker, if the report is not acceptable, will send it back. The reworking that needs to be done by Atos has to be undertaken at Atos's cost. If anything, in fact, there is a strong incentive for Atos to try to focus on producing reports of the right quality first time, and that is the quality process that is in place anyway: to try to achieve that. Obviously it is not in their interests to have lots of cases referred back.

Karen Foulds: It is not all additional work, because they would have been doing the Personal Capability Assessments, but instead of that they are doing the Work Capability Assessments. The 1.5 million people that are going through the reassessment process are not all new customers to Atos; they would have seen them, but they were doing a different thing with them. There is an increase, but it is not an increase of 1.5 million.

Q262 Kate Green: I am interested in what you say, Dr Gunnyeon, that the reports need to be acceptable to the decision maker: what does that mean? Yesterday we saw, in a mock Atos assessment, that the interview was carried out with the aid of the online information sheet, and I am not quite clear what coming off that sheet would or would not be acceptable to a decision maker?

Dr Gunnyeon: Obviously the decision maker needs to be able to have a report that shows why the recommendation of the healthcare professional is as it is. They have to be reassured that the points that have been allocated look right on the basis of the information that the claimant has provided and the assessment report itself. Clearly if the decision maker cannot see why the recommendation is as it is, for example, if it looks as though points should have been scored on some descriptors where they have not, then that would not be acceptable, and the decision maker would send that back. It is about getting clarity of the reason for reaching the conclusion the healthcare professional has reached.

Since Professor Harrington's report, at the end of each report we now have a very clear paragraph, which the healthcare professional is required to complete, justifying the conclusion they have reached. That is very much in keeping with what would happen in any other report by a healthcare professional, but that will be much more helpful to the decision maker as well. Hopefully that will ensure that the healthcare professional confirms they have reached a robust decision, which will also help quality.

Q263 Kate Green: Are you able to tell us what proportion of Atos reports have been sent back by decision makers?

Dr Gunnyeon: I do not know if I have the number, but I can find that out for the Committee. Each healthcare professional is subject to audit once they have completed their training until they have reached an acceptable standard, and they are then subject to random audit, so that we are continuing to check the quality. Those reports are graded either A, B, or C, and C are of an unacceptable standard. The proportion of Cs is very small, and remedial action is taken. The challenge is to try to have as many at grade-A standard as possible and to continue to look at that, and there are certain standards set.

Atos audit their auditing process, and we in the Department also do that periodically. In each of the regions, we audit their auditing process to look at how quality standards are being maintained. Everything is designed to continue to drive up quality, and where problems are identified with individual healthcare practitioners there is a very clear programme of remedial action and ongoing closer auditing until either things have improved or that healthcare practitioner's approval to undertake work is revoked. Those approvals are done by me on behalf of the Secretary of State.

Q264 Kate Green: We still have a very high level of successful appeals. That might be a problem at the Atos stage of the process, or at the decision-making stage of the process, or both. We are going to ask some questions about appeals later, but one of the concerns we have had expressed to us is that, while the average time for an assessment to take place is 45 minutes, many claimants have told us that they were only in a face-to-face interview with the Atos assessor for 20 minutes. Yesterday we were given to understand that the 45 minutes was the total process of the Atos healthcare professional working on the individual case, not the total face-to-face time. That seems to have led quite a number of claimants to feel that they are being rushed through. Are you concerned about that? Do you feel that the payment system might incentivise Atos to process as many cases as quickly as possible?

Dr Gunnyeon: We have identified some of the challenges: people sometimes have a misunderstanding of what they are going to go through. They expect that, if it is referred to as a medical examination, they are going to have some very detailed medical examination the way they might if they were going to see a specialist. That is not the case, and people's expectations of how long something might take differ. It depends on the complexity of the case. If somebody has a simple physical problem, for example, it may be very easy to assess very quickly, and it does not take terribly long. If somebody has a complex problem, a number of problems, or a complex mental health problem, it will take much longer. In the range of time that assessments take, the upper end is 200 minutes, which is quite a long time.

Although some cases are done in less time than the average, many cases take a lot longer, and the time is based not just on the contact with the individual but the healthcare practitioner's time reflecting upon that and completing the report. They have not necessarily concluded everything by the time the individual leaves the consulting room. They then reflect upon the evidence they have gathered and reach their conclusion, which can sometimes be quite difficult. They may need to consult colleagues, because, as you would do in any other healthcare setting, if you have a difficult case you will often discuss it with another colleague first.

Q265 Chair: That sounds counter-intuitive, because surely the more complex cases should be the easier ones in a Work Capability Assessment. Someone coming in that is a quadriplegic will have complex medical needs, but it is pretty clear they are in the Support Group—

Chris Grayling: That is probably the easy case. It is the ones that are more complex in terms of judging where they fall.

Dr Gunnyeon: The more complex a problem, the longer it takes to gather the evidence. Remember that we are looking at this being a robust process. We are also looking at being able to identify when it is reasonable to expect somebody to have improved to the point where consideration of being fit for work again may be a possibility, so that we can identify when it is reasonable to see an individual again. It is important that we look at things, because the next time somebody is reviewed we want to be able to consider whether they have improved, and what the likely pattern is beyond that. If you have not collected the information and considered the case carefully, you will not be able to do that.

Q266 Stephen Lloyd: To an extent this is about psychology. Whatever we are saying, it is a perfectly rational position for these individuals to feel that "I am going through a test to find out whether I keep the money". It is a bit like when we go for a job interview: if I am in and out of a job interview in 10 minutes flat, I know I have not got the job. I do understand rationally where you are coming from, and we saw it yesterday—a very experienced assessor can take 25 minutes and do a very thorough job, and that gives him and her slack to do 50 minutes for a more complicated one. But the issue you are dealing with here is psychology: "Crumbs. I was in and out of there in 20 minutes and they have taken my money away." Do you understand the counter-intuitiveness of that?

Dr Gunnyeon: That is why a lot of work has gone into preparing claimants in advance for what they should expect. I visited Aberdeen and looked at some of the assessments, and I know that the healthcare professional doing the assessments felt that those coming through having been prepared for reassessment had a much better understanding of why they were there, and what to expect, and I think that is helpful. If it is very clear to a healthcare professional early on that it is someone whose problems are such that they are quite clearly in the Support Group, then they will quickly bring things to a conclusion. Although we do a paper review of cases to try to identify people who should be in the Support Group early on, with the best will in the world with some people the evidence will not have been there, but it will be clear at the start of the assessment that they should be in the Support Group, and that there is no point in continuing.

Chris Grayling: One point that I would like to make to the Committee is I would ask you, in the context of preparing your report, to bear in mind that there is almost nobody that has been through the Work Capability Assessment as a result of following the lessons learnt from the two pilots, and also from the Harrington Review. We are talking about a very small number of people who will not, at this stage, know the full results of their assessments. Almost nobody has experienced the system that we have put in place over the past few months, and we have learnt lessons from the trials in Burnley and Aberdeen, which have been put into place. We have learnt lessons and put in changes as a result of the Harrington Review. Any experience that you are hearing from individuals or recounted from pressure groups, unless they are from people in Burnley and Aberdeen going through the trials, will by definition have come from the previous system as new claimants for ESA—a system that I fully accept was flawed and that we sought to improve.

Q267 Glenda Jackson: That leads me on to my question for you, Minister: apart from being the cheapest bid, why did you give the contract to Atos? On a constituency case basis their past working has hardly been glorious. Dr Gunnyeon, I would like to know what constitutes a grade-A Atos worker? What is the desired outcome for Government as far as the assessment process is concerned?

Chris Grayling: That is a lot of questions—

Q268 Glenda Jackson: Let me finish—what is the desired outcome? Is it to save money? Is it genuinely to assist people into work? If we accept that, that is okay, but I cannot find the linkages between the Government's desired aim, if that is what it is, and what Atos is doing, because that does not seem to be their desired aim.

Chris Grayling: Let us be clear: Atos were contracted by the previous Labour Government. They were not contracted by the current Government; they were contracted by the previous Labour Government. I took the decision last summer that it was impractical to re-contract this contract, and to continue the IB reassessment process. Therefore it is better to improve the system, to improve any issues there might be with Atos, or with the rest of the process, rather than try to re-contract it, because otherwise we would have had to go back to square one. Let us be clear that it was not the current Government that contracted Atos: my view is that it is better to improve what they do.

The goal of the reassessment is absolutely clear: it is to find the right number of people who fit in each category, and then to provide specialist support to those who have the potential to return to work to do so. There is no financial target. Occasionally people in the media put in a goal of a £1 billion saving: that is not the case. There is no financial target. The number of people we end up with in the three groups will be the number of people we end up with. There is no target for Atos. There is no target for decision makers. I want to get this as right as we possibly can. It is not in our interests as the administration, it is not in the interest of individuals, to find people in the wrong place. It is in everyone's interests to try to get them in the right place, because for those who have the potential to return to work, if we can help them to do so, there is a win-win for everyone, and in that way you do save money.

Q269 Harriett Baldwin: Further to my colleague's questions, one of the first decisions you took was to set up the Harrington Review, which has been so widely welcomed, and the impact is just beginning to be felt. You also decided, and we have looked at this separately, to set up the Work Programme contracts, where you had a very specific system in different regions of at least two contractors in every area. I wondered whether you also thought, in making that decision about sticking with Atos, it would be appropriate at that point to perhaps bring in a second provider to do some of the incremental work to create a little bit more of the competitive tension that I know you wanted to see on the Work Programme?

