Migration to ESA

ESA 60

Written evidence submitted by Employment Related Services Association

1. Introduction

1.1. The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the trade body for the wel fare to work industry. It has nearly 70 members, drawn from across the private, public and voluntary sectors and represents both primes and subcontractors .

1.2. Please accept this document as ERSA’s submission to the Work and Pension Committee’s inquiry into the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Please note that ERSA’s response is not concerned with the rights or wrongs of the WCA from an ethical perspective, but concentrates on the impact of the WCA on the ability of Work Programme prime providers and subcontractors to deliver success for those referred to the programme .

2. Summary

2.1. The WCA process needs to ensure that it accurately assesses customers’ ability to work so that people who should be re ferred to the Support Group are not instead referred to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) or moved to Jobseekers Allowance which could then make them eligible for the Work Programme.

2.2. Such a scenario has a range of implications, both in terms of (a) those unable to work being referred to Work Programme providers; and (b) potential damage to individuals caused by their experience of the process and the potential impact of this on their ability to become work ready. Put simply, the Work Programme will be most effective if the right people are referred to it and if the WCA process aids the progress of individuals to work rather than hinders it.

2.3. It is important that the WCA is joined up to the mechanisms of the Work Programme . The Government should consider (a) how information from the WCA can help providers in their delivery of the Work Programme; (b) how Jobcentre Plus can help communicate the changes to customers before referral to the Work Programme; and (c) consider the merits of a re-referral process .

3. Inappropriate referrals

2.3 A major concern is the high number of successful appeals against WCA decisions. Providers do not want to see a "revolving door" situation where people are referred to the Work Programme only to appeal and then leave . The emphasis has to be on ensuring that the WCA is right first time. There needs to be an onus on Jobcentre Plus officials using the reconsideration process effectively, thereby minimising the number of decisions going to appeal.

2.6 From a statistical point of view, both the government and Work Programme providers will want to minimise the number of individuals inappropriately referred to the Work Programme. Given that Work Programme performance will be measured in terms of numbers into jobs compared to numbers of customers referred, a high number of people winning appeals or needing to be re-referred will lead to misleading statistics.

4. Minimising harm to customers

4.1. It can be anticipated that ex-IB customers who are referred to the Work Programme will have complex needs, least of all because of their longevity outside of the labour market. For many this will be the first time they have had to look for a job in a very long time. Combined with the impact of benefit changes this could made for a distressing situation for some customers.

4.2. Professor Harrington’s finding that claimants’ interactions with both Jobcentre Plus and Atos are often impersonal, mechanistic and lack clarity is a concern. The WCA must be conducted in a way which minimises harm to customers if Work Programme providers are in a position to realistically help them back into work.

5. Interaction between the WCA processes and The Work Programme

5.1. It is important that the WCA is joined up to the mechanisms of the Work Programme. It is intended that ESA (income related) customers in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) will be referred to Work Programme p roviders , some on a mandatory and others on a v oluntary basis . However, further clarity from the government is needed regarding how this referral mechanism will work in practice.

5.2. The a ssessment should be more than simply assessing whether someone can work and should take into account the full range of employability factors including a customer’s barriers to work. These barriers include but are not limited to, literacy, numeracy, confidence and self-esteem. A sharing of this information with Work Programme providers could then help to inform their own diagnostic processes and aid their client segm entation.

2.4 A further concern is that the move from one type of benefit to another (potentially lower level benefit) will not be fully understood by the individual and this will mean that the first few sessions spent by the customer with a personal adviser on the Work Programme will need to concentrate on the implications of this benefit change. Many claimants will also feel aggrieved by the decision which will create additional pressures on advisers. This will take considerable resource which may be better spent elsewhere and it is therefore important that the WCA decision and its implications are fully explained to the customer prior to this stage. Better communication from JCP might help to alleviate those frustrations before they see their Work Programme adviser.

5.3. There needs to be exploration of the merits of a re-referral mechanism from the Work Programme back to Jobcentre Plus by providers if individual assessments are felt to have been clearly faulty. ERSA recognises that this may be seen as creating a loophole allowing Work Programme providers to park difficult customers. However, this needs to be balanced with the harm that may be done to that individual if he or she does not receive an appropriate assessment. Having said that, we believe that DWP should concentrate its efforts on getting the referral right first time.

April 2011