DWP presentation on ESA plans ‘confirms worst fears’ about green paper

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Ministers have been accused of ignoring a public consultation and ploughing ahead with plans that will make their “fitness for work” testing regime even more stressful and unfair for sick and disabled people.

A presentation delivered by two senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants earlier this month suggests that ministers have decided – as many disabled activists feared after the publication of last year’s green paper – to introduce new benefit sanctions for sick and disabled people with the highest support needs.

The presentation at a DWP “Operational Stakeholder Engagement Forum” appears to confirm that the government had decided how it would reform the system of out-of-work disability benefits before its “consultation” process had finished on 17 February.

The government had claimed that it wanted to make the work capability assessment (WCA) less of an ordeal for claimants, with work and pensions secretary Damian Green telling last October’s Conservative party conference he wanted to support those disabled people who cannot work, and “sweep away unnecessary stress and bureaucracy which weighs them down”.

But slides from the presentation appear to show that his new regime will be even harsher, and that many employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants with the highest support needs and barriers to work will for the first time face having their benefits sanctioned if they do not co-operate with the regime.

The slides show DWP has already begun introducing a compulsory, face-to-face “health and work conversation” (HWC) with a jobcentre work coach that will apply to nearly all new claimants of ESA, weeks or even months before they go through the WCA process to decide whether they are not fit for work and eligible for the benefit.

The presentation says that “vulnerable” claimants will not have to take part in the face-to-face HWC.

A DWP spokesman has told Disability News Service (DNS) that work coaches will be “issued clear guidance on who will be exempted from the HWC” and “will also be able to defer the HWC if the claimant cannot attend due to temporary circumstances”.

But disabled activists have warned that these decisions will be taken by non-medically trained civil servants.

The slides say: “Currently Jobcentre staff do not routinely engage with ESA claimants before the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which can take place many months into the claim.

“We know that the start of the claim can be a challenging time for claimants and that the longer a claimant is on benefit, the more difficult it is for them to move into employment where appropriate.

“The Health and Work Conversation (HWC) will provide this early support to claimants.”

The presentation said the HWC – which it claimed was co-designed with some disabled people’s organisations – will draw on “behavioural insight techniques and research” to “develop voluntary action plans” and help claimants “move closer to the workplace”.

And it said that all new ESA claimants would have to sign a new “ESA Claimant Commitment”, which would “set out the expectations and legal requirements that claimants will be required to accept in order to receive ESA”.

It added: “A sanction will be applied for failure to attend or participate in the HWC without good cause. This means a claimant’s ESA payment will be reduced.”

It also appeared to suggest that jobcentre work coaches would only receive one day of face-to-face training – as well as online training – before they begin delivering the HWCs.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the presentation “confirms our worst fears about the green paper”, that the consultation was “nothing more than a tick box exercise and the DWP had no intention of listening to feedback and reviewing their proposals”.

She said it confirmed that “instead of overhauling the WCA in order to make it fairer and less stressful for claimants, the green paper instead seeks to make applying for ESA even more difficult, with the aim of excluding as many disabled people as possible from entitlement to social security”.

She said: “Imposing a mandatory HWC will create an added barrier and undoubtedly cause more harm and distress.”

Gail Ward, from Black Triangle, who discovered the presentation slides and passed them to DNS, said they showed that “DWP skullduggery is at play yet again” and that the green paper consultation was “merely a tick box exercise”  that will be ignored by DWP.

And she said they showed the government was again using sanctions like a “rod of iron to effect behavioural changes”, even though they have been shown as an “ineffective means to get people into work and find them suitable employment”.

Joe Whittaker, chair of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “The imposition of yet another stage in the already oppressive process to ‘support disabled people into employment’, cynically named a ‘health and work conversation’, is another pernicious attempt to weaken the rights of disabled people.”

He said that conversations “should be based upon mutual respect, honesty and transparency”, whereas the government was “conditioned to treat disabled people in a callous way, making any meaningful conversation impossible”.

Gerry Zarb, from SPECTRUM Centre for Independent Living, said the impact of the HWCs on disabled people “crucially depends on how they are conducted, and how they are to be used.

“If they are genuinely used as a means of exploring what kind of support people might need to move them closer to work then that would be positive, as some people need all the help they can get.

“However, if the main intention behind the proposals is simply to add to the existing checks on eligibility then the process is much more likely to be detrimental to disabled people.

“At this stage we cannot be sure – although it’s fair to say that previous experience with DWP is unlikely to fill most people with optimism.”

Caroline Richardson, one of the authors of a report on the green paper for the Spartacus Network of sick and disabled campaigners last month, said the plans show “a total ignorance of the level of sickness or disability that the claimant may be experiencing, and will subsequently lead to huge stress and deprivation at what may be a crisis point in people’s lives”.

