Welfare Reform Bill “Stop and Assess” Amendment Debate
Removal of the Work Related Activity Component in employment and support allowance and the Universal Credit Limited Capability for Work Element limited – the need for a full assessment of impact before implementation.
Inclusion London welcomes the amendment passed yesterday (29 February 2016) in the House of Lords requiring the government to stop and assess the full impact of the proposal in the Welfare Reform and Work bill to remove the Work Related Activity Component in employment and support allowance and the limited capability for work element of Universal Credit. Claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) will continue to be expected to take part in work related activity and be subject to conditionality but will lose around £30 per week as the benefit is brought into alignment with Job Seekers’ Allowance rates.
The government claims that this will remove the “incentives” that “discourage claimants with potential to work from making the most of opportunities to help them move closer to the labour market” (1). This assertion is supported by a startling lack of evidence base. On the contrary, available evidence points to the negative impact that this measure will have on Disabled people.
The February 2016 report ‘Working Welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits’ by REFORM finds there is a “scarcity of robust UK studies on the role of economic incentives for people with a health condition” while admitting that “For some people with severely limiting health conditions the financial rate is unlikely to have any impact on their chances of moving into work”. International studies showing a correlation between the removal of financial incentives and increased return to employment show a greater response rate in cases associated with unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation benefits than disability insurance and social security (2). The ten year old OECD report cited by the government does not mention disability (3).
There is by contrast a weight of evidence that a reduction in income for people in the WRAG will have negative impacts, potentially moving them further away from the labour market while lowering the standard of living for a group who already face multiple barriers. Mortality statistics published by the DWP in August 2015 showed that people in the WRAG are more than twice as likely to die as the general population (4). Disabled people are also statistically much more likely to live in poverty than non-Disabled people: 31% of Disabled working age adults live in poverty compared to 20% of non-Disabled working age adults while 33% of households with a member who is Disabled live in poverty (5).
Before the proposed reduction has taken place, research has shown that 28% of claimants in the WRAG cannot afford to eat on the current rate of benefit they receive (6). Being able to maintain a standard of living is essential to taking part in work related activity regardless of the level of job search support available.
Brian is a 50 year old man with bipolar. He has no decent clothes and on his current level of benefits in the WRAG is unable to replace them or even to afford to wash the ones he does have. He is not confident to go to interviews because he knows his appearance puts off potential employers.
Simon is a 42 year old who suffers from depression. He has no access to a computer at home and often cannot afford phone credit. The nearest place where he can access the internet is an eight mile round trip from his house. This severely limits his ability to search for work.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated its concerns that the proposed reduction will “cause unnecessary hardship and anxiety to people who have been independently assessed and found unfit for work” (7).
Before implementing a proposal that evidence suggests will have a harmful impact on so many of the most disadvantaged members of society – estimates suggest there will be 537,000 people in the WRAG by 2019-20 – it would be prudent to commission an independent review to thoroughly assess the evidence base and carry out a robust equality analysis to ensure the government is not in breach of its statutory duties.
A review is needed which will:
- Provide a more comprehensive analysis of the numbers of claimants moving through the WRAG. The 1% figure cited by the government is misleading. It only covers a single quarter and does not reflect the different reasons why claimants have left the group, for example moved into employment or into the support group.
- Consider the particular barriers faced by the impairment groups represented within the WRAG. Nearly half are people with mental health support needs, learning disabilities and autism. Disabled people with these impairments are the least likely to be in employment. Just 7% of people with learning disabilities and 10% of people with mental health support needs known to social services are in employment (8). Of those Disabled people accessing the government disability employment support programme Access to Work for 2014 – 2015 5% were recorded as having a primary condition of learning disabilities and 4% for mental health (9). It is much more difficult for employers to understand what reasonable adjustments can be made in order to employ people with these impairments and some workplaces may never put in the flexibility required to accommodate unpredictable conditions and behavioural diversity.
- Assess the impact of removing income from people with deteriorating conditions. 48,000 of WRAG claimants have progressive illnesses. The National Audit Office has found that numbers of completed Work Capability Assessments are still below target with an average time of 23 weeks (10). The wait for someone to be re-assessed for the support group following a deterioration is unacceptably long.
- Examine the gap between capacity for work-related activity and capacity to secure and sustain employment in a competitive labour market (11).
- Consider the wider environment of disability discrimination and workplace barriers which research shows is increasing (12). A survey by the Cabinet Office found that numbers of staff working in the DWP reporting disability discrimination has rocketed over the past year with an increase of 23.5% since 2014 (13).
- Calculate the additional costs to the NHS and social care which will result from reducing the incomes of sick and Disabled people and the impact on other public services and benefits (14).
- Assess detrimental impacts on the physical and mental well-being of claimants through negative employment and work-related activity experiences and the knock on impact on children of claimants. Employment can have many positive benefits for health and well-being, however unsuitable employment or taking up employment before you are ready can also have lasting negative consequences.
Lucas has complex mental health support needs. He found paid employment in a cafe. Not long after starting work his employer moved him onto the morning shift. Lucas found it difficult to get into work on time due to the side effects of his medication and after being late every day was threatened with the sack. As a result he stopped taking his medication so he could get to work on time. The outcome was that Lucas ended up sectioned for a period of three months.
Ross has dyspraxia and Asperger’s syndrome. He wants to work but the barriers to finding and sustaining employment have seriously damaged his confidence. He finds the continual knock backs of being turned down for jobs very difficult to manage. On the couple of occasions he has been given work he has lost the employment after only a few months and this has led to depression.
If a review is not carried out and the proposal goes ahead there is a strong danger that serious harm could be done to Disabled people and their families, and that taxpayers money could be wasted unnecessarily through increased costs in other public service areas as well as the potential for costly legal challenges. Speaking in the debate yesterday, Lord Freud, speaking on behalf of the government said the proposed assessment “will be impossible to provide through our analysis. This is because the data that are currently available do not allow us to make a meaningful estimate. We would therefore need to undertake a large-scale trial over several years which would substantially delay implementation” (15).
To push through such a potentially harmful measure on the basis of such little evidence is reckless and is gambling with people’s lives. We have seen the tragedies that occurred as a direct result of the Work Capability Assessment being rolled out without a pilot and proper assessment of impact (16).
We hope that MPs will see sense when the amendment is debated in the Commons tomorrow and follow the Lords in calling on the government to stop and assess.