From November ESA claimants are to be forced to have regular meetings with DWP doctors, occupational health nurses or therapists to discuss how they can make themselves well enough to work. Failure to comply will lead to having their benefit stopped. The rules will apply to claimants who are in the work-related activity group and who are expected to be able to return to work in 18 months or more.
Initially the new rules will apply to 3,000 ESA claimants in a pilot scheme running from November 2013 to August 2016.
It will run alongside two other pilot schemes in which claimants will receive additional support from Jobcentre Plus or from work programme providers to see which scheme gets the most claimants off benefits.
The length and frequency of the meetings will be variable, so some claimants will find themselves having more meetings than others. The initiative is being paid for by the European Social Fund but no announcement has been made as to whether it will be Atos, Capita or another company who will provide the health professionals for the pilot.
According to the DWP:
“The regular discussions will focus claimants on how they can improve their view of their readiness for work by taking steps to manage their health issues. They will not replace a person’s GP, but can promote health support and help a claimant to reengage with their GP if they are struggling to adapt to their condition.”
It seems unlikely that DWP appointed health professionals could oblige claimants to undertake specific courses of treatment, but failure to engage with the process may lead to benefits sanctions, so claimants may feel under a great deal of pressure to follow ‘suggestions’ made by DWP funded hath professionals.
According to employment minister Mark Hoban:
“Many people on sickness benefits want to work, so it’s vitally important that we give them the right help to move into a job if they are able. The help we give people at the moment tends to focus on work-related skills, but doesn’t necessarily address health problems. But by giving people regular support from doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists we can do more to help people manage or improve their conditions.”
Benefits and Work will publish more information about the location of the pilot and the company engaged to carry it out as it becomes available.