The Spartacus report accused ministers of using the green paper as a “smokescreen” to disguise their intention to cut support and force sick and disabled people into inappropriate work.

Richardson said it seemed “incredible” that the government believed that a non-medically trained jobcentre worker would be able to “triage the most sick and disabled people via a conversation and a fit note, and hence make them subject to sanctions, two months before the claim is assessed under the WCA.

“It is a callous and ignorant process that cannot benefit the claimant, and will significantly harm many more than it helps.”

Another disabled activist, Rick Burgess, said the slide showed the claimant commitment would be similar to the one the government had introduced for the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance under the new universal credit system.

He said: “So together with sanction-mandated HWCs this is further making ESA as punitive, abusive, and conditional as the system is for well and non-disabled people.

“As such it will simply harm more people at the time when they are most vulnerable.

“It makes clear the government remains determinedly set on their policy goals without regard to how much damage they do, their consultations are a mockery, their ‘parity of esteem’ a falsehood. These are the politics of democide.”

The new HWC system began with “small-scale ‘test and learn’ activity” in Alfreton, Chesterfield and Tottenham jobcentres on 30 January, with “incremental rollout” due to begin in further national jobcentres from today (30 March).

The government plans to lay regulations in parliament this summer to allow it to introduce the new ESA “claimant commitment”.

Asked about fears that the new plans would put more people’s health at risk and would make ESA more “punitve” and “abusive”, a DWP spokesman said the HWC was “an opportunity for the individual to get to know their work coach, and hear about the support available to them early in their claim.

“Any actions agreed in the conversation will be voluntary and safeguards will be put in place to ensure there are appropriate exemptions from attending the HWC.

“The ESA claimant commitment is a tailored agreement between the individual and the work coach that sets out the expectations and requirements to receive ESA.

“This agreement can be updated if the claimant’s situation changes.”

He said that work coaches would “receive training to deliver the HWC safely and effectively – the conversation will cover a wide range of issues but will not cover subjects requiring medical expertise.

“Sanctions are only ever used as a last resort and there will be extensive safeguards in place to ensure individuals are not sanctioned inappropriately.”

He claimed that the HWC and the claimant commitment were not part of the green paper consultation and that the powers to implement them had been introduced in 2008 and 2012 respectively and were “debated extensively at the time”.

He said: “The consultation process for the green paper ended on the 17 February and the feedback is now being considered.”

He also said that ESA claimants subsequently placed in the support group “will not be required to undertake mandatory activity” as part of the HWC.

But he stressed that the HWC was separate to a proposed post-WCA “keep-in-touch discussion” for those in the support group that is part of the green paper consultation and is “currently under consideration”, and according to the green paper could be a mandatory requirement.

Despite the presentation saying that the claimant commitment would set out the “legal requirements that claimants will be required to accept in order to receive ESA”, he said: “Any actions agreed in the claimant commitment prior to the WCA will be entirely voluntary.”

He had not confirmed by 1pm today (Thursday) how both of these statements could be correct.

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14 Comments

  1. timmyjohnanners on

    This is typical of the Tories!! I believe it is a Cull of the “useless eaters”. There is a way to successfully claim for P.I.P using your medical records/ history and the DWP guide on how to score your medical conditions. It’s easy to do and if you want to contact me via face book or E- mail I will explain how.( trishboard@btinternet.com). I have helped 17 people to successfully claim P.I.P using this method with 16 successes and no appeals!!! My advice is FREE. I will at no time ask you for money. All I ask is you let me know if you were awarded your benefit. This method ensures that the DWP cannot ignore your medical records!!

    • That is very kind of you Timmyjohnanners. I have noted your details down for when my time comes to go from DLA to PIP. I hope you don’t mind.

    • Daniel Margrain on

      When you say scoring medical records, are you referring to the form the GP asks you to repeatedly fill out where you circle 1-5 depending on your condition?

    • Dawn Hopkins on

      Hi I am due to attend 2 tribunals on the 12th and 19th of April, my union rep has backed out of attending. I have osteoarthritis of the knees the left requires surgery which I am awaiting, I have leg ulcers on the left calf and asthma.
      I have had 3 capita health assessments – 2 contested the only reason I didn’t appeal the 2nd was due to treatment of cartilage instead of osteoarthritis my knee collapsed and I fell down stairs resulting in A&E attendance.
      I would appreciate any advice.

  2. So attending the HWC is compulsory and subject to sanction.
    Anything discussed in the HWC is voluntary and not subject to sanction but could presumably become compulsory post WCA.
    What about this ESA claimant commitment? What does this entail, is it compulsory and is it subject to sanction?
    How does this affect someone who still has a job when claiming ESA? This is rare but does happen if you have run out of SSP. Will all this conflict with keeping your job?

