Fit-for-work tests will be scrapped as part of a major disability work assessment overhaul planned by the Government.
Announcing the reforms during the Spring Budget last week, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said they were ‘the biggest changes to our welfare system in a decade’.
A Health and Disability White Paper said that with more than a million job vacancies and a rise in remote working, there are new opportunities for those who have been out of work because of disability or long-term ill health.
The White Paper calls for the scrapping of work capability assessments because they encourage people from seeing themselves as unable to work and put people off seeking employment support for fear of losing benefits.
Instead ‘we will ensure that those who are able to can progress in or towards work, without the worry of being reassessed and losing their benefits’, the proposals say.
In the future there will be only one health and disability assessment for those claiming Personal Independent Payments (PIP).
A new Universal Credit ‘health element’ will be awarded to claimants of PIP, ‘ensuring there is a safety net in place for the most vulnerable’, the white paper says.
And the PIP service will be improved to simplify data collection processes and gather data electronically where possible, the White Paper said.
The data collected will be of various forms, from basic identity information to details from GPs as well as information from the person themselves on how their condition affects them.
Work is also being done to explore accessing relevant NHS medical information, with appropriate consent.
‘We are working with NHS Digital to see what opportunities there are to share information between DWP, hospital and GP IT systems to provide more standardised information earlier in the assessment process,’ the Government said.
Other plans include:
- More support from work coaches to support those with health conditions receiving universal credit
- An extended Work and Health Programme to September 2024 to provide more specialist employment support to disabled people and disadvantaged groups
- Provision of Employment Advisers in all NHS Talking Therapies services in England, with full roll-out by 1 April 2024.
The White Paper said it would also continue to work with healthcare professionals around who can issue fit notes so advice on staying in or returning to work is provided quickly.
However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that some people claiming incapacity benefits could lose hundreds of pounds a month under the plans.
It could impact those with short-term or fluctuating illnesses who do not claim PIP or incur additional living costs, they said.
Dr Paul Evans, chair of Gateshead and South Tyneside LMC, said on the face of it the proposals seem fair if the aim is simply to confirm that what the patient says they have is what they have.
‘They ask us this already, and it is a waste of our time. However, I have doubts about whether this is the sole intent.’
Disability charities broadly welcomed the scrapping of the work capability assessment but said questions remained about how the proposals would be implemented.
James Taylor, chief executive of Scope said: ‘We know that you can’t sanction disabled people into work, and it’s reassuring that the Universal Support scheme will be voluntary.’
But he added: ‘The Government has got a mountain to climb to win back the trust of disabled people.’