Government ignores key recommendation for ‘fundamental redesign of ESA’

Inclusion London believes that better support is undoubtedly needed, but some disabled people cannot work due to the impact of their impairments and no amount of support will change this.

The government has ignored the Select Committee’s key recommendation that ‘a fundamental redesign of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) end-to-end process’[1] was needed.

Instead that government intends to focus on ensuring ‘.. a smooth transition’ to the new Work Capability Assessment provider,[2] which also ignores the committee’s opinion that ‘appointing a new contractor will not solve the problems…’,[3]

There are huge concerns about the new provider Maximus, due to alleged fraud and discrimination in the US.[4] In addition ‘most of the Atos employees, including assessors, will transfer to Maximus,’ [5] and any additional assessors, which Maximus recruits will be trained to a similar standard to those working for Atos, rendering the change of provider a cosmetic exercise, which may result in worse outcomes for disabled people.

The government published its response to the Work and Pension’s Committee’s report on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Work Capability Assessments (WCA) on 27 November 2014. In the forward to the response Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled people said that,

‘… it is not sustainable for large numbers of people to remain on incapacity benefits when better support could help them return to work.’

Inclusion London believes that better support is undoubtedly needed, but some disabled people cannot work due to the impact of their impairments and no amount of support will change this. The remark continues the false assumption that the UK, which is the 4th richest nation in the world[6] cannot afford welfare benefits for disabled people that are unable to work.

Below are the government’s responses to some of the committee’s key recommendations:

Assessments of claimants with mental health conditions

The Work and Pensions Committee addressed concerns about the assessments of people with mental health conditions by recommending that the new contractor (Maximus) demonstrate that their staff had sufficient expertise in mental health conditions. The government responded by saying the DWP is satisfied that assessors already have suitable experience and that the mental health training is being reviewed. However, the response also mentioned that assessments were being improved so they would be ‘better able to capture the impact of mental health conditions’ and Maximus will increase the number of assessors who specialise in mental health.

The committee recommended that the descriptors became more responsive to claimants with progressive and fluctuating conditions, and those with mental, cognitive and behavioural difficulties. The government responded by

highlighting that it has already implemented over 60 of the 83 recommendations from the first four independent reviews, regarding the descriptors and the others were progressing. The Committee also recommended that the claimant’s employment support needs are assessed as part of the ESA claims process. The government retaliated by saying ‘…. the

Work Programme is already successfully supporting ESA claimants’.. but we want it to do better’.

However, regarding Mandatory Reconsideration (MR), which is now compulsory before an appeal – the government stated that once an appeal is lodged, ESA can then be reinstated and backdated to cover the MR period.

The tone of the government’s response to the Select Committee’s 29 recommendations is dismissive at times and instead mentions the recommendations of the independent reviews. The government’s response to all the Select Committee’s recommendations is available at:

New support

The government’s response highlighted that new support that will be piloted:

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) the DWP will be piloting a more active regime for ESA claimants.
Those awaiting a WCA will be offered voluntary employment-related Work Coach interventions and the DWP will also be testing occupational health advice for Work Coaches and back pain management support for claimants with this common musculoskeletal condition.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report and the government’s response is available at:

The Work and Pensions Committee’s press release is available at:

[1] committee/news/esa-wca-report-substantive/ See also Recommendation 28)