22 July 2008
An even tougher test of incapacity than the one yet to be introduced, a compulsory statement that you are not crack dependent with possible obligatory drug testing, the DWP exchanging information with the police and all current claimants moved onto ESA or JSA by the end of 2013.
These are just some of the proposals set out in the welfare reform bill on published on 21 July – though leaked to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News days earlier.
New harsher WCA
The latest welfare reform bill is entitled ‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility. It makes it clear that even before the new much harsher Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is introduced, the government already has plans to make it even harder to pass.
According to the green paper, the DWP intends to review the WCA once it has been introduced to ‘ensure that the right people receive ESA with those able to look for work in a wide range of jobs straight away being placed on the more active JSA regime.’ They also intend to look at how the WCA could ‘take better account of how people adapt to their illness or disability and at whether some of the ‘measurements of impairment’ used are consistent with the modern labour market.
Following the review the DWP intends that ‘the proportion of ESA claimants who will be assessed as able to look for a wide range of jobs straight away and eligible for JSA by the time they complete the WCA at around the three month point, will rise by around 10 percentage points.’
In other words, the DWP intends to toughen up the WCA even further once it is introduced with the goal of increasing the number who fail it and are moved on to JSA by 10%. This is before anyone has any realistic idea of how many people are going to fail the current version of the test, although the DWP best guess is in the region of 12% more failing the WCA than fail the current PCA.
The government is consulting on requiring all benefits claimants to declare whether they are addicted to heroin or crack cocaine. People who do not declare their addiction and who are subsequently found out could face prosecution for fraud. To catch out addicts, information would be exchanged with the police and private companies may be used to carry out compulsory drug tests.
Drug users who are not already in treatment will be ‘required to see a drug treatment provider’ and may also have to draw up a ‘rehabilitation plan’ with a specialist employment adviser. Failure to take up the support on offer would result in benefits sanctions. The government is also consulting on the possibility of replacing ESA and JSA with a ‘treatment allowance’ for a limited period whilst drug users stabilise their condition. ‘Drug co-ordinators will be in place in Jobcentre Plus offices by the end of 2009.
The same system may later be extended to other types of drug dependency, including those who use cannabis, powder cocaine or alcohol. Because of the devolution of power much of this will only take place in England unless the Scottish and Welsh assemblies agree to a similar system.
Migration of current claimants
Between 2009 and 2013 all current incapacity claimants will be assessed using the WCA. Those who fail may be able to claim JSA and will ‘receive active back-to-work support through that regime’.
Those who pass the WCA will be transferred onto ESA and will be subject to compulsory work-focused interviews. This is in direct contradiction to the information being given out by Jobcentre Plus just two months ago when the In Touch newsletter reported that:
‘Those who satisfy the WCA will remain on IB, and will be able to volunteer for Pathways.’
In fact, claimants put in the work related activity group, the vast majority, will be reassessed at least once every two years to ensure that they realise that it is intended only as a ‘temporary’ benefit. They will also be subject to repeated work-focused health related assessments to decide what work they may be able to do.
In addition, they ‘will receive personalised support modelled on our successful Pathways to work programme’. This will mean attending work focused interviews and drawing up a ‘timetabled back-to-work action plan’. Only those over 50 years of age are likely to be subject to a ‘lighter-touch approach’.
Compulsory work-related activity will, it seems only apply to new ESA claimants, rather than existing incapacity claimants who are transferred onto ESA. The government states in the green paper that: ‘We will enact powers in the Welfare Reform Act 2007 to require new customers in the Work Related Activity group to undertake general work-related activity’.
New tougher JSA regime
Sick and disabled claimants moved onto JSA because they fail the harsh new WCA face a much tougher regime than current JSA claimants and without, it seems, any additional support.
After 12 months on JSA claimants will be transferred to a private or voluntary sector provider who will be ‘paid by results’. During the course of those 12 months all claimants must do at least four weeks ‘full-time activity’. Moreover, this is only a minimum: ‘if the customer’s action plan requires it, the full-time activity can last as long as needed.’
After two years on JSA the DWP ‘will expect even more’ including the possibility of having to do full-time work in return for benefits or attend a Jobcentre Plus office on a daily basis.
Training and access to work
Whilst work may not be compulsory for existing incapacity claimants transferred onto ESA, training may well be. The government is consulting on whether claimants on ESA and incapacity benefits should be forced to undertake training if they lack skills that would help them to get into work. The intention is that all new ESA claimants have a ‘light-touch basic skills screen’ and possibly a mandatory ‘skills health check’ at a later date.
In one rare piece of good news, however, the DWP have announced that the Access to Work budget is to double from £69 million, allowing around 48,000 people to benefit from additional support by 2014. Access to Work pays for support and aids and adaptations for disabled people in the workplace. Given that the intention is to get one million people off incapacity benefits, however, a doubling of the budget still seems like a drop in the ocean.
Incapacity benefit and income support are to be entirely abolished. Income support claimants who are full-time carers will be moved onto income-based JSA ‘with appropriate conditionality’ instead. The DWP says that there will be no requirement for full-time carers to seek work.
Dame Carol Black’s Fit for Work service to get people back into work when they go sick from their jobs is to be piloted. Her ideas for well notes instead of sick notes are also to be introduced in 2009 following consultation with GPs, employers and other interested parties this autumn..
Pathfinder pilots are to start from 2010-2011 running for three years in:
Greater Manchester; Norfolk; Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth.
Two more three year pilots will begin in the following financial year.
These will explore implementing City banker David Freud’s recommendations for the private and voluntary sector to be paid very large amounts for ‘outcome based contracts’ in which they move sick and disabled people back into work. Payments will be based on the amount of money their outcomes are likely to save the taxpayer through reducing the welfare benefits bill.
In addition, in order to enable David Freud’s idea of making benefits millionaires out of people who have a cunning plan to get people back to work, a new Right to Bid is to be introduced. This gives anyone with a serious ‘radical’ back-to-work scheme the right to have it considered by the DWP and reasons given if it is not taken up. Where ideas meet the necessary criteria they will be funded so that they can be put into action, at least in pilot form.
The latest welfare reform bill continues the theme of demonising claimants and making benefits harder to claim solely on the basis of saving money, without any evidence base on which to justify tightening the rules.
A combination of the already implemented introduction of lie detectors for incapacity claimants, proposed compulsory declarations that you are not crack or heroin dependent and the exchanging of information about benefits claimants with the police gives society at large some very clear hints about how they ought to regard benefits claimants.
What we are witnessing is an ugly process of scapegoating the most vulnerable whilst giving multinational corporations huge state handouts to administer an unjust regime. Unfortunately, judging by the muted response from most disability organisations, silent witnessing is the only support on offer.