Chris Grayling: I did give that some thought, and there were organisations that were interested in doing so. The problem you have is, if in the middle of the migration process you effectively retender what you are doing, which you would be—currently the contract that Atos has is to carry out all of the assessments for the DWP—it would unduly disrupt the migration process, and would leave people for longer before we had the opportunity to help them through the Work Programme. That is why we did not, but there is another important point to make in relation to Atos: Atos get a lot of grief. They are very much in the firing line in the eyes of a lot of the claimants, because they are the ones seen to be carrying out the assessments. Like every big organisation, they have not got everything right, and they probably will not get everything right. We have put a lot of effort into working with them to ensure that they improve and have got the right quality of people. I think they would acknowledge that the quality of the professionals working on this, the level of training and so forth, has steadily improved as time has gone by.

It is also important to remember that, as a result of the Harrington Review, we have downgraded the role of the Atos-carried-out Work Capability Assessment in this process. What Professor Harrington said was, effectively, decision makers in Jobcentre Plus were rubber-stamping the assessment, because they felt it had been carried out by a medical professional, and that was it, so they had to take that as gospel. We have clearly said to our decision makers: "That is not right." They have all been retrained, and I will ask Karen to say a bit about that. They have been told very clearly that they should use the assessment as an important part of their decision-making, but not the only part, and that they should also be looking at input from the evidence from a hospital consultant, for example, or a mental health specialist. Karen, do you want to say more about the decision maker's role?

Karen Foulds: Thank you. The role of the decision makers has changed quite significantly, because, as the Minister said, previously it had been very much following a set process.

Chair: Can I stop you there? I know we have questions on the decision maker's role.

Q270 Harriett Baldwin: I have one supplementary on that. Minister, do you think, in retrospect, that the previous Government made a mistake in deciding to award the contract to Atos as the sole provider?

Chris Grayling: That is a difficult one. Would I have appointed two organisations at the start? Probably, yes, but I did not think it was possible to change horses mid-race effectively.

Q271 Karen Bradley: If I could take you back, Minister, to the comments about how we will not have seen anybody who has gone through the revised process following the lessons learnt from the trials and the Harrington Review. You may not be able to answer this question, but is the mock-up that we saw yesterday of a Work Capability Assessment likely to be the new style?

Chris Grayling: Yes. Yes it is.

Q272 Karen Bradley: There was a big poster in the assessment room—I do not have the exact wording—talking about the process. It was a big picture map, but it talked about "ESA entitlement test". That immediately sets alarm bells ringing that people are going to come into this room and think, "This is about my level of money, not my ability to work."

Dr Gunnyeon: I am surprised: I cannot answer that, because I was not there. Apart from anything else, one of my key concerns is try to move away from talking about this as a test anyway, because a test implies something that somebody has to pass or to fail, and it has been a problem all the way through. One of the challenges of changing perceptions is getting people to see this as an assessment: it is an assessment that is designed to try to identify where somebody sits on this continuum, from being in work and fit for work to being a long way from work because of a health condition. Whether they are close to being fit for work, whether they are actually fit for work in spite of a health condition, and whether they are a long way away, and how long it might take them to move back towards that, and therefore it is about that assessment process.

As you highlighted at the start, it is important to remember that, of those who are in work, about 25% of people in work suffer from a long-term health condition. Of working age people as a whole with a long-term health condition, about 60% are in work. One of the challenges we have with perceptions is that people think that, if they are considered fit for work, that means the assessment has concluded there is nothing wrong with them: that is a problem. I cannot answer your question on that, but I will find out. Certainly, if there is something that says "test", that will be addressed immediately because that is exactly what we are trying not to present.

Q273 Karen Bradley: I cannot remember the exact words, but it was very clear that it said "ESA", and that immediately said you are looking at the benefit rather than the ability to work and what work you are fit to do, or how far you are from the workplace.

Chris Grayling: If we may, we will go and remove said poster from the wall, take a look at it, and write to the Committee.

Q274 Chair: It was also the screensaver.

Chris Grayling: We will take a look at those and write to you.

Q275 Kate Green: On the contract, and the issue that Harriett Baldwin was raising about the single supplier and your answer to me earlier about the period of the contract being until 2015, as I understand it, the agreement with Atos covers not just the Work Capability Assessment for ESA but a range of tests for different benefits, including Disability Living Allowance, which will disappear before 2015.

Chris Grayling: No. That is not right. This contract is purely for the Work Capability Assessment[5]. I believe Atos have a limited role in helping share their experience of the WCA with the project team working on DLA, but no contracts have been placed. The final test for DLA has not been designed—I have used the word test—the final assessment for DLA—

Dr Gunnyeon: I will remind you of that later, Minister.

Chris Grayling: —has not been designed, so we are not at that stage now.

Q276 Kate Green: That would be a separate contract letting process?

Chris Grayling: Yes.

Q277 Kate Green: And will be open to competitive bidding whereby you might introduce a second supplier into the DWP assessments?

Chris Grayling: Absolutely it will. Yes.

Dr Gunnyeon: Very specifically the extension to 2015 excluded DLA from 2013. It was very specific and it will be subject to a separate process.

Q278 Chair: A letter that we received from the Secretary of State on 28 September 2010, which was the letter that said the contract was to go to 2017, says, "The scope of the Medical Service Agreement is to provide medical advice to the DWP, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and Tribunals Service, to support decisions in relation to a number of benefits and pensions. These include, but are not limited to: Incapacity Benefits, Employment and Support Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits, Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Statutory Sick Pay, Child Trust Fund etc"[6] This would suggest that there is one contract with Government that Atos has that includes all of this. That is not what you are saying.

Dr Gunnyeon: No it does not. Most DLA assessments are self-assessments by individuals, but when they need it, it is Atos which does it at the moment, but that will not continue beyond 2013.

Q279 Chair: The assessment centre we were in yesterday did DLA assessments.

Dr Gunnyeon: Indeed. What the Minister was showing was the difference between the extension to 2015, which is for the assessments except for DLA, because DLA will only continue until 2013 when obviously the new Personal Independence Payment assessment will come in.

Q280 Chair: That contract comes to an end at that stage?

Dr Gunnyeon: It will be tendered before then.

Q281 Glenda Jackson: I did not get a reply from Dr Gunnyeon on what constitutes a grade A report?

Dr Gunnyeon: Yes. If you think about what I said about the assessment, what we are trying to do in the assessment is to, as accurately as possible, identify those individuals who in spite of an ongoing health condition, for whom it would be reasonable for them to work because other people with similar conditions, in similar situations, do, against those who, at this moment in time, it is not reasonable to work. What we are trying to do in assessing the quality of the report is to determine whether the evidence is there that supports the conclusion that the healthcare professional has reached in terms of the descriptors they have used, and the points that have been allocated. Do the descriptors that they have used fit with the evidence that they have gathered and the conclusions they have reached? Unless we manage that, we run the risk of not correctly identifying those who are on the borderline in the difficult cases—who potentially are fit to work, but equally might just not quite be. Those where it is clear it is much easier, so it is about trying to ensure that we have a report that shows clearly the conclusion that has been reached, that demonstrates that all the evidence has been gathered, and that that evidence supports the allocation of descriptors, and the points arising from those descriptors.

Q282 Glenda Jackson: Who screens that report?

Dr Gunnyeon: Those are audited by experienced healthcare professionals in Atos. You saw the sort of standard of healthcare professionals that Atos has yesterday. It is their most senior, most experienced healthcare professionals who do the audit and review cases. Clearly the decision maker also has a role in this. They get a report in to them, and the decision makers handle a lot of reports. They become very experienced at identifying what reports are good, what looks right, and where they can see that the descriptors have been appropriately allocated based on the evidence. They are also identifying those and sending them back for reworking if it is not right.

Q283 Oliver Heald: Professor Gregg, who you have already mentioned, told us that he thought you should have delayed the trials in Aberdeen and Burnley until you were able to run the whole of the new system, so all the Harrington changes, which you have now implemented, plus the Internal Review changes. That would have given you a good opportunity to see how the whole package worked.

Chris Grayling: There are a number of people who have suggested we should have delayed, and there are those who still argue today that we should delay for further changes. I personally take the view that doing this is the right thing to do, and doing it in as timely a way as we possibly can is the right thing to do, because every month, every quarter, every six months and every year that we delay is another period where we leave a large number of people with the potential to get back into work on the sidelines. As the economy recovers, as we hope it will over the next few years, and we hope we see the increase in employment that the OBR[7] is currently forecasting, it would be a tragedy if we do not have a system in place that is working to prepare those people with the potential to return to work to take advantage of those vacancies as and when they arise. Otherwise we will see what has happened over the past decade: new vacancies have gone to migrant workers from overseas.

My view has been we need to get on with this as quickly as possible. We have learnt lessons from both Burnley and Aberdeen; we have learnt lessons from the Harrington Review. The two have fed off each other. Professor Harrington has spent a lot of time with the teams in Burnley and Aberdeen sharing experiences, and his work, as he went through, helped influence what they did. The work being done in Jobcentre Plus helped influence his recommendations, because some of the ideas he put forward came from professionals within Jobcentre Plus. I made sure before we progressed the national migration that Professor Harrington said, "It is fine to go ahead: it is fit for purpose." I am very sure that we have done the right thing. I have said I am not pretending that the system is perfect—I am not certain it will ever be perfect, because some of this is subjective—but this will be a continuous process of improvement.

I am open to all further suggestions as to how we improve what we do, but the key question for me is, do we go ahead or don't we? I predicate it on Professor Harrington saying either this is fit for purpose or it is not. What he came back to me and effectively said was, "You can drive this car. It may need some more fine-tuning in the future, but it is fine to drive right now." If he turned up and said, "Do not drive it; it will blow up after 10 yards," I would have not gone ahead with the national migration, but that is not what he said to us.

