The DWP consultation on making the work capability assessment for universal credit and ESA much harsher ends on 30 October.
Benefits and Work has so far avoided giving any guidance on how to respond because we do not want to be seen to be leading people.
However, this comment from Joe made us rethink that position:
“Please help us to respond. It's not enough to provide us with the anxiety provoking news about the proposed changes. We need help to make points when responding. It's hard for those with energy limiting conditions or those that produce brain fog to make clear points. In order to be informed, we have to become terrified, which then makes us less able to respond. Please give us guidance as it otherwise is simply too scary to engage with.”
So, we have produced some ‘talking points’ to help those who might find them useful in creating their own responses, though there are undoubtedly many more issues that could be covered. Unfortunately, the information is still detailed and complex.
But the most important thing is to tell the DWP whether or not you are in favour of the idea of making the WCA much more difficult to score points for. You don’t have to give detailed answers or answer every question – just pick one or two points to make.
If the DWP receive thousands of responses and most of them are on the same side, then that will be sufficient
In order to respond, you can complete the anonymous form, but it is deliberately designed to keep your answers within very narrow limits – there isn’t even an ‘Anything else you would like to tell us’ box.
Or you can simply send an email telling the DWP whatever you choose to:
As well as considering the points below, readers may want to take a look at the very detailed response to the consultation by the National Association of welfare Rights Workers, which was based on contributions from over 150 organisations.
In addition, Disabled People Against Cuts have published a detailed response from the DPO Forum England, which they are happy for individuals and organisations to make use of. DPAC are also arranging a protest against the WCA changes outside Caxton House, London on 30 October.
Are there suitable, full homeworking opportunities for sick and disabled claimants?
The DWP consultation claims that “Working at home brings new opportunities for disabled people to manage their conditions in a more familiar and accessible environment.”
However, hybrid working – spending part of the week in a workplace and part of the week at home - is much more common than solely working from home. The ONS says in its latest report that 16% of workers work from home only, compared to 28% who do hybrid work.
Would hybrid working be suitable for people with very limited mobility, frequent incontinence, an inability to get about or an inability to mix with other people or would they require full homeworking?
People in the highest paid jobs are most likely to work from home according to ONS. 80% of workers earning £50,000 or more reported home or hybrid working, compared to only 14% of those earning up to £10,000.
Which end of the earnings spectrum are long-term sick and disabled claimants likely to be on?
The ONS also found that disabled workers were not more likely to have the opportunity to work from home than other workers:
“Having a disability or long-term illness had little effect on levels of homeworking. Disabled workers reported similar levels of homeworking only (18%) compared with those without a disability (16%).”
So, it does not appear, on the face of it, that employers are offering “new opportunities for disabled people to manage their conditions”.
Are there increasing job opportunities for disabled claimants or is the job market contracting?
At the Conservative party conference, chancellor Jeremy Hunt claimed that “even when companies are struggling to find of [sic] workers, around 100,000 people are leaving the labour market every year for a life on benefits”.
But are companies really struggling to find workers. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), on 18 October 2023:
“the wider economic slowdown in the jobs market is beginning to bite. The latest data suggests unemployment has risen faster in the past two months than the Bank of England had predicted for the entire coming year, with workers in typically lower paying and less secure sectors at greatest risk”.
So, according to the JRF, the only sort of employment many long-term sick and disabled claimants are likely to be offered is actually in decline. When the rapid rise of AI in relation to areas such as call centre work is also factored in, job opportunities for many disabled claimants are likely to be even scarcer.
What is the explanation for the big rise in the number of claimants placed in the LCWRA and LCW groups?
The consultation document states that:
“The proportion of Limited Capability for Work and Work-related Activity (LCWRA) outcomes at WCA has risen significantly since the activities and descriptors were last reviewed, from 21% in 2011 to 65% in 2022.”
In his conference speech, referring to these figures, Rishi Sunak asked:
“Are people three times sicker today than they were a decade ago?
“No, of course not …it is not fair on taxpayers who have to pick up the bill…”
And yet, neither Sunak nor the DWP have made any attempt to discover why the numbers have increased so dramatically. Or if they have, they are keeping it secret.
After all, claimants can’t make the decision about which group they are put in. The DWP does that. So, it’s the DWP who have trebled the number of people in those groups.
So, what has changed?
Have they altered the guidance to assessors over the years?
Has the massive rise in hospital waiting lists played a part?
Or the lack of mental health treatment, especially for young people?
