Work capability assessment overhaul for disabled

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The scheme that assesses claimants of disability benefits faces a major overhaul, following claims by a charity that it is “fundamentally flawed”.

A consultation on reforming the Work Capability Assessment will be announced on Monday.

Ministers want claimants to be assessed in a more “targeted and personalised” way to help more people find jobs.

The charity Scope, which had criticised the current assessment scheme, said it welcomed the planned changes.

It said disabled people needed “expert, tailored employment support”.

Both Employment Support Allowance, which is paid to more than two million people, and the assessment, were originally introduced by Labour and then expanded by the coalition government.

Raising aspirations

The consultation – to be launched by Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green on Monday – follows the announcement that people with severe conditions will no longer face reassessments for their benefits.

It will examine how people receiving ESA can be helped back into employment without having their benefits put at risk while they search for a job.

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Mr Green is to launch the consultation on Monday

Mr Green said: “A disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life.

“No one wants a system where people are written off and forced to spend long periods of time on benefits when, actually, with the right support they could be getting back into work.

“The proposed changes… will focus on improving opportunities and raising aspirations while making sure those people who most need support from the government receive it.”

Employment minister Damian Hinds told Robert Peston on ITV: “We want to hear more from disabled people, from charities, about how we can give better support to those people to get towards work without jeopardising their benefits.

BBC political correspondent Eleanor Garnier said the move signalled a clear change of approach from that of David Cameron’s government, which tightened and reduced welfare spending.

But our correspondent said ministers remained committed to cutting the money new recipients of one type of ESA will receive.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams called for the assessments to be scrapped, saying they caused “needless misery and stress” for thousands of sick and disabled people.

She said the government’s approach was “ideologically driven with the sole purpose of targeting the most vulnerable in our society to pay for their austerity plans, painting disabled people as scroungers and shirkers, whilst making no impact on the disability employment gap”.

‘Makes more sense’

The Department for Work and Pensions places claimants assessed eligible for ESA in either the “work-related activity group” or “support group”.

The work-related activity group means officials have decided a claimant’s disability or health condition currently means they are unable to have a job but are capable of making some effort to find employment.

They receive up to £102.15 a week in ESA payments while attending employment-focused interviews and training. From April 2017, payments will fall to £73.10 for new claimants, bringing the rate into line with Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Those in the “support group”, who have been deemed unable to work and are not required to do anything to improve their chances of finding a job, receive up to £109.30 a week.

Scope chief executive Mark Atkinson said: “The current fit-for-work test doesn’t accurately identify the barriers disabled people face in entering or staying in work.

“An assessment should be the first step to getting support and should be separate from determining benefits entitlement.”

‘Cautious’ welcome

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, suggested apprenticeship schemes could use positive action to employ more disabled people.

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Charities say they have warned for years that conditions like Parkinson’s are not recognised properly by the assessments

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “We are keen to help create a system that makes more sense.

“However, it must be recognised that many people with long-term progressive conditions will simply be too unwell to work and no amount of extra employment support will change that.”

Phil Reynolds, from the charity Parkinson’s UK, told BBC Radio 5 live he “cautiously welcomed” the new move, but that his organisation had been trying to highlight the issue for a long time.

“We continue to hear examples of people with really serious conditions, like Parkinsons, who are put in that ‘back to work’ group because the assessment fails to recognise that a person’s condition will only get worse,” he said.

“It’s really important that anything that comes out of this leads to positive improvements and a more sensitive assessment.”

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