Q284 Oliver Heald: What Harrington has proposed is quite resource and staff intensive in the sense that it requires a lot of extra communication with the people who are to be assessed. Is that something that you are able to afford in your budget, and how does it fit in with the cuts you are having to make, as all public services are, in staffing? Is this something that is sustainable? How is it being paid for? What is the situation now?

Chris Grayling: Let me get Karen to start off in answering that in terms of the impact on the organisation, and then I will talk a bit about the budget.

Karen Foulds: In Jobcentre Plus, what we have learnt from the trial—because as the Minister said, the trial has been invaluable to us—in relation to Harrington specifically is it is in all our interests to get the decision right for the customer from the earliest possible opportunity. Particularly, one of the things that we are trying to achieve through the customer journey for IB reassessment and through Harrington is to gather all the medical evidence as early as possible in the journey. One of the things that makes this cost-effective and makes it affordable is that, if we get that evidence earlier, then we make the right decision earlier, and that is obviously better for the customer and more cost-effective for us as an organisation. So although we are putting extra steps into the journey, and when we come to that I can talk more about how we have done that within the IB reassessment, they will pay for themselves, because we are actually offering a more efficient and streamlined and better customer­focused service from the outset, particularly around further medical evidence at an earlier stage.

Q285 Oliver Heald: And you have not had to change the plans in terms of how many staff are in the offices?

Karen Foulds: No. We had a certain amount of staffing available to us to reassess Incapacity Benefit, because that is obviously a big, single, one­off exercise over three years. So, we had staffing allocated for that, which I can give you the details of, but for the changes that Harrington is wanting to make to the ESA journey, we are just at the very start of that and we are just starting to test some of that as part of a controlled national rollout. We have not had to adjust our staffing in our offices for that, no.

Chris Grayling: It is worth adding, Mr Heald, if I may: I have been very clear in budget terms that this is something we have to do, but Professor Harrington in his report said specifically he believed in the end this would save money rather than cost money because of the impact it would have on the workings of the organisation and the effectiveness of the system.

Q286 Oliver Heald: Now, one of the things that has been heavily criticised is the Internal Review and Professor Harrington did say to us that he would have preferred the implementation of that to have been delayed until his process was complete. What would you say about that?

Chris Grayling: Let's be clear first of all and say why we went ahead with the Internal Review, and I thought quite long and hard about this. The Internal Review was carried out by the previous Government. Can I just ask Bill Gunnyeon to give you a quick snapshot of how the Internal Review was carried out so that the Committee has the context and then I will explain why I introduced it?

Dr Gunnyeon: When we developed the Work Capability Assessment it was very much transforming the previous Personal Capability Assessment. When we developed the Work Capability Assessment, we tried as hard as we could to ensure that the assessment was going to be robust and accurate, but we recognised that we would not get everything right at the start and we committed to a process of change anyway. We wanted to, fairly quickly after the introduction of the assessment, look at it, review it, to see whether particularly there were some anomalies. There was always a risk—things that we had not managed to pick up when we were doing the testing of the assessment, and we knew that we had not focused on adaptation as well. So, we started the process about six to nine months after the introduction of ESA, and we brought together a group of technical experts, some of whom are the same as those who have been involved in developing the WCA and some were new, and representatives from specialist disability groups.

Now, we learnt something from the way we did the initial assessment development; when we did that we had two separate groups. We had a technical expert group and we had a consultative group, which was the specialist disability group representatives, and they worked separately. We did bring them together, but they worked separately. We felt when we did the Internal Review that it would be much more sensible to have a single group that included the technical experts and representatives from specialist disability groups, and that is, in fact, what we did. That process, therefore, reviewed the descriptors; it reviewed evidence from cases that had been received and, in fact, when we did the modelling, eventually, on the new descriptors, we ran that against about 50,000 cases that by that stage had been through the WCA. So that process was done.

At the end of that there were still some issues that specialist disability groups identified because there was the initial report produced by the group. I then chaired two sessions with representatives of the specialist disability groups to look at particular concerns and, as a result of that, we made some further and, indeed, not insignificant amendments to the proposals from the Internal Review, and, in fact, so it was clear what had been done, that formed an addendum to the report, but all the recommendations in that addendum were included in the legislative changes to the WCA, which have led to the amended WCA, which is the one that is now being used.

Chris Grayling: Now, that is what I inherited on coming into office, and basically it did three things that I felt were justifiable and important. The first is it dealt with some specialist individual anomalies, which I felt needed to be dealt with. So, for example, in the case of people going through chemotherapy, you could be found fit for work between courses of chemotherapy, and I had a friend who was going through chemotherapy and thought, "This is mad." We should have people who are in between courses of chemotherapy in the Support Group. The review does that and therefore we should make that change. It also made changes, for example, where somebody is in residential rehab; they are counted as being in the work related activity group, and that again seemed logical to me.

This had been the subject of debate, but the second thing it did was to make a comparison of the new descriptors against the 50,000 previous cases, which demonstrated that the new descriptors placed more people with mental health problems in the Support Group than had previously been the case, left about the same number of people in the Work­Related Activity Group, and therefore had fewer people with mental health problems found fit for work. Now, given the fact that mental health in this is one of my big concerns, that seemed to be a sensible and desirable outcome, and again, something I wanted to support.

The third was the issue of adaptation and, again, I think that this is something that I believe is right as well—to factor in the degree to which somebody has adapted to their condition. We are in the situation where, in extremis, a Paralympic athlete with a university degree has no obligation to look for a job. Now that does not seem sensible to me. Equally, somebody who is blind or partially sighted who has been in work for 20 years who is made redundant would not theoretically have the obligation to look for a job. It seemed to me to be sensible to have an adaptation element within the process. So, all of those seemed sensible to me. Professor Harrington did not, in his report, say, "I do not think you should go ahead with this," so therefore it made sense. Particularly on the mental health issue, I personally want to see people with mental health problems in the right place, but I do not want people with mental health issues who should be in the Support Group pushed into the WRAG. I would rather err on the other side of things. So, I formed the judgment it was best to implement that Internal Review because of those reasons.

Q287 Chair: Can I just clarify something you just said, because you said that, as a result of the Internal Review, fewer people would end up on JSA, but your own memorandum to us in paragraph 60 says: "By accounting for adaptation, the number of new claimants being found fit for work is also expected to increase by around 5%."

  Chris Grayling: That is the adaptation issue; that is not people with mental health problems.

Q288 Chair: You said about the Paralympic athlete with a university degree, but you do not ask about people's educational qualifications when you are going through the WCA.

Chris Grayling: I am simply illustrating the point that I think there are some people—

Q289 Chair: But how can you make that assessment if you do not ask the questions?

Chris Grayling: Well, the whole philosophy of the approach that we are seeking to take with the Work Capability Assessment and the reassessment process is not to put any group entirely in one box. The fact that you might be blind or partially sighted or the fact that you might be in a wheelchair should not predetermine whether you are in one group or another.

Q290 Chair: But the questions that would allow you to make that differentiation are not asked. That is one of the major complaints. The things that will allow someone with a very severe disability to work are actually not the physical things, nor, indeed covered by the WCA questions at all.

Chris Grayling: I am using those two examples illustratively, but the WCA line of questioning is designed, as I am sure you saw when you sat through the assessment yesterday, to establish the nature of someone's circumstance—what they can do and what they cannot do—very often by asking them questions about the way they live their lives: about things that they can do, things that they cannot do. If you are looking at somebody who is blind or partially sighted, then I would expect one of the lines of questioning from the assessor to be to probe how that person does or does not manage to perform routine duties. Are they able to perform particular tasks? It is designed to establish what their capabilities are, and I think the adaptation issue is very important. I do not think it is right to assume that by default because you have a particular disability you are automatically and in all circumstances unable to work. The circumstances for somebody who has been blind or partially sighted for all of their life who has previously worked are very different for somebody who has just been through a health trauma and lost their sight.

Q291 Glenda Jackson: With respect, Minister, earlier, at the end of your entirely understandable and acceptable definition of what the Government wishes to achieve in getting people back to work, your culminating sentence was—and I am paraphrasing slightly—to assist them into jobs that at the moment are taken by migrant workers. You put all those people into that box, and as far as, certainly, the people out there are concerned, migrant workers do things like picking strawberries, digging for potatoes; it is temporary and they tend to be students. So, on two counts there, it seems to me, you do have a mindset here and despite everything that we have heard earlier, you are being extremely casual about your use of language.

Chris Grayling: I am afraid I think that is not correct.

Glenda Jackson: Well, there you go.

Chris Grayling: I think if you look at the jobs being performed in our society by migrant workers you will find an enormous range of tasks by people from countries around the world. As I say, I think one of the things we should be ashamed of if we look back over the past 15 years is that probably between 3 and 4 million new jobs were created in that period of time and yet through that period we consistently had almost 5 million people on out-of-work benefits, and in those years we did nothing as a nation to try to help those people with the potential to get into work to escape from that environment and get back into the workplace.

Q292 Chair: That is not strictly true. There was the Flexible New Deal; there was New Deal for Disabled People, there was Pathways to Work, which your Government has now cancelled, so I think that is a bit disingenuous, Minister, to say that nothing was done, when a great deal has been done through the various New Deals over the years. You may not agree with whether they were effective or not, but there was a huge attempt.

