Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

7  Interaction between ESA and employment outcomes

Meeting the employment objectives of ESA

120. When ESA was introduced in 2008, the then Government said that its aim was to enable claimants "to achieve their full potential through work and to help them to gain independence from benefits".[180] In oral evidence to this inquiry, DWP witnesses said that the aim of the ESA process was to determine whether or not someone is fit for work and that the WCA was intended to help draw a line between people with health conditions and disabilities who can work, and those whom it is not reasonable to expect to work.[181]

121. In our 2011 report we pointed out that the Government's main objective for the IB reassessment was to help long-term claimants move back into work.[182] The Government said recently that, as a result of the IB reassessment process, "720,000 more people are now being supported to prepare or look for work". The latest statistics show that, up to September 2013, 250,000 IB claimants were found fit for work and 470,000 placed in the WRAG, out of 1.23 million reassessments.[183] It is therefore clearly very important that the right employment support is available for the significant number of people who may have been out of the labour market for some time, as well as new ESA claimants in these categories.

122. Claimants placed in the Support Group are not expected to undertake work-related activity. For those in the WRAG, there is an expectation that they will move into work in the short or medium term, with appropriate employment support. This support is currently provided through Jobcentre Plus, the Work Programme (WP) (the unified mainstream contracted employment support scheme introduced in 2011) or Work Choice, the specialist programme for people with health conditions or disabilities which have a more substantial impact on their capability to work.


123. Our report earlier this year on Jobcentre Plus pointed out that over half of all working-age disabled people were either unemployed or economically inactive. Jobcentre Plus is the gateway for referrals to the Work Programme and Work Choice but also provides direct employment support to claimants. We examined the support available to ESA claimants through JCP and identified a relative lack of Disability Employment Advisers (DEAs) within Jobcentres to provide the specialist support which disabled people and people with long-term health conditions require. We regretted the fact that this meant that the vast majority of ESA claimants received only very infrequent support from specialist DEAs, which often amounted to no more than two face-to-face interviews per year.[184]


124. In our 2011 report on the IB reassessment, we emphasised the important role the Work Programme would play in meeting the needs of ESA claimants.[185] In our 2013 report on the Work Programme, we examined how effective it was proving to be in providing employment support for ESA and ex-ESA/IB claimants. One of the problems we identified was a lack of accuracy in the ESA decisions: Work Programme providers were finding that a significant number of claimants with a "fit for work" outcome were clearly not able to work. We also observed that the Work Programme's differential payment system, which was meant to incentivise providers to achieve sustained job outcomes for more disadvantaged claimants, including ESA and ex-ESA/IB claimants, was not having the desired effect. The first set of official Work Programme statistics published in November 2012 showed that a sustained job outcome was achieved for only 0.3% of ESA ex-IB referrals (compared to 3.5% across all payment groups).[186]

125. A recent analysis found that only 5% of claimants in the WRAG supported through the Work Programme have moved into sustained work since 2011, against a target of 16.5%.[187] Analysis of the latest Work Programme statistics, covering the period to March 2014, by the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion, found that, although performance of the Work Programme had improved overall, the only two groups which had not seen an improvement were ESA ex-IB claimants and ESA volunteers. The "new ESA claimants" group showed a substantial improvement; however, ESA claimants overall continue to have low performance; people with a disability are the least successful of the six groups of disadvantaged jobseekers in the Work Programme and are less likely to find sustained employment than lone parents, people over 50, and black and minority ethnic people.[188] Only 1 in 11 new ESA claimants joining the scheme in January to March 2013 achieved three months in work after 12 months (compared to 1 in 5 JSA claimants in the 18-24 age group, and 1 in 6 aged over 25, achieving 6 months in work at the 12 month stage).[189]

