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5 July 2010

The DWP have announced that they are to suspend for two years the ‘second medicals’ for employment and support allowance (ESA) after external evaluation showed that they had achieved ‘mixed results’.

The ‘second medicals’ or work-focused health-related assessments (WFHRAs) are designed to find out what work ESA claimants placed in the work-related activity group may still be capable of.  They are also intended to highlight any additional training or support claimants might need to move into work.

The news that the WFHRA’s are to be dropped from Monday 19 July 2010 was broken quietly in a letter to members of the JCP Customer Representative Group, subsequently published on the Rightsnet website.

Originally, it was intended that the WFHRA would be carried out immediately after the work capability assessment medical, by the same doctor or nurse.  However, as Atos/DWP fell further and further behind with ESA assessments, WFHRAs began to be carried out weeks or months after the original medical, usually by a different health professional.

The WFHRA report was supposed to be  passed on to the personal adviser carrying out the pathways to work interviews with the claimant.  However, because of the medical backlog, many claimants had completed some – or all- of their pathways interviews before the WFHRA report was created.

Even when they did receive the WFHRA report, many advisers were openly dismissive of it, in one case telling a Benefits and Work member that they didn’t know why the DWP bothered sending them because ‘no-one ever takes any notice of  them’.

The reality seems to be that WFHRAs have been dropped because it became clear that Atos could not possibly successfully carry out work capability assessments on existing claimants and begin testing incapacity benefit claimants as well as carrying out WFHRAs.  With the government’s new plan to carry out points-based medicals on all existing working age DLA claimants from 2013, the workload for Atos is set to increase even more in the future and it seems likely that the two year suspension of WFHRA’s will become a permanent one.

The DWP have already admitted that Pathways to Work has been a complete failure, with no effect at all on the number of sick and disabled people moving into work.  

Now we have the admission that a central plank of ESA is also a waste of time and taxpayers money.  There is no longer any truth whatsoever in the endlessly repeated  claim that the work capability assessment is a test of ‘what people can do, not what they can’t’.  

With the suspension of the WFHRA all that is left is a much harder to pass test of the things that claimant’s can’t do intended to ensure that many fewer people receive the support they desperately need.