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ESA and WCA Assessments: Government response

01 December 2014

The Government publishes its response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s report, Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments.

The Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper today responded on behalf of the Government to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report on the Work Capability Assessment. Summing up the report Philip Connolly, Disability Rights UK, Policy and Communications Manager said,

“The Government have clearly been stung by their experience of ATOS and have offered assurances to the select committee on ways of safeguarding the performance of the WCA contract now to be delivered by Maximus. However the Government has given short shrift to the committee’s call for a fundamental redesign of the WCA. The Government may be choosing its battles but the select committee’s recommendation is the only way of delivering peace.” 

 In his foreword to the Government's response Minister for Disabled People Mark Harper announces a package of measures designed to improve support for those who can work:

“In early 2015 we are introducing a number of pilots to help us better understand what support ESA claimants need to help them move back into work. The more intensive support pilot will increase the frequency and intensity of Work Coach support for the first six months following completion of the Work Programme.

In specific ESA ‘hotspots’ (areas that need the most help) we will be piloting a more active regime for ESA claimants. Those awaiting a WCA will be offered voluntary employment-related Work Coach interventions and we will also be testing occupational health advice for Work Coaches and back pain management support for claimants with this common musculoskeletal condition.”

From early 2015, a trial of the Claimant Commitment for ESA claimants at various stages of the claimant journey will begin -

“The Claimant Commitment helps to focus claimants on their work related requirements including, where appropriate, proactive work search that treats looking for work as a full time activity. For the first time claimants’ obligations are recorded in one place, clarifying both what they are expected to do in return for benefits and support, and exactly what happens if they fail to comply.”

From April 2015, the government will also introduce a measure to allow for a new extended period of sickness on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA):

“This will mean that claimants who expect to be sick for less than 13 weeks can opt to remain on JSA rather than switch to ESA. This will allow them to continue to benefit from the support of the Jobcentre to help them return to work – as soon as they have recovered from their health condition.”

In addition, a measure will be introduced to prevent claimants being paid the ESA assessment rate where they have been found fit for work but make a repeat claim for benefit without having developed a new condition or a significant worsening of their condition -

However, the government’s response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s key recommendation that it should undertake “a fundamental redesign of the structure of ESA outcomes” is simply that -

“The Government’s current focus on ESA and the WCA is to ensure a smooth transition to the new WCA provider, continuing to improve the experience of claimants going through the WCA process and continuing to improve the employment support we offer, including through the pilots we have announced today.

The Government will continue to keep how the system operates under review. The Department agrees that Universal Credit has an important bearing on handling claims from people with disabilities and health conditions and our thinking will take full account of its introduction.”

Summing up the Government’s response Philip Connolly, Disability Rights UK, Policy and Communications Manager said -

“The Government have clearly been stung by their experience of ATOS and have offered assurances to the select committee on ways of safeguarding the performance of the WCA contract now to be delivered by Maximus. However the Government has given short shrift to the committee’s call for a fundamental redesign of the WCA. The Government may be choosing its battles but the select committee’s recommendation is the only way of delivering peace.”  

You can view the response at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/esa-wca-gov-response/