    When I ran into this situation back in 2009 I already came under intense pressure to give up my job. This was despite the fact that it was perfect to me and I could go back to it the moment my health improved. There was no way I would find something better.
    It had: Access to Work support already in place, full wheelchair access, work from home as required, no short time deadlines, 75% part time, 2 mins travel away from home. I did indeed subsequently return to work after 3 months on ESA. I was able to continue working for a further 18 months before my illness finally deteriorated to a point I had to stop for good.
    Will a commitment require claimants to be available for work, as for JSA claimants for instance?

  3. So attending is mandatory,but, anything agreed is voluntary, so by that reasoning one could agree to do absolutely nothing and face no sanction. Yeah right, this is the DWP we’re talking about, and what is the point of dragging ESA claimants into an office to discuss barriers to their working if “anything requiring medical expertise” is not being touched upon. Surely people like me will be attempting to claim ESA because we have conditions which require medical expertise.

    I wouldn’t trust the JCP with the care of my pot plant let alone have one of their roaches assess my needs, This is nothing more than a veiled attempt to deter people from claiming.

  4. What in the name of sanity is meant by “moving closer to the workplace?” Do they expect me to go and live on a roundabout on the A12?

  5. Predictability on

    “A sanction will be applied for failure to attend or participate in the HWC without good cause.” I think it’s already been established that the “good cause” definition is entirely arbitrary and largely ignored by DWP / JC anyway.

  6. hi timmyjohnanners i failed my my pip medical with only having 4 points i am appealing now and waiting for all the paperwork to come from the dwp which i have been told to expect a load of bullshit i did record the whole of the medical which was at my home along with my partner who was here with me.neither the dwp or capita are aware that i have recorded the medical please can you tell me can i use this as evidence at a tribunal also can you tell me how i can score more points as the dwp have had a number of paperwork from my epilepsy doctor my gp and it still hasent got me any further even though i have ask them to review it if youre going to contact me here is my email address paul123388@sky.com hope to hear soon

    paul

  7. For_honest_priests on

    This is not defending but demolishing England, be warned. These wannabe saviours in it together with the financially invulnerable are usually crude, cocksure, rough and vulgar bullies with nothing but amateurism, ignorance, vanity, arrogance and particularly an authoritarian persona and a lack of reading to offer, less natural healers or coaches even than medics who do at least read for several years if they can’t converse either, breaking down the protections and provisions that have been achieved for each one of us although there is nothing more valuable, no substitute backbone, scaffolding or support and nothing else to put in it’s place. We are all students in life, these know-alls and their feeders are the wrecking-balls and disappointments of existence. To converse you must be versed in something. This ain’t what goes down.

  8. For_honest_priests on

    Do not WHATEVER you do share your dreams with these moronic edl puppet conversationalists seeking only to make the uk hostile to shirkers (disabled) on behalf of the top table. They will mock and trample on them and you may very well never recover them. They will know nothing about vocation obviously, be envious and baffled if you have any direction of your own and incapable of practical demonstrations of input like CV-formatting though these services will be advertised at you in relentless literature drops and will know little beyond the only careers and contacts beating a path to their desks in local cleaning and fewer admin agencies although there can be plenty a charity sector start to send you around in a vicious circle with all the scumbags this website reports on, failing to accomplish anything meaningful for other people and sticking up for yourself with sound bites no one buys in defence of your pensions pot since they will get no more than two days training and not have had any particular interest in advice or guidance before anyway and notice even this government doesn’t dare posit ‘careers advice’ or ‘guidance’ with this lot it’s envisioning reflecting the memes, conversation is pushing it significantly in every sense of the word though it is one up from ‘chat’ I suppose and probably with the idea in mind they will connect the two words and improve their vocabulary and comprehension.

    I advise you present the thesis your lifelong vocation is in shelf-stacking or something similar which should be easy enough a picture to grasp and compare pretty favourably with their own personal visions. They do not take kindly to being required to read or think and punish you for these kinds of misdemeanours and be assured that this will be with the full backing and weight of the uk literati intelligentsia power-broker decision maker legislator overseer.

    In so doing and keeping a low profile particularly because anything else will be curious, you will protect yourselves from life-threatening repercussions from the subversives at the top table who won the crafty argument in their papers that pound shop shelf-stacking was as equal and noble a calling as their own literary and uber-well-paid with benefits coming out of your ear holes plus positive write-ups in the history books and ultimate privilege and power callings.

    I also believe if you should be at death’s door and be assured that they will not care or notice, that it is very important you lose whatever respect for others and faith you have immediately and there is meditation and I can recommend Joel Thielke hypnosis and The MindBody Code all on audible and also Sounds True Producer’s Pick, a portal where you will find someone you like the sound of, and to divest yourself of said encumbrances with support and strategy and minds worthy of your time and energy because they are a weight and a stress and their loss brings profound suffering and stress, and these people and encounters are in most cases going to be desperate and quite possibly traumatic disappointments being acts and turns and fraudulent pieces and not even good ones, so get thee preparing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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