Or the pandemic?
The important question is: should the DWP be making massive changes to the WCA when they haven’t published any research on the causes of the problem they are supposedly trying to fix?
Will ‘firm sanctions’ help disabled claimants get into work?
Mel Stride, the secretary of state for work and pensions promised his party conference
“a far more demanding approach with claimants at particular risk of becoming long-term unemployed. This includes far more frequent work-focused requirements, with firm sanctions for those who fail to fulfil their commitments and more support for those who need it.”.
Will sick and disabled claimants who no longer score enough points under the new WCA be regarded as at risk of becoming long-term unemployed and thus subject to a much harsher sanctions regime?
Will private sector style bonuses for Jobcentre staff help sick and disabled claimants into work?
Mel Stride also told the conference “we’ve been testing new incentive schemes for our best performing Job Centre teams. Recognising and rewarding those heroes who go above and beyond to improve the lives of others.
“The sort of approach that is common practice in successful parts of the private sector. And if its good enough for the private sector then it should be good enough for the public sector too.”
What effect will this have on the increased number of disabled claimants found fit for work under the revised WCA?
Is there a risk they will be ‘parked’ and forgotten about because it is difficult to make money out of them, as used to happen in the past?
Or will they be pushed into unsuitable employment or self-employment, something that also used to happen in the past, in order to boost bonuses for jobcentre staff?
Will there be enough work coaches?
Will there be enough work coaches to cope with the rise in the number of clients?
As we reported earlier this month the PCS union has warned of “staffing chaos” at the DWP, with work coach roles being particularly affected.
To deal with shortages, the DWP is reducing the frequency of work coach contact with some claimants from fortnightly to monthly and shortening some meetings from 50 minutes to 30 minutes.
At the Conservative party conference the Chancellor announced an end to civil service expansion with an immediate cap on the civil service headcount, with a view to reducing it to pre-pandemic levels.
It is very hard to see how DWP work coaches will cope with a huge increase in the number of claimants found fit for work or placed in the LCW group if they can’t even cope with the current workload.
Is it necessary to take £390 a month off claimants and threaten them with sanctions in order to give them the opportunity to try to move into work?
Are there other ways of helping disabled claimants to try to move towards work, without massively cutting their income and threatening even more cuts via sanctions?
For example, could the DWP pilot a system where claimants in the LCWRA group can try work, with an absolute guarantee that if they find they can’t cope within the first 12 month they can return to the same group without a further assessment?
If the mobilising activity is removed completely, has any estimate been made of how many people who are currently assessed as LCWRA will be found to have LCW or fully fit for work?
If not, why not and if so, why has it not been published so that people have all the information they need to make a judgement?
Likewise, if the LCWRA distance is reduced to 20 metres, what estimate has been made of how many current members of that group will be found to have LCW or found fully fit for work?
Is it appropriate that people with profound mobility issues may be regarded as fully fit for work?
In practice, how would this be managed in terms of work-focused interviews and job hunting?
The consultation document states that: “People assessed as LCW have tailored employment support to prepare for work.”
By reducing the points awarded for the LCW mobilising descriptors, one of the options up for consideration, the DWP would simply be ensuring that fewer disabled claimants got that tailored support. Instead they would be found fully fit for work and subject to the full sanctions regime.
In what way would that make it easier for disabled claimants to move into sustainable employment?
The same, or similar questions can be asked about the other activities being consulted on:
- Absence or loss of bowel/bladder control
- Coping with Social Engagement due to cognitive impairment or mental disorder
- Getting About
The substantial risk regulations are a literal lifesaver for many thousands of claimants. To consult on removing or drastically reducing them without any published research on the likely effects seems grossly irresponsible.
How would the DWP monitor the effects of any changes to the substantial risk rules in terms of an increase in the number of claimants harming themselves?
Work coaches currently receive only a few hours training in mental health. How much additional training would they receive in order to be able to safely judge what work preparation would be appropriate for individuals with a wide range of profound mental health issues?
Why is the DWP asking for views on how people at substantial risk of harming themselves or others ‘can be safely supported within the LCW risk group’? Surely this is a judgement that can only be made by skilled and highly experienced health professionals on a case-by-case basis, not by asking the general public if they have any bright ideas?
Will the DWP continue to shroud their investigations into the link between benefits decisions and the death of claimants in as much secrecy as possible, even if they change the regulations in a way that is overwhelmingly likely to increase the number of such deaths?