Migration to ESA

ESA 39

Written evidence submitted by Papworth Trust

About Papworth Trust

1. Papworth Trust is a disability charity and registered social landlord, whose aim is for disabled people to have equality, choice and independence. Papworth Trust helps over 20,000 people every year through a wide range of services including employment, vocational rehabilitation, housing and personal support.

2. Papworth Trust is a sub-contractor to the Department of Work and Pensions in the delivery of employment programmes. In 2010/11, we helped nearly 8,000 disabled and disadvantaged people through our employment services.

3. Papworth Trust welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry into the migration from Incapacity Benefits (IB) to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and share with you our thoughts and concerns on the Work Capacity Assessment (WCA).

4. In July 2010 and January 2011, Papworth Trust chaired two roundtable seminars of like-minded disability charities, voluntary organisations and employment service providers to discuss the failings of the WCA and the measures that should be taken to improve its accuracy. These seminars culminated in open letters to Professor Harrington in September 2010, as part of his independent inquiry, and Chris Grayling MP in January 2011 calling for the Government to focus on implementing the Harrington Review recommendations. The letters were signed by over 36 organisations and copies of both are attached to this submission.

Overview

5. Papworth Trust fundamentally believes that a job is the best form of welfare and route out of poverty. Where individuals can work, they should be supported to do so. For some individuals work is not always a viable solution, this may be due to their condition or circumstance, and there must be a system in place that supports them as well.

6. In the past, the Government has recognised [1] some of the issues which prevent people returning to employment such as disability, health problems and in some circumstances the complex nature of our benefits system. Papworth Trusts also believe that discrimination, language barriers, criminal records, lack of experience and transportation needs further restrict the opportunities and ability to gain work. A major barrier for our clients is that employers often seek ‘ready-made’ employees who are proficient in their role with minimum training, support, cost or perceived risk to the employer. Extra support or training is viewed as inconvenient, time consuming and costly. Access to Work goes someway to solving this barrier, although the future of this funding is currently being looked at as part of the Sayce Review.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA)

7. For a long time, Papworth Trust has been concerned about the outcomes of the WCA which suggest it is a flawed assessment. When the WCA was first applied to existing IB claimants, the Government estimated that [2] :

· 65% would be assessed to be in the work-related activity group of ESA,

· 20% would be assessed to be in the support group of ESA, and

· 15% would be passed as fit for work.

8. In reality we see the breakdown for all completed assessments carried out by the end of May 2010 [3] , as follows:

· 25% were assessed to be in the work-related activity group of ESA,

· 10% were assessed to be in the support group of ESA, and

· 65% were passed as fit for work.

This means that the Government’s original estimate of those being found fit for work by the WCA was inaccurate by a factor of over 330% compared to reality.

9. The Government has so far welcomed that more people are being found fit for work than it originally estimated [4] . Papworth Trust is concerned at how vastly different the predictions made are from reality. We are concerned that vulnerable people are being wrongly assessed as fit for work, and what the legacy holds for those people subsequently placed onto Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) on reduced incomes and with less support to find employment. In our experience, simply reducing benefits does not help the hardest to reach to find work; instead tailored support is required to help them into employment.

10. We are increasingly puzzled at the significant proportion (37%) of people who close their claim before the assessment process has ended. Whilst many of these people will have found jobs or may have stopped their assessments for personal reasons, we are concerned about those who may have become frustrated by the system and simply given up, excluding themselves from appropriate support. This is in part due to our welfare to work system where eligibility for support is based on which benefits a person is claiming. We believe greater understanding of this group is needed, and as part of second year independent review the Government has promised to start tracking people who do not complete their WCA. As part of this inquiry, we urge the Committee to ensure that the DWP has started tracking the final destinations of this group and that this data is made publicly available.

The Assessment criteria

11. Papworth Trust was extremely disappointed with the Government’s decision to implement the recent regulations [5] to amend the WCA descriptors. In a joint letter to Chris Grayling MP (see attached) in January 2011, we expressed our concern that these amendments were developed prior to Harrington’s review and were not subjected to the same level of external scrutiny. Unlike the Harrington Review, which has received strong support from the sector, the internal review was widely criticised, including by 10 of the 12 organisations involved in the internal review.

12. As a result of these regulations, the number of descriptors under the new assessment will fall from 21 to 17. Whilst Papworth Trust supports the move to a more employment outcome based approach, we are concerned that the reduction in the number of descriptors will further worsen the WCA, rendering it even less effective for vulnerable people.

13. Papworth Trust has a long standing concern that the assessment is too focused on a person’s physical capability, and needs to better recognise the barriers faced by people with learning disabilities, mental health issues and fluctuating conditions. The reduction in the mental health descriptors from three to one under these regulations is particularly concerning, considering the assessment is already poor at recognising these conditions.

