Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for money for taxpayers.

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for taxpayers

Today the government has announced the new provider for the ailing Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Maximus are replacing Atos, who quit the process after repeated concerns, raised by Labour and disabled people, about the operation of the test.

The government has spent months seeking an alternative provider.

While we’ve always said that simply changing the provider isn’t enough to deal with the underlying problems, Labour hope the new start under Maximus will lead to improved results.

Disabled people have every right to feel wary. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are agreeing a new contract that will last years. With a general election looming, and Labour already having outlined a series of reforms we’d make to the Work Capability Assessment, it is unclear how the new provider will be expected to deliver improvements – or what penalties they’ll face if they don’t.

That’s why I have written to the Minister for Disabled People to ensure that any change of policy direction under a future Labour government can be accommodated within the contract, and that action can be taken swiftly to address poor performance.

We have also said that the new provider should be made responsible for ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is better connected to work support to increase the number of disabled people in work. It’s essential that the new provider gains credibility quickly by providing more accurate results about assessments.

And crucially, the new provider must ensure the huge backlog of Work Capability Assessments is tackled swiftly.

We also expect Maximus to make significant improvements in the day to day delivery of Work Capability Assessments. Labour will insist that:

  • Every assessment centre must be accessible; that information about the Work Capability Assessment process must be available in accessible formats; and that disabled people who cannot reasonably be expected to attend a face to face interview should be assessed at home or another convenient and accessible location.
  • Claimants are advised that they are able to bring a companion to the assessment, who can assist them as appropriate.
  • Information sharing must be improved, including between Department for Work and Pensions, Maximus and Work Programme contractors.
  • Recordings of assessments must be provided on request.
  • Reports from assessors must include information on how an impairment or health condition affects someone’s ability to work.

But there is a broader need for reforming the Work Capability Assessment. Assessments must be part of the support to help disabled people back to work. Currently, the Work Capability Assessment is seen as entirely separate to the Work Programme – contributing to the appalling failure rate of the government’s flagship employment scheme.

Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP set a target of a 15 per cent employment rate for people on the Work Programme after two years. But after three years only 7 per cent of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who have accessed the programme have found work.

Our new approach would provide information about the support that is available in the local area to help individuals. Improving this element of the assessment and decision-making process is a crucial step towards a more integrated system of support.

Disabled people should also have a central role in monitoring the tests. A Labour government would ensure that for the first time disabled people would get a real say in how the assessments are delivered.

The independent reviewer of the Work Capability Assessment would work alongside a scrutiny group of disabled people supported by the Office for Disability Issues. We would also require the DWP to respond to Work Capability Assessment reviews and end the practice of ‘accepting’ recommendations that are then kicked into the long grass.

Accuracy of Work Capability Assessments must be dramatically improved under Maximus. Thousands of disabled people appealing inaccurate decisions have had to wait months for decisions, wasting millions of pounds in appeals and tribunals.

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for money for taxpayers. The Public Accounts Committee has already reported that targets set for the quality of the assessment were not challenging enough.

Labour would ensure a new system would impose penalties for poor performance, measured both on the number of times decisions are overturned by the DWP or through appeals. Clear financial penalties will ensure assessors improve the quality of assessments.

This means collecting all the medical evidence needed to make a decision and ensuring they listen to what claimants tell them to ensure decisions are based on the full facts.

The new provider of Work Capability Assessments takes over at a difficult time. Maximus will be judged very quickly on whether its performance is an improvement on years of failure and chaos in the DWP.

Ministers and the new provider need to urgently get a grip of Work Capability Assessments.

Kate Green MP​ is shadow minister for disabled people

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