There are strong indications that the government is set to announce the abolition of the work capability assessment (WCA) and the introduction of automated sanctions for UC claimants.
Members have been contacting Benefits and Work over the weekend after seeing media reports that the work capability assessment (WCA) is to be abolished. The main source of the reports seems to be a briefing obtained by Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation thinktank.
According to the document:
“A Health and Disability White Paper will be published on the day of the budget outlining our plans to scrap the Work Capability Assessment. Under the current system disabled people need to have a health assessment and be found incapable of work to receive additional income support through the benefits system. Scrapping the Work Capability Assessment is the biggest reform to the welfare system in a decade, meaning that disabled people can try work without fear of losing their benefits, and reducing the number of assessments needed to qualify for health-related benefits.”
There will also be changes to the sanctions regime in universal credit (UC)
Changes to Universal Credit will include . . . Strengthening the application of the Universal Credit sanctions regime. This includes additional training for Jobcentre Work Coaches to ensure they are applying sanctions effectively, including for claimants who do not look for or take up employment, and automating administrative elements of the sanctions process, including sending automated messages to claimants who fail to meet their Work Coach and take active steps to move into work or increase their earnings.
Whilst abolishing the WCA may sound like good news, it does very much depend on what - if anything - is put in its place.
For example, if there is no longer a WCA then how will it be decided whether a claimant will be eligible for additional payments because they are unlikely ever to be able to work? Will this be somehow combined with PIP or will there simply be no additional payment for new claimants?
In addition, who will decide which claimants should be subject to sanctions if they don’t seek work, because they say their health conditions prevents them doing so?
The alleged changes to the sanctions regime are much less uncertain and clearly bad news. UC sanctions are already at record levels, so ‘strengthening’ them can only bring greater misery.
Ensuring work coaches are ‘applying sanctions effectively’ is also likely to be bad news for claimants. As the DWP have for years refused to publish the result of their own research into whether sanctions are effective in getting claimants back into work, it is not clear what ‘effectively’ can mean other than more harshly.
And the idea that sanctions notices are going to be sent out automatically by DWP software can only add to the nightmare that claimants trying to communicate with the DWP already experience
At the moment there is very little information available about these changes..
But there can be little doubt that change is coming. Back in January we reported on rumours that the WCA was to be scrapped.
And as far back as September 2021 we revealed that the DWP would be issuing new contracts under which assessments for both PIP and the WCA would be carried out by the same company in any given area.
At the time the reason for the change was not clear. But if the WCA is to be gradually phased out, and elements of it possibly combined with PIP, then it obviously doesn’t make sense to have a separate company doing WCAs.
We should stress that it is much too soon to start worrying about these changes.
We won’t have more details until Wednesday and it will probably take years for any changes to the WCA to be consulted on and passed into law.
In addition, it is likely that the changes will apply only to new claimants and not to existing ones.
But, whatever is happening, we’ll make sure you are kept fully informed.
Benefits and Work members can download a 30 page guide to Ways to prevent and overturn ESA and UC sanctions from this page.
Update: there's more details of the abolition of the WCA and the introduction of the new UC health element here.