126. When the Work Programme began in June 2011, only ESA claimants with a short term prognosis (3 months) were referred to it. From October 2012, this group was expanded to include those with a prognosis of up to 12 months. DWP points out that this means that, because WP job outcomes are measured over a two-year period, "many ESA claimants […] could not possibly have registered a job outcome yet given the timescales required" However, it acknowledges that "we must do better for ESA claimants".[190]


127. A number of witnesses in our inquiry into the Work Programme pointed out that people with health conditions and disabilities were better served by the specialist disability employment programme Work Choice.[191] However, most claimants referred to Work Choice are in fact JSA, not ESA, claimants. The latest statistics show that in 2013-14, out of a total of 27,170 Work Choice referrals, 18,120 were on JSA and only 5,190 on ESA/IB. In the period since Work Choice began in 2010-11, out of 69,440 referrals to Work Choice, 38,980 were JSA claimants and only 10,660 were on ESA/IB. There were 11,950 job outcomes for the JSA group and 3,320 for the ESA/IB group.[192]

Effective assessment of health-related employment barriers

128. As we have made clear, the WCA plays a central role in determining the work-search conditionality placed on claimants. It also has the potential to indicate the level of support that a claimant might need to enter employment. During this inquiry we have tried to assess whether the WCA does this effectively, or whether trying to combine an assessment of employment support needs with a test of benefit eligibility means that neither task is performed effectively.

129. A number of witnesses believed that the WCA did not provide an accurate assessment of an individual's health barriers to employment. Scope argued that "It conflates the idea of what benefit someone should be on with what support people need to move back into the workplace. This is a fundamental flaw". Mind made a similar point. [193] Witnesses agreed that one solution to this would be to replace the WCA with two tests; one simple test to determine an individual's eligibility for benefit, and another more sophisticated test, to assess their particular employment support needs.[194]

130. In this context, it is worth reiterating that when the expert panels involved in the Evidence Based Review assessed WCA outcomes, they identified that 83% of claimants deemed fit for work would need "on average, two or three" adjustments; 50% would need flexible working hours; and 24% would need a support worker.[195] If this is the case, a process needs to be in place to assess what these support needs are and how they can best be provided. When we put this point to DWP witnesses, they were not able to provide any clarity on what the implications of this finding were, in terms of assessment of a claimant's employment support needs.[196]


131. The support an individual needs to get back to work was previously considered as part of the Work-focused Health-related Assessment (WFHRA). This assessment was carried out by Atos, at the same time as the WCA. It focused on "what the individual was capable of doing and how to manage his/her condition at work" and its purpose was to "explore customers' views about returning to work, what difficulties they faced in doing this, and what they thought they could do to move back into work." Based on the WFHRA, the HCP would recommend steps to be taken to improve a person's functional capacity and to help move them closer to entering employment. A report of the discussion in the WFHRA was sent to the claimant and their JCP adviser, for use in the Work-focused Interviews that claimants in the WRAG are required to attend. [197]

132. The Government suspended the WFHRA in July 2010 for two years as it was "not delivering the intended outcomes". DWP announced in April 2013 that the suspension would continue for a further three years "to properly evaluate the impacts of both the Work Programme and Universal Credit systems."[198]

133. Scope acknowledged that the WFHRA was "one way of having that conversation" about employment support needs, but believed it needed to go further, "in terms of looking at the package of support that people need and a more sophisticated and nuanced approach to exactly what support looks like and how people can access it".[199] Lisa Coleman from Atos told us that its assessors had found the WRHFA "very useful and enjoyable work". Although she did not disagree with the decision to suspend it, she believed that it remained important to separate "somebody describing their condition and how it affects them in their daily life" from looking at "the barriers to employment, which can often be different from their particular health conditions".[200]


134. As we have noted, claimants deemed fit for work and who then claim JSA are likely to be supported to find work by Jobcentres and/or referred to the Work Programme. Claimants in the WRAG may also be referred to the Work Programme, depending on their prognosis. Work Programme providers have reported receiving little information about those who have been referred to them after making an ESA claim.[201]