Chris Grayling: I think I would argue in the case of what is technically and crudely called the Incapacity Benefit stock, who are by far the biggest block and were by far the biggest block of the people on benefits during those years, actually nothing was done to help them—virtually nothing.

Q293 Chair: A large number of them went through Personal Capability Assessment (PCA), carried out by Atos. It is wrong—and it has been repeated again this morning—to say that when someone got their Incapacity Benefit they were not called back for reassessment. Particularly those with mental health problems very often had yearly reassessments, and they were classed as the stock because over the years they had been out of work for some time. So, I think, again, there is a bit of rewriting of history going on here this morning, otherwise the Personal Capability Assessments would not have existed or Atos would not have got the contract. One of the reasons why Atos is going to be able to deal with the increase of the WCAs is because they were already doing PCAs.

Chris Grayling: I think we could have a debate about political history. I would look back to the work done by James Purnell as Secretary of State in the wake of the publication of our Green Paper three years ago, which was the moment at which it first started to feel as if the previous Government recognised there was a problem that they had to do more about. But we could debate that one a long time. I think that virtually nothing was done over that period of time to try to deal with that problem of 2.6 million people, as it was then, on Incapacity Benefit, and it was a crying shame. Had more been done earlier, had this process happened properly 10 years ago, we would now see far more of those people in work, because we would have gone through the process that we are going through now at a time when there was a much more buoyant labour market. I am absolutely determined that, as we go through the next four years, and if the OBR is right and we see almost 1 million net new jobs created in this country over the next four years, I want some of the people who are currently sitting on Incapacity Benefit at home to have the opportunity with the specialist help from the Work Programme to get into those jobs.

Q294 Chair: But the lesson from the last Government was that is incredibly difficult; you can redefine people but actually getting them a job, even with a great deal of help, can still face insuperable barriers.

Chris Grayling: That is precisely why we have set a much higher tariff in the Work Programme: to get people into work who are facing bigger challenges in their lives.

Chair: Obviously, only time will tell.

Q295 Oliver Heald: I have two questions left and will put them together so we can move on. The descriptors are likely to change again, aren't they, as a result of the second Harrington Review? As you change descriptors over time, are you going to be assessing how that works and what the effect of it is, and how are you going to do it?

Chris Grayling: The answer to that is yes. My expectation is we will go through, in looking at descriptor changes as rapidly as possible, a similar exercise to what we did before. Do you want to just explain that again, Bill?

Dr Gunnyeon: Yes, I think one of the challenges, of course, is that the amended WCA was only introduced at the end of March this year, so we still have not got any data on how the new descriptors are performing, which is one of the challenges, because one of the significant areas of change in descriptors was around the mental health descriptors to try to simplify the descriptors, improve the language, make it easier and provide more flexibility for the way they were applied. We are obviously not going to know yet just quite how that is working. But, as you know, Professor Harrington, in his year two programme of work, asked three of the mental health charities to look at how to refine those descriptors to further improve things. That was recently delivered to the Department, and we are just looking at the moment at how easy it will be to implement because I think the charities have gone, perhaps, a little bit further than expected and taken a slightly different approach to the assessments, so it is going to take us a little bit of time to work out just how we can actually assess the potential impact.

The challenge, of course, is that we have not been given any robust evidence so far that the previous set of mental health descriptors was not working, other than in the assessment that we, ourselves, had done with the technical working group, which included specialist disability group representatives. We have not got any evidence that what is being proposed is necessarily going to be any better, so we need to be very careful. What we clearly do not want to do is to do something that has the opposite effect of what we intend, which is obviously to improve the accuracy and the fairness of the assessment for people with mental health conditions.

Chris Grayling: One point, Dame Anne, very quickly: I am very clear that there needs to be a process for continuous improvement, and I am very clear that we are and will remain open to changes that improve the robustness of this process. I do not think we will ever get a system that is 100% perfect, but we will work as hard as we can towards that and we will continue to do so.

Q296 Andrew Bingham: Professor Paul Gregg again, although from what you said I am not sure how much store we should place into some of his comments, refers to this profound disconnect between what people expect from the assessment and what they get when they get there. Is there a better way we can make them more prepared or aware of what they are walking into when they walk into an assessment? I have a big bugbear that people see being found fit for work as failing, which to me is a pass, if you want to condense it into that.

Chris Grayling: I completely agree and I am going to ask Karen to talk through how we have changed the human side of the process. I think this is one of the big flaws of what we inherited. I have had some of the standard letters passed back through my office so we can get them rewritten, and my correspondence team member has rewritten some of the original letters so they come across as being human. They were previously your kind of classic computer generated: "Dear Claimant, following your assessment…" But one of the key recommendations of Professor Harrington's review was to humanise the process, and we have worked extremely hard to do that. I ask Karen to now talk you through how things are done differently.

Karen Foulds: Thank you. Yes, we have made massive effort with this change to really address and focus on customer need. That starts right at the beginning of the customer journey, where we have learnt from ESA, as the Minister says, and we have put quite a few additional steps in, particularly a telephone call to the customer that has no other purpose other than to help the customer and to orientate the customer. We do not collect any information; we do not press any buttons. It is purely about talking to the customer to do exactly as you have asked, which is to explain what the process is about and how they need to engage with us.

Q297 Chair: Can I just stop you there. This is all really good stuff, but we have already heard it from when we went to Burnley. We have also got it in a lot of our documentation, and in fact interestingly enough in your own review of the actual administrative processes, which is what this trial was, there is not a lot of criticism about that. That was actually quite well handled. I think Andrew can concentrate on the questions about the customer experience of the things that are going wrong, not the things that are necessarily going right—

Karen Foulds: Okay. Yes.

Chair: —rather than this detailed step-by-step account, because we do not have time. We have only got a half hour left and we have got lots and lots of questions.

Q298 Andrew Bingham: We have been told by claimants that some of the Atos centres are not appropriately located or appropriately accessible. Has that come back to you? Have you discussed this with Atos?

Chris Grayling: In the past few months, I have had two meetings with the Chief Executive of Atos, in which a clear message has been handed across and changes have happened and indeed are happening as a result. I was pretty surprised to discover the issue existed in the first place. Bill can explain to you the exact detail of what they have now done.

Dr Gunnyeon: Obviously, part of the issue is access for people with disabilities and obviously a lot of buildings that are used are difficult. The requirement would obviously be to have wheelchair access, for example, and other suitable access. If there are buildings where that is not possible, Atos are making arrangements for the assessment to be carried out in other locations, or indeed, in an individual's home. In fact, they are trying to ensure that there is always ground-floor access in those buildings, which goes beyond, really, what they need. So long as there is lift access and there are arrangements for emergency egress in the event of a fire, it would be okay to have somebody on the first floor. They are actually going further; they want to try to ensure that they can always offer ground-floor access that will meet the requirements of anyone with a disability, and they are moving rapidly towards that.

Chris Grayling: I was amazed that this was not part of the original process three years ago.

Q299 Andrew Bingham: Did I hear you right then when you said that they would do them in people's homes?

Dr Gunnyeon: If it is not possible to—

Q300 Andrew Bingham: In extreme circumstances.

Dr Gunnyeon: In some circumstances assessments are done at home for other reasons anyway, because individuals perhaps are not able to travel, but if it was not possible to find a suitable alternative location that is going to be suitable for the customer, either because of geographical issues or whatever, then they would consider a home­based assessment. They will also provide transport if it means someone travelling further than the normally expected distance.

Q301 Andrew Bingham: I was almost speechless when Atos told me that 30% of claimants do not turn up for their assessments. Now, I know Atos do not follow up non-attendance, but I know that Jobcentre Plus do. Is information collated on the people who do not turn up to see if it is a particular group or a particular demographic that does not turn up, because I think that is a huge difficulty for them?

Karen Foulds: I think that is a really important point, because that is the national figures for Atos for ESA, but for the IB reassessment trial, which is following a new process and, as you said, you have details of that, the fail-to-attend rate is only 9%[8].

Q302 Andrew Bingham: Is it? Oh, right.

Karen Foulds: And that is, in our view, a direct result of this additional engagement with customers from the beginning of the process so that they understand what is happening to them, what we are going to do for them and with them. So that is not an issue in IB reassessment.

Q303 Stephen Lloyd: That is going to cost a lot more money, so are the Department committed to rolling that more detailed and comprehensive process out across the whole piece?

Karen Foulds: Yes. We have got about 1,150 staff that are working particularly on IB reassessment, but, as I answered in the previous question, as far as ESA is concerned, it is actually more cost-effective, because if those 30% do not turn up, as the questioner has just said, we then have to get in touch with them again, find out why they have not and send them another letter—all those sorts of processes. If only 9% are not turning up, that in itself is much more cost-effective and that will be part of, we hope, the impact on ESA. But at the moment that figure is purely about IB reassessment; I should just stress that.

Q304 Andrew Bingham: Are Atos going to review their policy of overbooking—I think they booked around 120%—to allow for that 30%?

Karen Foulds: Yes.

Q305 Andrew Bingham: I presume that they are now going to review that as well.

Karen Foulds: Their policy of overbooking is based on 30%.

Andrew Bingham: Right.

Karen Foulds: They are now reviewing that, but remembering again, as the Minister said earlier, the number of customers who have actually gone through the IB reassessment process is still very small in comparison to those that are going through ESA, and we have not seen that impact yet on the whole of ESA. But they will be reviewing their policy on that basis.

Andrew Bingham: I only wondered if they review it accordingly. That is fine.

