The government has launched a consultation on changes to the work capability assessment which they say is aimed at putting “an end to the binary ‘can work/can’t work’ groups.” One of the aims of the green paper appears to be to oblige many claimants in the support group to undertake work-related activities.
The government’s green paper proposes a number of measures, including:
- a review of Statutory Sick Pay and GP fit notes to support workers back into their jobs faster, and for longer;
- encouraging Jobcentre Plus work coaches to signpost claimants to therapy;
- the launch of a consultation on Work Capability Assessment reform;
- encouraging employers to work with their employees with long-term health conditions to stop them from falling out of work;
- to extending fit notes from doctors to other healthcare professionals to help ensure people receive more tailored support;
- developing large scale trials on how health-led services and support can help get disabled people and those with long-term conditions back into work – with a specific focus on mental health and musculoskeletal conditions;
- a wide-ranging debate about recognising the value of work as a health outcome.
However, it is the following passages which will be of most concern to ESA claimants:
“131. Instead, it ought to be possible to build a more effective approach to assessing entitlement to financial and employment support. For instance, establishing entitlement to financial support could still be decided by an assessment, but that assessment could be used solely to determine whether an individual should get additional financial support. Decisions on whether someone should engage with Jobcentre Plus or specialist programmes could then be made through a separate process. This would avoid the current situation where someone’s entitlement to additional financial support can also result in them being given no employment support.
“132. For instance, trained work coaches could have discretion to make case-by-case decisions about the type of employment support a person is able to engage with. To do this effectively, they would work closely with the person, building on information gathered at early discussions such as the Health and Work Conversation to ensure they are signposted to help that is appropriate to their needs. Work coaches will be able to draw on additional advice where needed, from Disability Employment Advisers and Community Partners, and could access specialist advice such as occupational health and Jobcentre Plus work psychologists where individuals have more complex health conditions.
“133. That important relationship with a work coach would then continue beyond the assessment, ensuring those assessed as needing the most financial support can still access the holistic health and employment support and signposting offered by and through Jobcentre Plus. Work coaches could have full discretion to tailor any employment support to each individual claimant. This approach would be truly responsive, allowing the work coach to adjust requirements and goals dependent on changes in a person’s condition or circumstances. This is particularly important for people with fluctuating health conditions, as the support available would always be reflective of their needs.
“134. This would mean that people are really offered a personalised service that takes appropriate account of their needs while still receiving the same financial support as under the current system – rather than having the offer of employment support determined by a fixed category. We would of course put safeguards in place to ensure that work coaches do not require someone to attend an appointment where this would not be reasonable.”
The aim appears to be to place claimants in the support group, allowing them the additional income that being in this group provides, but then leaving it up to work coaches to decide whether the claimant must undertake work-related activities.
The closing date for the consultation is 17 February 2017.