135. Professor Harrington recommended in his second review that "DWP consider ways of sharing outcomes of the WCA with Work Programme providers to ensure a smoother claimant journey."[202] This was explored in pilots between July 2012 and August 2013. Although there is now some sharing of information with Personal Advisers in Jobcentres, information is not shared with Work Programme providers. Dr Litchfield pointed out that there were "clear advantages" in sharing the information and recommended that DWP address this issue with "some urgency".[203] DWP accepted this recommendation "subject to the outcome of further work on feasibility".[204]

136. There is a gap in the current system which means that a claimant's employment support needs are not being properly assessed as part of the ESA claims process. In particular, claimants should not be found "fit for work" where they would only be able to enter employment if significant adaptations and support were provided. We recommend that DWP urgently reassess where in the process an assessment of health-related employment barriers could most appropriately take place—either by reintroducing the Work-focused Health-related Assessment (WFHRA) as a second stage of the WCA, or at a later stage as an extended version of the Work-focused Interview once the claimant is referred to Jobcentre Plus (or to the Work Programme). In the meantime, we endorse the recommendation made by both independent reviewers, that information obtained through the WCA process should be shared with Work Programme providers and JCP employment advisers.

137. The effectiveness of employment support for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions has been a concern for us throughout this Parliament. We have closely followed developments since the independent review of such support, carried out for the Government by Liz Sayce, was published in 2011.[205] We are conducting a separate inquiry into this area, beginning with an assessment of the effectiveness of the Access to Work programme. We intend to look at specialist disability employment support more broadly once the Government's expected Disability Health and Employment Strategy, following on from the Sayce recommendations, is published.

180   Archived DWP content, April 2010, accessed 9 July 2014 Back

181   Qq439 and 443 Back

182   Work and Pensions Committee, The role of incapacity benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment, Chapter 7 Back

183   HC Deb 26 June 2014, col 319w; DWP, ESA: outcomes of WCAs -tables, June 2014, tables 10-11 Back

184   Work and Pensions Committee, The role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system, paras 71-75 Back

185   Work and Pensions Committee, The role of incapacity benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment, Chapter 7 Back

186   Work and Pensions Committee, First Report of Session 2013-14, Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?, HC 162, paras 80-89 Back

187   Catherine Hale, Fulfilling potential? ESA and the fate of the WRAG, June 2014, Executive Summary [statistic drawn from DWP statistics tabulation tool] Back

188   Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion, Work Programme statistics: Inclusion analysis, 19 June 2014 Back

189   DWP, Work Programme Official Statistics to March 2014, June 2014, Summary and Key Findings Back

190   DWP (WCA0196) paras 105-109 Back

191   Work and Pensions Committee, Can the Work Programme work for all user groups?, paras 98-99 Back

192   DWP, Work Choice Official Statistics, May 2014, table 5 Back

193   Qq5 and 17 Back

194   Qq84 and 85 Back

195   Q12; Submission from charities involved in the Evidence Based Review of the WCA (WCA0170), paras 38 and 39 Back

196   Qq442-3 Back

197   DWP, Employment and Support Allowance: Customer and staff experiences of the face-to-face Work Capability Assessment and Work-focused Health-related Assessment, 2010, p 2 Back

198   HC Deb, 25 April 2013, 75WS Back

199   Q6 Back

200   Qq349-351 Back

201   Oral evidence taken on 6 March 2013 on the Work Programme, Q312 [Employment Related Services Association] Back

202   Professor Harrington, An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment - year two, November 2012, Chapter 3, para 72 Back

203   Dr Paul Litchfield, An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment - year four, December 2013, Chapter 2, para 59 Back

204   DWP, Government's Response to the year 4 independent review of the WCA, March 2014, Annex A, recommendation 1 Back

205   DWP, Getting in, staying in and getting on: disability employment support fit for the future, A review for Government by Liz Sayce, June 2011


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Prepared 23 July 2014