Q306 Glenda Jackson: On this issue you mentioned of "failed to attend", this was something that Atos raised with us. Is there any push on your part for Atos to change that, because the implication of "failed to attend" is that it is the responsibility of the claimant, whereas we have had evidence where the inability to attend had absolutely nothing to do with the unwillingness of the claimant. There were things outside their control quite often but it is still put down as failure and that can carry sanctions, can't it?

Karen Foulds: Yes. The term "failed to attend" is a term that we use widely within Jobcentre Plus for people not attending interviews, and I take the point that you are making. The sanctions would only apply if we had considered good cause and we considered there was no good cause for the person not attending. But, for example, if we know that somebody's got a mental health condition, then we would take that into account with good cause. We would do safeguarding visits to people's homes if they had not responded to either our telephone call, our letter, and had not attended the appointment. We put safeguards in place to ensure that, where there is a good reason why the person has not attended, or, in fact, they have not been able to engage with the process at all because they have not perhaps understood what is happening to them, we would put those measures in place.

Q307 Glenda Jackson: We had evidence of people who had been deemed to fail to attend when actually they had been part of that 120% of over-bookings and the time simply ran out before the Atos individual could interview them.

Karen Foulds: We are aware of that and that categorically should not happen. Any cases where that has happened, we need to know about.

Chris Grayling: I would just emphasise on that latter point: that is utterly unacceptable. I do not believe it has happened in very many cases. I am not saying it has never happened. If there was evidence of it happening in significant volumes we would have to clearly go for process changes, but in every big organisation things sometimes go wrong. It is not supposed to be the case and we would not tolerate it being the case.

Chair: Yes. Certainly, I have a constituent in exactly that position.

Q308 Brandon Lewis: I just want to disassociate myself with comments that Ms Jackson made earlier and agree with the comments you made about migrant workers. Representing Great Yarmouth, obviously I cover a huge number of people from whole different backgrounds doing this whole different range of work, and I fully support the comments you made earlier; I just wanted to put that on the record. What I want to ask is about the appeal rates. I think, to an extent, you might have already answered this when you explained earlier that a lot of the data we have is on the old system rather than the new system. Is the aim of the changes that have been made, that are coming into place with the trials, and, indeed, the new system you have put in place, to see that the level of appeals falls, basically? Because I can understand a lot of people will appeal if they get a decision that they are not happy with, but there has been about a 40% on average success rate for those appeals. Is the aim that the new system will see that come down?

Chris Grayling: We have two aims in this. The first is to reduce the number of people who feel the need to go for appeal. That is going to be a big challenge and I will explain why. The reason we are putting extra emphasis on reconsideration within Jobcentre Plus is I want people to bring forward new evidence, if they have it, before it ever goes to the Tribunal Service. One of the things Professor Harrington found was that evidence was emerging at the tribunal that Jobcentre Plus had never seen. So one of the things we are seeking to do after the decision is taken, if somebody comes back and says, "I am not happy," is to say to them at that point very clearly, "You can give us further evidence to take into account."

I want to be absolutely clear about this: it is likely that an awful lot of people will appeal. They have a statutory right to appeal. They are being found fit for work and many will be reluctant to take that step. They are moving on to JSA in many cases and many will be reluctant to take that step as well. I do not think it is going to be possible to reduce the number of appeals that are actually lodged. What I want to do is to reduce the number of appeals that are successful, and that could be done by making sure we take much better decisions right the way through the process.

Q309 Brandon Lewis: Yes, I agree with that. I can see that being the perfect end. As to the comment you made about new evidence, a couple of witnesses have made a comment about the proposal in the Welfare Reform Bill to enable the Secretary of State to acquire consideration of revision before appeal. Is that partly linked to this issue around new evidence?

  Chris Grayling: We need to really try to make sure we get it right within Jobcentre Plus before things ever go to the Tribunal Service, and what we wanted to do is to create a kind of sequential process rather than a parallel process and really make sure we get the decisions right within Jobcentre Plus where we can. So, that amendment is designed to try to achieve that.

Q310 Brandon Lewis: There have been some comments from some of the people looking to appeal about the length of time an appeal can take, and then after the appeal how quickly they can then be reassessed sometimes. Is there an aim that, with potentially there being fewer successful appeals, that time would be reduced or are there other things coming into place that might be able to reduce the length of the appeal process and also to give support to people who are going through that process?

Chris Grayling: Yes, there is and there has been a big backlog for some very considerable time in the appeals service. They are now beginning to make headway on that. For the last three or four months there has been a reduction in that backlog and they are gearing up capacity wise quite substantially, so effectively the Tribunal Service will have doubled its capacity between 2009 and 2012 in part to deal with the extra people who are being assessed as a result of the migration. We are in close contact with the Ministry of Justice; we are trying to identify sensible and smart ways to improve the process. But, of course, if we can get the quality of decision making up to the really best possible level in Jobcentre Plus then I hope that the reputation that goes round will be that they are being treated fairly and so, in the end, we will start to see fewer people appeal. But in the short term, as I say, I think an awful lot will do.

Q311 Chair: While the percentage appealing may drop, the numbers will go up simply because the number coming through the system—

Chris Grayling: That is right and that is why the Tribunal Service is doubling its capacity.

Q312 Chair: Have you managed to quantify that, because doubling may not be enough. At the moment, in some areas it is gridlock. It can be taking up to nine or 10 months to get an appeal.

Chris Grayling: It has been very long, and in the last four months or so we have seen the backlog beginning to come down for the first time in recent times. At the same time the Tribunal Service is ramping up capacity as rapidly as it sensibly can. We will keep working with them to make sure that we head off and address the problem, but it is certainly a challenge; I make no bones about the fact it is a challenge.

Q313 Andrew Bingham: I just want to pick up a point that Professor Harrington confirmed and I believe was true: when it goes to appeal, no representations are made to the tribunal by the Jobcentre Plus who made the original decision. It seems that the appeal is a bit one­sided when it gets there. Is that something that we want to look at, given the level of appeals that are upheld?

Chris Grayling: Yes, definitely. In recent times we have had staff there. Karen, do you want to say a bit about that?

Karen Foulds: Yes. The appeals that are going through from the trial we are having presenting officers, as we call them, there to see what impact that has, and that is part of all of the work that we are doing with decision makers to enable decision makers to use the increased discretion that was mentioned earlier. We are putting a quality assurance framework in; we have introduced three new training packages for decision makers; we have monthly telekits with all the decision makers nationally—the Minister is actually dialling into the next one—all around trying to support our decision makers, who then also become the presenting officers, obviously, as they are part of the same team, in being able to implement the findings of Harrington and support the customer service through this journey.

Andrew Bingham: Thank you.

Dr Gunnyeon: One of Professor Harrington's recommendations as well around the personalised summary, which we referred to earlier, is also an attempt to make sure that, when the decision is fed back to the claimant, they have a much better understanding of why they have been unsuccessful. Often people have appealed in the past because they did not really understand why they had not been successful. If we can start by helping people to understand better the reason for the decision, that may help some people accept that that is a reasonable decision. There are a number of things that are all designed to try to help this process.

Q314 Glenda Jackson: You said it was unsuccessful. I thought the whole thrust was that, post the process, it was successful if you had to move on to—

Chris Grayling: I do not think we will see it that way.

Q315 Glenda Jackson: This comes from your guy in the Department.

Dr Gunnyeon: Sorry. I apologise if the language I used was slightly inconsistent.

Q316 Glenda Jackson: We have been talking about language used from the beginning.

Dr Gunnyeon: I think I have just demonstrated exactly why it is so difficult. I apologise, Chair, but the message I was trying to communicate was that somebody's understanding of the reason why the decision has been made may help them feel that they do not need to appeal. There is a risk that people appeal simply because they do not understand. That is one of the things we are trying to move away from.

Q317 Teresa Pearce: This is probably a question for Karen. We have heard a lot today about the improvements to Atos and the process and all the lessons that have been learnt. My concern is that Jobcentre Plus staff, who are used to dealing with people who are seeking work and on JSA, are now dealing in numbers with people who are on IB who are going to be coming through this process. What sort of budget have you had for development and training of the staff to deal with that much more nuanced, soft­skill­needing—

Karen Foulds: We have put 16,700 advisers through training and awareness for the Incapacity Benefit reassessment. Our advisers have dealt with these customers more than most people realise, because customers through Pathways to Work and other things have been coming into Jobcentres for some time. But we have given them all cultural training and also enhanced training around dealing with people with mental health issues, etc. We are also bringing in at the same time, as part of the pre­Work Programme Jobcentre Plus offer, a named adviser for customers when they walk in. So if they are found fit for work and claim Jobseeker's Allowance, or, indeed, if they are in the Work­Related Activity Group for ESA, when they attend the Jobcentre for the first time they will be given a named adviser who will work with them and support them until they are moved to the Work Programme. That is quite a big change that we introduced in April, and the reason for that is for that adviser to use their discretion in terms of the time that they spend with that customer and offer as tailored a service as possible to support that customer taking work­related activity or some active steps to get closer to work, or, indeed, if they are on Jobseeker's Allowance, helping them actually apply for jobs.

We have examples already from the trial where we have somebody in Aberdeen who was profoundly deaf who has already established a relationship with her personal adviser; they found some provision locally that is going to help that person with confidence to get closer to the labour market. They are on ESA so they are not required to find a job, but to actually help them get more confidence, and their adviser is staying in touch with them whilst they work with the provider. I think that the experience of our advisers and the training and support we have given them really is there to make sure that they can deal effectively with this customer group.

Q318 Karen Bradley: Continuing with the decision-making process and going back to what we started earlier—and I am conscious of time—perhaps if you could quickly explain to the Committee what changes you have made to the decision-making process. Are you planning to use the information to measure the impact of these changes on the levels of customer satisfaction and number of appeals?

