Last week the government published its response to the work capability assessment (WCA) consultation. The consultation itself set out a variety of ways in which the government wished to make the WCA more harsh and, in particular, to reduce the number of people found to have limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA).
It’s clear that the 1,348 responses to the consultation from individuals and organisations were almost unanimously against any of the proposed changes. Nevertheless, the government has decided to go ahead with some of them.
Below, we set out what the changes will be, should they ever be put in place.
The changes in brief
In brief, the changes from 2025 will be:
Mobilising: the points will be unchanged, but the highest scoring descriptor will no longer give claimants LCWRA.
Getting about: the highest scoring descriptor will still give limited capability for work (LCW), but the scores for the other descriptors will be reduced, though we don’t yet know what to.
Substantial risk for LCWRA: this will be unchanged for physical health. But for mental health the criteria will be made much stricter. We don’t have details yet, but it may only apply to people with specified mental health conditions who are experiencing an acute episode for which there is medical evidence.
Chance to Work Guarantee: most existing claimants with LCWRA will never be reassessed again, even if they try work and it is not successful.
Name change: LCW will become “Work Preparation” and LCWRA will become “Health Group”.
Claimant numbers: as a result of these changes, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that by 2028/29 there will be 371,000 fewer people with LCWRA than would be the case if no changes had been made.
No change to two activities
Looking at the changes in more detail, the first thing to note is that no changes will be made to two activities that the DWP consulted on:
Coping with social engagement
To that extent, at least, this is a victory for all those who contributed to the consultation.
The mobilising descriptor concerns “Mobilising unaided by another person with or without a walking stick, manual wheelchair or other aid” and also going up or down two steps.
At the moment a person who cannot mobilise more than 50 metres scores 15 points and will also be found to have limited capability for work-related activity (LCWRA).
The government have decided that the points for the mobilising activity will remain the same.
However, scoring 15 points for being unable to mobilise more than 50 metres will no longer place claimants in the LCWRA group.
Instead, claimants will only be found to have limited capability for work (LCW), which means they will have to undertake some work-related activities, will be subject to sanctions and will not get an additional payment in their UC
The Getting About activity concerns getting to places outside your home without having someone accompany you. At present, if you can’t even get to familiar places then you score 15 points and will be found to have LCW. However, this activity cannot lead to you being found to have LCWRA.
The government have decided that they will keep the highest scoring descriptor, which is:
15 (a) Cannot get to any place outside the claimant's home with which the claimant is familiar.
This will continue to score 15 points and will still give the claimant LCW.
However, the government say they are “changing the points for the remaining LCW descriptors” but have not said what these changes will be.
At present, the descriptors are:
15 (b) Is unable to get to a specified place with which the claimant is familiar, without being accompanied by another person 9 points
15 (c) Is unable to get to a specified place with which the claimant is unfamiliar without being accompanied by another person. 6 points
15 (d) None of the above apply. 0 points
Given that no scoring descriptor in the current test is worth less than six points, there is a strong possibility that the points for 15 (b) will be reduced to 6 and the points for 15 (c) will be reduced to zero.
Substantial risk for LCWRA
At present, the regulations say that you will be treated as having LCWRA if:
‘you suffer from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement and, by reasons of such disease or disablement; there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if you were found not to have limited capability for work-related activity.’
The government says that the substantial risk rules were only intended to apply in exceptional circumstances and need tightening up.
Whilst the substantial risk rules will remain the same for physical health, the government say they will “specify the circumstances and the serious mental health conditions for which LCWRA risk should apply”.
They go on to say:
“This will include safeguarding the most vulnerable, such as people in crisis under home treatment teams and those with an active psychotic illness. We will work alongside clinicians to define the criteria and the medical evidence needed from claimants and people involved in their care, to ensure the process is safe, fair, and clear.”
What this appears to mean is that LCWRA for substantial risk may only apply to claimants with specified mental health conditions, who are experiencing acute symptoms and who are able to provide medical evidence to support their claim.
It suggests that LCWRA on mental health grounds will only apply on a short-term basis for most claimants, until their condition is in a stable phase.
Chance to Work Guarantee
The Chance to Work Guarantee “is for existing claimants on UC and ESA with LCWRA. This change will be effective from 2025, at the same time as WCA changes are introduced. This change will in effect abolish the WCA for the vast majority of this group, bringing forward a key element of our White Paper proposals and giving people the confidence to try work.”
There is a good deal of ambiguity in the language used about the guarantee. It is unclear whether reassessments have, in effect, already stopped for people in the LCWRA group or whether they will only stop in 2025. There's more about this here.
In the next paragraph the government states:
“These changes will mean that almost all people who are currently assessed as having LCWRA will never face a WCA reassessment again. Reassessments will only take place under very limited circumstances, which are:
- When a claimant reports a change of circumstances in their health condition;
- If a claimant has been awarded LCWRA for pregnancy risk, or cancer treatment where the prognosis for recovery is expected to be short-term;
- If a claimant has been declared as having LCWRA under the new risk provisions; and
- In cases of suspected fraud.”
The government claims that this means current claimants with LCWRA will be able to try work without fear of reassessment if it doesn’t work out.
What is clear is that this guarantee will not apply to claimants who are first found to have LCWRA after the new rules are introduced.
New names for LCW and LCWRA
The government say they will use new terms from 2025:
LCW will become “Work Preparation”.
LCWRA will become “Health Group”.
The OBR has published its estimate of the changes to the incapacity caseload as a result of WCA reform.
By 2028/29 they estimate that there will be:
- 315,000 fewer people in the UC LCWRA group
- 56,000 fewer in the ESA support group
than there would be if no changes take place.
This makes a total of 371,000 fewer people who get incapacity benefits without having any work related conditions.
The vast majority of these claimants will be in the LCW group instead.
It should be noted that these figures relate solely to the number of new claimants who will not get LCWRA because of the changes. There is no suggestion that any current LCWRA claimants will lose their entitlement.
Will it ever happen?
According to the government “Changes to the WCA activities and descriptors will be implemented nationally, no earlier than 2025”.
However, there will be an election in 2024, so there is no certainty that any of these changes will actually happen. It will depend entirely on which party forms the next government and what policies they decide to adopt.
For many current claimants, the introduction of the Chance to Work Guarantee would be a very positive move and so it is hoped that whoever is in power will continue with it.
The other changes, however, have been widely condemned by a range of disability organisations and they will be pressing for them to be dropped, should the Conservatives fail to form the next administration.