14. There appears to be an underlying assumption that because someone has physically managed to arrive for an appointment, that they must be fit to work. The assessment illustrates what people can do in a test, but it fails to do so in a way which reflects work. Taking claimants through a system which is not fit for purpose and does not accurately determine a person’s capability for work has caused stress and anxiety to claimants and represented significant costs to the public purse. We know the system needs a complete overhaul and believe Professor Harrington’s review is the most effective way of delivering this, including through the work he has already instigated by establishing four expert working groups to recommend changes to the descriptors.

15. The Government has indicated it will make further, necessary amendments to the assessment if identified. As part of this inquiry, we urge the Committee to ensure this commitment happens and without delay. We are concerned that even a six month delay between identification and implementation of a solution could now result in over 250,000 people having an assessment that is not fit for purpose.

Customer communications

16. Papworth Trust believes that past communications with claimants going through this process has been extremely poor. During Professor Harrington’s independent review last year, we expressed our concern that the current support was insufficient with notifications of assessments sent without warning and no further support offered to help individuals to prepare for the process. Under circumstances where a claim for ESA was rejected, individuals were given no indication of the support they could receive or the actions they needed to take to ensure their benefits were reinstated. Claimant’s letters did not explain how they could claim JSA, nor inform them that they had the right to appeal and any explanation of the appeal process.

17. Papworth Trust felt these communications were causing unnecessary anxiety to vulnerable people and were pleased when Professor Harrington shared these concerns: "the communications lack empathy and clarity, they are at best bland and technical and at worst confusing and threatening [6] ."

18. Since Professor Harrington’s review, we understand Jobcentre Plus has taken good steps to try to correct these inadequacies. Telephone calls are now made to claimants before they receive their initial letter calling them for their assessment to provide further information and advice, and to establish whether any help or support is needed. In cases where the claim for ESA has been rejected, an adviser telephones the claimant to inform them of the entitlement decision and advises them of their options and how they can make a claim for JSA, if they wish. Whilst these changes have only recently come into practise, Papworth Trust welcomes the move to a more personalised service from Jobcentre Plus with clearer, and less-threatening, communications. As part of this inquiry, we urge the Committee to ensure these measures are rolled out and are closely monitored.

The decision making process

19. In the past, decision makers have tended to act as little more than a rubber stamp to the Atos assessment. In future, Papworth Trust understands that decision makers will undergo better training to empower them to use the assessment as guidance whilst they make the final decision. We welcome this change.

20. Papworth Trust understands that better use will be made of the reconsideration process. At present, if a claimant disagrees with their decision, they tend to pursue an appeal rather than seek a reconsideration of that decision. We welcome this and the subsequent saving it should make to the public purse given that it will not be subject to the same costly, judicial process. However, at present the Government does not track the reconsideration process and the subsequent outcomes. As part of this inquiry, we urge the Committee to ensure that reconsiderations and their outcomes are tracked in future. Without this tracking, we are unable to draw any conclusions as to whether a fall in the appeal rate is as a result of more correct decisions in the first place, or that the reconsideration process is simply a shortened version of the appeal process.

The timescale for national rollout

21. Papworth Trust recognises the expectation to assess 1.6 million existing Incapacity Benefit claimants over the next three years, equating to 11,000 per week, is an ambitious target, especially when added to the routine flow of new claimants, estimated at a further 11,000 per week. In addition, DWP statistics show that of the 273,900 who were found fit for work under the current assessment (by November 2009) , a third of those people went on to appeal, causing further strain on the assessment flow. As part of this inquiry, we urge the Committee to probe how the system will cope with this strain.

Impact on the Work Programme

22. Papworth Trust supports the principles behind a single Work Programme. We believe the Work Programme will provide a real opportunity to help those who are furthest away from the labour market. With the right support, those people who are fit and able to work should have the necessary requirements placed on them to actively engage in work. However, for those people found wrongly fit for work under the WCA, they will receive a third to two-thirds less support to find and retain work under the Work Programme payment structure, which is extremely concerning.

23. Furthermore, the failings of the WCA in the past has meant that employment adviser’s spend more time providing advice and guidance on how to appeal their outcomes than supporting them into work. Papworth Trust’s experience has shown that clients simply will not engage in employment programmes whilst they believe they have been placed on the wrong benefit.

24. As part of this inquiry, we urge the Committee to explore what impact this has on the success of the Work Programme, and how the Government might review this in future.

April 2011


[1] DWP, 21 st Century Welfare, July 2010

[2] Answer provided by Jonathan Shaw MP to a Written Parliamentary Question, Hansard Column 1347W, 20 Oct 2009

[3] Department for Work and Pensions, Employment and Support Allowance: Work Capability Assessment by health function and functional impairment: Official Statistics , Jan 2011

[4] Department for Work and Pensions press release, Majority of people found fit for work as Government presses ahead with reforms , 25 Jan 2011

[4]

[5] Statutory Instrument No.228: The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) (Limited Capability for Work and Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity). Amendment Regulations 2011.

[6] Professor Harrington, An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment,p.34, Nov 2010