Karen Foulds: Yes. I will just try to keep to some quick points then. The first thing that we learnt from the trial is around our decision call to the customer. That is the biggest change really for decision makers. Previously, decision makers have had a set of case papers; they have looked at them and they have made a decision, quite often, and normally, following the advice of Atos. As the Minister has already said, this is all about the decision makers using their judgement with the Atos information along with other things. The key part of the customer journey that is different, as you will be aware from your visits, is what we call Touchpoint 13, which is our contact with the customer.

One of the key lessons we learnt from the trial—and this is around customer satisfaction, because it came from the independent research—was that customers found that single call too difficult to deal with; they were getting news that perhaps they did not want to hear or were not expecting, and having to make some decisions about what to do next in one conversation. We have split that into two, so that now we will call a claimant, explain at that point in our understanding we think we may well disallow them; ask if they have anything that they want to discuss with us, additional evidence; and then give them the opportunity for us to call them back in about three days, where they can either have a representative with them or source some advice, or indeed gone and got some additional information themselves. So that is based entirely on customer feedback that that was not working in the way in which we had intended it.

We obviously have not, as previously said, seen the impact of that yet, because we have only had a very small trickle of people through the national reassessment that will have experienced that new approach, but in terms of the decision makers themselves we are encouraging them to use their judgement. One of the other things that we are learning now is that we need to just make sure that we have the guidance right and the steer for them about what information they can take into account, what carries more weight and how they effectively use that discretion. Primarily it is about trying to get all the evidence, so that, as the Minister said, we do not go to an appeal and find new evidence being presented at that time.

Q319 Karen Bradley: How long is it between the assessment and the decision being communicated to the claimant?

Karen Foulds: It is actually only about 10 days or so, because the report is done the next day by Atos—that comes straight through to us, and we get in contact with the customer pretty quickly after that. Then we will give them a call back in three days or so if that is what they want. In response to some previous questions, because we have helped orientate the customer throughout, they do know what to expect and they know the importance of engaging with us and what we are doing to support them, and that, again, from the trial research, came across strongly—that customers welcomed that journey and understood what was happening to them.

I think the final point I would make on that is just for the national reassessment our assumptions were that we might have at this point anything up to about 40,000 people contacting our Contact Centres with concerns and questions: "What is happening to me?" That has only been 10,000, so it has been significantly less than we thought based on the information that we are giving to customers.

Q320 Chair: Are you going to pay your decision makers a lot more money, because they, at present, earn less than 20 grand a year; the doctor, I suspect, probably earns more than 60 grand a year, and yet they have the final say and they are being asked to use their judgment, perhaps even more so than the medical assessor in the first place. Do we need the medical assessors? Why don't we just leave it all to the decision makers?

Karen Foulds: The decision makers are graded at the same grade as our personal advisers and they also, obviously, have a very important role to play. What we are doing, as I have said, is increasing the support for them, particularly from their managers. I have worked in Jobcentre Plus all my life and worked with decision makers, and I know that at times they have just been left to get on with it. Now, with the line managers, they have got a Quality Assurance Framework, they are quality assessing what they are doing, and offering the support through learning and development and coaching.

Q321 Chair: And that is why they should be paid more money, surely? I think that is a question for the Minister about valuing your staff? Is that not the important thing? I think most of the Committee agrees that it is right that the decision maker has that final say, and Professor Harrington's recommendation was absolutely right, but it does beg the question: why do we need these expensive people and a computer programme to do a lot of the earlier stuff?

Chris Grayling: I think I would answer that by saying you need both. Obviously I do not know the detail of the circumstance of the assessment process you were shown, but very early on I sat through a genuine assessment. I will not discuss it in great detail, but the nature of the questioning in that discussion was designed to tease out—although it was clearly trying to answer the questions in the assessment process—much more about how that person lived their life and on the basis of that form judgments about what they could or could not do. I think that is still a very important part of the evidence for consideration, but what I also want to see is a situation where, if there was a letter from a hospital consultant saying, "This person has bipolar disorder; you may see them on a good day but please bear in mind that they have some very bad days," that is something the decision maker takes into account as well.

Dr Gunnyeon: And the decision maker also has the opportunity to go back and have further discussions with the healthcare professional, and, indeed, to get medical advice as well in trying to weigh up the different bits of evidence they have.

Q322 Chair: That process and discussion is obviously very important. The original assessment of the numbers who would end up in each group, the Support Group and the Work­Related Activity Group, are quite different for the migration group as opposed to the new claimants. But even once migration is done you are still going to have the new claimants, so obviously those groups are important. In both cases those figures were way out from the original estimates that the Government had about the proportion that would end up in the JSA, WRAG or Support Group.

Chris Grayling: One of the things I made clear in my comments at the time was that some of those decisions would be overturned on appeal or in reconsideration, and so therefore the overall number will come down. The truth is that now that we have been through the full Harrington process, now that we have implemented the changes that arose as a result of the two pilots, we genuinely do not know. Now the national migration is starting. It is going to be a few months before we get a genuine picture, and what has been clear from both the pilots and all the work done so far is that there is a significant number of people who will be found fit for work, who can get support through the Work Programme and who I hope we can get into employment. There is also a significant number of people who will go into the Work-Related Activity Group who we can offer support to and guidance, both through Jobcentre Plus and through the Work Programme. So, where we end up in terms of the final numbers will really only become apparent in a few months' time.

Q323 Chair: Will you be tracking people, particularly the migration group, who have been found fully fit for work and put on JSA, and revisit them six months down the line to find out if that assessment was correct, because the suspicion is that the reason they were on IB in the first place was they fell out of work. They had been in work; they fell out of work because they had a health issue, and perhaps even being on JSA and not getting work will exacerbate that health issue and they really should be back either in the WRAG or by this time in the Support Group. Will you be doing that kind of intensive tracking?

Chris Grayling: We will do a lot of tracking, and we will have to as a result of the monitoring of the Work Programme anyway, because those people would be referred to the Work Programme and the JSA group who came from Incapacity Benefit are a discrete group within the Work Programme and so therefore we will certainly monitor very carefully what happens to them. We will understand if there are differences in the work placement rates between that group and others, how great those differences are and then we will carry out detailed research on a number of the groups post the WCA. For example, we are going to be looking at what happens to those people who disappear off benefits altogether after the WCA. There are certainly some; that is the case with new claims as well. I do want to understand and make sure we do not have people who are genuinely falling through gaps in the system as a result of what is happening to them.

Q324 Chair: 36% of new claimants do not complete their claim, and at the moment you do not know what has happened to those people?

Chris Grayling: No, well a number of those are people who have a short­term condition; they are people who sign on to ESA for a couple of months because they have been seriously ill and have reached the end of their sick leave at work, and then will go back into the workplace. You are absolutely right; this is a concern for us and it is something that we are researching and will be researching.

Q325 Chair: In the IB migration group, it is interesting, again, from the report that was done for you on that, the late and non­compliant customers proved not to be the workshy or the people who had been swinging the lead but actually proved to be the most vulnerable—

Chris Grayling: Absolutely.

Q326 Chair: —who had got the letter in and the phone calls and everything, and had panicked and not been able to fill the form in, and actually there was good reason; it was not a wilfulness that they had not appeared at their assessment. There was good reason.

Chris Grayling: Yes.

Dr Gunnyeon: There was actually a survey done by the Department over the period July to September of last year, which looked at those who had made ESA claims—this is obviously the new ESA claims, not the reassessment—during the period of April to June 2009 and looked at what happened to the closed claims. Of that, 24% went back to their own jobs—they obviously were making a claim but still had a job—and another 23% got a job or were self-employed. So we have some idea.

Q327 Chair: Is there maybe something in the system that, once they have had their six months of SSP[9], there was nowhere else for them to go but to make a claim for ESA when they really were never going to qualify for the ESA for one reason or another? All the other support that they had had come to an end.

Karen Foulds: There is going to be a report published in July on the reasons why people ended a claim for ESA, so that might give us some of that information.

Chris Grayling: Yes. We do need to be careful about this. We are not about creating a situation where people just drop out of the system and disappear into obscure poverty. There has been plenty of talk about the reforms in the United States, for example, leading to people disappearing out of the system altogether. Now the system they have there of welfare support is very different to the one we have here, but we are absolutely not interested in creating a situation where people just vanish from the system and end up with no money and in extreme poverty.

Karen Foulds: We are going to great lengths to ensure that people do not, as the Minister said, slip through the gaps, and that goes from the sort of safeguarding visits that I mentioned earlier, phone calls, the extra steps in the customer journey, which I will not repeat, all the way to the IT system. We have had a big investment in an IT system and a management information system, which means that, for the whole of the life of the three­year reassessment process, we can track all 1.5 million customers and what stage they are at. We will be able to see very quickly down to quite small local levels if there are gaps or if there are groups that seem not to be progressing to the next stage. So, we are very aware, because our aim is to get all 1.5 million customers through this journey as effectively and in as customer-focused a way as we possibly can. We have gone to great lengths to try to secure that.

Q328 Kate Green: I just wanted to ask a little more about the outcomes and the different categories people arrived in, and this relates to the period before the migration, so I am talking about the new ESA assessments. It was noted by some of the organisations we have been dealing with that the figures tended to be very consistent month on month. The same proportion were ending up in the WRAG or in the Support Group or whatever, and that was in the context where it appeared at the time, at least in some parts of Jobcentre Plus, that there seemed to be some sense of targets being set for the number of people that might be refused benefits.

Chris Grayling: No, that has never been the case in relation to this.

