The Government is consulting on plans to get more people with long-term health conditions and disabilities back to work through changes to fit-to-work tests that take into account the greater availability of remote and hybrid working.
The Government has announced a consultation on proposed changes to the controversial Work Capability Assessment [WCA], including what work might be possible in the light of advances in flexible working.
In the Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced a series of changes to help get those with long-term health conditions and disabilities back to work, including changes to the Work Capability Assessment or fit for work test. This includes a review of the categories used to determine what activity people can do and how that affects their ability to work. These inform assessors’ decisions on what additional financial support people can receive through their benefits and if claimants need to do anything to prepare themselves for work.
The Government says the consultation’s proposals include updating the categories associated with mobility and social interaction, “reflecting improved employer support in recent years for flexible and home working – and minimising the risk of these issues causing problems for workers”. It adds that those found capable of work preparation activity in light of the proposed changes would receive tailored support to help them back into work.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride MP said: “Health assessments haven’t been reviewed in more than a decade and don’t reflect the realities of the world of work today. That’s why we’re consulting on reforms which will mean that many of those currently excluded from the labour market can realise their ambition of working.
“Anyone helped towards work through these proposals would receive appropriate support tailored to their individual circumstances, allowing them to safely access the life-changing impacts that work can provide.”
The move has been prompted by labour shortages and a rising incapacity benefits bill. The number of older people dropping out of the workforce due to health concerns has been rising for many years, with Covid, cost of living and NHS delays exacerbating this.
The proposed changes are due to come into force in 2025.
The Government is also consulting on the substantial risk category, where claimants who would otherwise be capable of work-related activity are excluded from work preparation requirements on the basis that this could put them at risk to themselves or others. The consultation will consider whether the application of this category is being applied too broadly.
Other plans to get disabled people and those with health conditions back to work include the new Universal Support programme and plans to encourage employers to expand their occupational health support. The Government is currently running a consultation on occupational health.
Tony Wilson of the Institute for Employment Studies said the proposed changes seem to be more about saving the Government money. He said: “My take on today’s WCA proposals is they’re mainly fiscal – fewer people in the ‘LCWRA’ [Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity ] group with an extra £390 a month, more in ‘LCW’ [Limited Capability for Work] group with an extra… £0 (and required to attend JobcentrePlus).”
The charity Scope also questioned the motivation for the proposed changes: “The Government says [the consultation on WCA] is about improving disabled people’s employment prospects. But is it actually just about reducing benefit spending?”
They added: “We’re worried these proposals could force thousands of people to look for work when they’re not well enough. By imposing strict conditions, the Government risks removing the safety net from huge numbers of disabled people. All in the middle of a brutal cost of living crisis.”
Scope is calling for voluntary employment support rather than the threat of benefits sanctions. It said: “Disabled people have been let down by the benefits system for decades. And threats of new sanctions will only increase anxiety. Disabled people need to be involved at every stage of these reforms, and their experiences properly taken on board.”
A report out today by the think tank IPPR suggests that the threat of benefits sanctions has not helped jobseekers back to work or employers to fill labour gaps.