Q329 Kate Green: I am talking about the way people have perceived what might be the cause of that. I hear exactly what you are saying.

Chris Grayling: Let me be absolutely clear. As I sit here today, I am not aware, and I am sure that neither Karen nor Bill are, of any attempt anywhere in Jobcentre Plus to impose any targets around the categorisation of this, and I would not tolerate it for a second if I discovered that was the case.

Q330 Kate Green: Can I ask two questions about that? The first is: are there any benchmarks, levels of expectation that you have, albeit that there are not targets for the proportion that will end up in each group?

Karen Foulds: The only benchmark we have is a benchmark for the number of decisions that we would expect decision makers to be able to deal with. So we have planning assumptions but not any of the outcomes from them.

Q331 Kate Green: And that is very specifically in relation to the decisions to award or not to award ESA?

Karen Foulds: Yes, it is just the number of cases. The number of cases that an individual decision maker would look at, but there is nothing below that in terms of what the outcome of any of those decisions would be.

Q332 Kate Green: Do you have any comment on why the figures have been so consistent month on month? Is that something that you would have expected?

Chris Grayling: Now that the system has bedded in, what you see is a fairly consistent pattern of new claims. You have a fairly consistent pattern of people who are claiming short term, and it is something we do not yet understand enough about, and I have certainly seen examples in looking over the shoulders of advisers where I think there is more work to be done on those first 13 weeks, but we have 36% who never make it to the 13-week assessment. We have then another 39%­odd consistently who are actually found fit for work, and then the remainder divides between the Work­Related Activity Group and the Support Group. Of course, a proportion of the fit for work numbers go to appeal. In reality it is 39% of about 36%, which is 6% extras; you end up with about 35%, not 39%, who end up being fit for work. I think it is just that the system has bedded down and that is a fairly consistent pattern. Once we get to later in the year we will have some genuinely robust numbers to publish around the national migration, and I suspect we will see a fairly consistent pattern all the way through the migration.

Q333 Chair: You said it was not your aim to take people off a benefit and for people to lose money, but there is one group of people who will lose money, and my constituents will be at the forefront of it—they will be the first to lose money—and that is the group that are in the WRAG group who qualify for contributory ESA, who will lose that ESA after a year and, because of household income, will not qualify for any other benefits, and therefore, as individuals, they will lose that benefit. Why have you decided to penalise that group in particular?

Chris Grayling: I think basically it is applying to ESA the same principles that apply to JSA in terms of the contributory element. Through the benefits system, we provide, and indeed Governments of both persuasions for a very long time have provided, a basic level of financial support for those who have no other financial means. But there has always been in regard to JSA, for those that contribute, a limit to the amount that is paid. We pay something back in recognition of the fact you have yourself paid in, but we only allow you to draw for a period of time. With ESA, regardless of your means, you can draw benefits indefinitely and regardless of your household income, and amongst the tough decisions we have had to take to deal with the deficit challenge that we face, one of them has been to say, "We actually need to apply the same principle to ESA as we do to JSA."

Now, it is not related to health conditions; there has been a lot of talk about recuperation periods and so forth. It is not a decision about how long or how short a period of time we expect somebody to need to make a recovery before they can return to the workplace; it is a simple, pragmatic decision that says these are benefits that are being paid to people who have other household financial means, either income or capital. In straitened times financially we cannot afford to pay that on an unlimited, unconditional and ongoing basis, and so therefore we have placed a time limit, which is higher than the time limit for JSA because we recognise that people need a bit more time to sort their affairs out if they have a health problem, but it is one of the budgetary decisions we have had to take to deal with the deficit.

Q334 Chair: But you have pointed out in what you have just said there that they are not the same. Someone who goes onto JSA will be looking for work from day one and will be able to take up that work from day one. The person who goes onto contributory ESA may still be very ill. They still may be signed off their work. They may actually be signed off their work for the whole of the year that they get the contributory ESA. They have worked all of their life; they have paid their National Insurance contributions; they thought that the welfare state would be there to give them that insurance that, should they fall out of work because of ill health, they will continue to get an income in their own right, and you are saying, "Well, you can only get that income for a year." Surely the social contract that people sign up to when they pay their National Insurance contributions has been broken as a result?

Chris Grayling: Well, it is applying the same principles as we do to JSA, and we have had to, and will have to, take a number of difficult financial decisions across the piece because of the scale of the public finances crisis that we inherited last year. I am sure that there are many decisions that we will have to take as a Government that we would rather not have to do, but when you get left a major problem on that scale, you do have to do difficult things.

Q335 Chair: Have you done any analysis of the potential social consequences of this decision, where perhaps a working partner, because they perhaps earn around £20,000 a year and therefore the household would not qualify for income­related JSA, takes a decision to give up their work, which is what the Government wants them to do, in order to be the full-time carer of the person because that is the only way that the income of the household actually can be protected and they would be no worse off by that time, perhaps, with the carer getting Carer's Allowance and be able to earn the £100 a week that they could with Carer's Allowance. Have you done any research into what might happen just because of human behaviour, because the loss of that particular piece of income, that £85 a week out of that household income, might be quite devastating?

Chris Grayling: Well, we have done detailed analysis of what we think the consequences might be for this particular group. We expect around 30% of them to move straight to income­based ESA because of their financial circumstances. We expect around another 30% to receive some element of income­based ESA, and we expect another 40% not to require ESA at all. So we have done some analysis of this group and the financial impact on them, but, as I say, it is a decision that probably would not have been top of our agenda if we had come into government in different circumstances, but across the portfolio of what Government does we have had to take tough decisions financially because of the scale of the deficit.

Q336 Chair: But there is also an unfairness, as I say, with my constituents. Because they went through the trial, they will have their contributory ESA taken away from them quicker than elsewhere in the country because of the nature of the rollout. Is the fact that you are bringing it in so quickly fair? Would it not be better to roll out everything and then perhaps bring this in? I do not agree with you bringing it in in the first place, but if you are saying that it is financially unaffordable, then surely it would have been fairer to make sure that everybody was onto the ESA before you start withdrawing the benefit from a particular group.

Chris Grayling: In the case of your constituents, of course, the numbers who went through the assessment in Aberdeen were only a proportion of the claimants in the city and, indeed, in the area. But, as I say, we have had to take some difficult decisions to tackle the financial crisis, and the impact of that will be felt across society. We are making changes to child benefit, for example, that will, I am sure, be unpopular when they are implemented.

Q337 Chair: But the people going through the migration process today will be the first to lose it in a year's time because the clock is already ticking for them, and that is surely unfair when there is another 2 million or so still to go through it, and they at least get their money for slightly longer. Is there not a bit of unfairness in that?

Chris Grayling: In an ideal world it would not take us three years to do the migration, but the practicality is that it does because it is huge logistical task. It is a shame that it was not done years ago.

Q338 Chair: Obviously, that is an area where we will differ, but it does seem incredibly unfair and a lot of people feel very let down. They thought they had done what the Government asked of them. They had worked all their life; they had paid their National Insurance, and it was an insurance for ill health. Their family income is taking a double hit. It will have come down because that earner is no longer earning because they are now on ESA, and in a year's time they get another £85 taken out of what was already at least half, if not more, of the household income. Do you have a sense of or think that perhaps that is being very harsh?

Chris Grayling: I understand the point you are making, but we live in challenging times financially.

Q339 Chair: Can I explore the employment support for the ESA claimants, because obviously that is now coming in. This is our last set of questions, honest. What support will there be to find work for those who have come through the WCA process and have been found fully fit for work and are on JSA, because ultimately the real test of this, as was earlier suggested, is whether these people will get into work. So, what support is there going to be into work? I think that might help to allay some of the fears that are out there that Stephen Lloyd was talking about, the references to "the workshy". The reason people are frightened is that they do not believe that the other side of the equation, the support, the help and, indeed, the jobs, is going to be there. So that is really important.

Chris Grayling: The way it is going to work is that, if somebody is found fit for work and transferred onto JSA, they will spend three months receiving the standard form of support through Jobcentre Plus, but they will then, after three months, get early entry into the Work Programme. We decided not to refer them to the Work Programme on day one, because I think it is only right and fair that we allow everyone in the Jobcentre Plus world, all of the claimants who pass through the doors, to have a period of independent job search, with some guidance from Jobcentre Plus and, obviously, the support that Jobcentre Plus offers, and we are looking at ways of strengthening the capabilities, for example, by close partnerships with the careers service. For those first three months, we felt it was right and proper that they should have a window of independent job search.

They will then have early access to the Work Programme after three months and that will offer them the kind of personalised and tailored support that we talked about when we discussed the Work Programme previously, and I very much hope, of course, that they will also command a higher tariff than the conventional Jobseeker's Allowance claimant, which again provides an incentive to providers to provide extra support to them in getting them into the workplace. Then it will be a matter of the providers and the provider network doing their stuff and helping them get into work.

One of the points I was making to Glenda Jackson, which I have sought to make all the way through this, is the narrative about the migration: every time I talk about it, I always talk about it in the context of the specialist support that is then going to be available to get people back into work. You cannot have one without the other. I am absolutely with you; 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, and we felt that the three-month early entry point was the right point to do it.

Q340 Chair: But in the discussion we had with Dr Gunnyeon earlier, the WCA does not ask the questions about real life chances of that individual getting a job. It does not take into account labour market conditions in the area, educational ability or ability to retrain or any of that. Now, we have been told that it takes the contractors' personal advisers about 15 minutes to decide if somebody is work ready or not. They are obviously using different criteria and a different assessment from the WCA. Is there any way that the WCA can start to take into account that kind of real life experience to make a more sensitive judgment as to just how work ready someone is? So it is not just a, "Yes, that person can work," but also there is a second part to their assessment, which is, "Yes, they can work, but they will need this particular type of help and it is probably in these areas that they are going to be able to work." Now, I understand that Professor Harrington is suggesting that that should be part and parcel of the process of the assessment as well.

Chris Grayling: The one thing I am absolutely unreservedly and implacably opposed to in all of this is a real world test. Either somebody is fit for work or they are not, and what I am not prepared to do is to countenance a situation where we are saying: "You are fit for work, but you should not be on JSA because there is high unemployment in your area." I think that does a huge disservice to those people—some of whom have health problems—who are on JSA. I think what is important, and what the Work Programme is there to provide and what the higher tariff for this group is designed to help support, is that where people are moving off IB, we recognise the fact they have bigger challenges and therefore there is extra work for the providers to do with them, and that is why, as I say, the outcome price for the JSA ex­IB group is 50% higher, and why 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. But what I do not think we could possibly countenance is the situation where we are saying, "Because of circumstances in the labour market in your area, we will treat you differently." I think that would be a huge mistake.

Q341 Chair: Right. I take that from the labour market respect, but what about the educational opportunities and the type of jobs that exist anywhere in the labour market, not just in the locality? Someone who is illiterate is not going to get a desk job, for instance.

Karen Foulds: In those three months before they go to the Work Programme, when they first come to the Jobcentre they have a 45 minute diagnostic interview with a personal adviser, so it is not 15 minutes; it is 45 minutes with a personal adviser. That person's job is to work with that claimant to look at their educational qualifications, their previous work experience, life experiences, etc, to come up with a jobseeker's agreement that gives that person the best possible opportunity of finding work. Now, obviously, as the Minister said, in three months they would go to the Work Programme and we would expect that quite a lot of this claimant group, because they are coming from Incapacity Benefit, probably will still be with us after three months and go to the Work Programme, but it is not that those three months is wasted. If, for example, somebody needs some help with literacy, that would be one of the things that the personal adviser—the named one that they would have for that three months—would work with them on.

Chris Grayling: There is provision to pay for training courses and all people on JSA have access to short­term training courses, so we could refer that person to an IT course to fill an IT gap, literacy or numeracy—there are mechanisms there to help them move ahead fairly rapidly.

Q342 Kate Green: I just wondered, in view of your very, very definite position on a real life test, why Professor Harrington is being allowed to continue to investigate it and work with a number of external groups to look at ways in which it could be designed. Is that not rather a cynical situation that we find ourselves in?

Chris Grayling: Professor Harrington is independent and is entitled—and, indeed, should be entitled—to make any recommendation to us that he believes is appropriate. But sitting in front of the Committee asking my view on this, clearly it depends on the nature of his recommendation, but I would not countenance a situation where we said to somebody who was on JSA long term, "You are subject to conditionality and £67 a week," but somebody who had come off IB and was found fit for work we would not move into the same position, even though their circumstances might be very similar, simply because the world is quite challenging and we have built a real world test into the Work Capability Assessment. That seems to me to be likely to build a huge injustice into the system. The labour market is a challenge for us in some parts of the country, which is why we have measures like the Regional Growth Fund in place to try to stimulate private-sector growth in those areas. It is right and proper we do that, but what you cannot do is say to somebody, "Actually the labour market is a bit tough in your area, therefore we will not expect you to look for work." That would be a huge mistake.

Dr Gunnyeon: I think there is also quite a lot of confusion around the issue of a real world test, and I think one view is, as the Minister has outlined. There is another aspect—I think it is probably more in Professor Harrington's mind, although it may not be in some other groups' minds—which is, is the assessment correctly assessing whether people really are fit for work or not? I think that issue—whether the way we do the assessment properly reflects capability for work—is slightly different from the other aspect, which I think is what many people mean by real world test. But I think Professor Harrington has a much wider view, and I think one of the areas that he is certainly interested in looking at is whether we can find ways of ensuring that what we are doing in the assessment is really properly determining people's suitability for work. Then, of course, there is the separate issue of how you identify what support people might need.

Kate Green: Are you committed to that particular definition of a set of proposals around a real life test?

Chris Grayling: Let's be clear: I have said to Professor Harrington we will do everything we can to improve the process. It is just that that red line for me is we cannot create a point of discrimination to say that, because you are fit for work but you are on IB, somehow you should be treated differently to somebody who is fit for work but never was on IB.

Q343 Oliver Heald: It is often said, "Well it is not fair to do this, to have this test, because there are no jobs." Now, what would your take be on that? In all parts of the country there are people moving into work every month. Now, obviously is it much more difficult in some areas than in others. Would you want to comment at all on that general proposition, which one hears quite often?

Chris Grayling: Well, I think it is important to remember that 90% of people move off JSA within the first year, and I remember—I have not actually checked the figures for the last two or three years—in 1993, which was the deepest year of the last recession, which had a higher level of unemployment than we have seen in the recession we have just finished, around 700,000 people who had been out of work for more than three months moved into work. So there is a constant flow of people into and out of work. There are job vacancies in every single part of the country. There are more in some than in others. There are some where the labour market is quite challenging, but there are still vacancies.

My particular view is that we should not allow people who have been out of work for a longer period of time to end up stranded. We have seen statistics emerge over the last couple of weeks suggesting that the problem of long­term unemployment is getting worse, and I see the role of the Work Programme particularly as being to tackle that problem. I apply that not simply to those on JSA long term but the people we are talking about today. I want some of that flow, which is happening all the time, from benefits into work to be the 10% of long­term JSA claimants and those who are long­term IB but could get back to work. So I think it is really important that we do not write off any individual or any area and say it is just not worth bothering about. Every single individual is worth an effort; every single area is worth having some belief in and it is really important that we do not take a step back and say, "That is all a bit too difficult."

Karen Foulds: In Jobcentre Plus alone we take 10,000 vacancies a day. That is just Jobcentre Plus—there are other recruitment methods. So there is quite a dynamic labour market, even in the current position.

Q344 Oliver Heald: That is what I was going to ask you.

Karen Foulds: Oh, sorry.

Q345 Chair: I represent a constituency where there is still a dynamic labour market, but disabled people still do not get jobs. Now, that is not because they do not try but because there is the other side of the equation. All of our questions this morning have been on the claimant's side, but would you accept, Minister, that actually there is a problem from the employers' side? The employers are reluctant to employ people with disabilities. They are most certainly very reluctant to employ people with mental health problems or a history of mental health conditions, to the extent that people lie on their application forms. First of all, do you accept that that is a problem and therefore they are always going to be disadvantaged in the labour market because of that prejudice and that discrimination? If you do accept it, what is the Government going to do, because that needs to be tackled and it is very important that it is tackled.

  Chris Grayling: I think it is particularly about breaking down barriers. On the day I came up at the start of the trial process in Aberdeen, you and I met a young man with learning difficulties who was in his first job and getting lots of praise from his employer. I think there you have an employer that now has a much clearer understanding of the issues and challenges somebody in that position faces and the difference they can make to that organisation nonetheless, and so that employer will be much more willing to do the same in the future. I think it is about getting more and more employers to take that first step, to understand that somebody with a disability can make a really positive difference to their organisation, and then the door will be open to more. I would describe the Work Programme as a sort of giant employment dating service of matching individuals to employers, fitting individuals to jobs that work and fit. One of the reasons that we are paying providers more to help people from ESA who are mandated onto the Work Programme into work is that it will take that extra investment of breaking down barriers: persuading employers to give someone a work placement; of helping them get to know how to deal with the issues and challenges; but also helping them to understand the difference those people can make. I think it is a really important part of what they do, and it is why the differential pricing in the Work Programme is so important.

Q346 Chair: Has Jobcentre Plus got the power to take action against an employer they suspect is turning people away that have been sent through Jobcentre Plus because they have a disability or a mental health history?

Karen Foulds: If we suspected that an employer was actually breaking the law and breaking the Equality Act, then yes, we would take steps in terms of our servicing of that employer, in terms of taking their vacancies. We would also provide advice to the individual if they wanted to take it forward themselves.

Q347 Chair: How many cases have you taken?

Karen Foulds: I do not know. We could find out. I do not know.

Q348 Chair: Because it is very difficult in the circumstances—

Karen Foulds: It is very difficult and I think it is more—and I have worked in Jobcentres for many years—a conversation with a senior person and the employer to say, "This cannot happen; we are not dealing with your vacancies anymore unless you get your act together," rather than taking legal action. But certainly we would not knowingly take any vacancies and advertise them through Jobcentre Plus if we had evidence that that was happening.

Q349 Chair: Maybe we do need to take to take legal action to encourage les autres, as they say. Can I say thanks? It has been a long morning, but thanks very much for coming along and thanks very much for your time.

Chris Grayling: You are welcome.

Chair: This is the last evidence session so we will be writing a report based on the evidence we have taken so far.

Chris Grayling: Okay. Thanks very much. Thank you.

1   Employment and Support Allowance Back

2   Citizen's Advice Bureau Back

3   The newspapers were required by the PCC to correct the record, rather than being censured Back

4   Jobseeker's Allowance Back

5   Note by witness; ATOS do undertake a range of assessments for different benefits. The contract extension however, excluded DLA. Back

6   This letter is published with the oral evidence the Committee took from the Secretary of State on 15 September 2010 and is available on the Committee's website Back

7   Office for Budget Responsibility Back

8   Note by witness: 9% is the failure to attend rate experience during the trials Back

9   Statutory Sick Pay Back

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