The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forcing more chronically ill and disabled people to prepare for work. This provision is taking place specifically under Universal Credit. However, we’ve only been able to see this after the DWP was forced to release the figures. This new data shows that the department is saving money. But, these figures also mean that the DWP may be denying countless people their full social security entitlement.
The DWP WCA
The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is how the DWP decides if a claimant is too sick or disabled to work. Sometimes, it says that claimants currently cannot work. But the DWP still makes them do activities like attend work-focused interviews at the Jobcentre. This is because the department says they’ll be ready to work at some point. However, the WCA is extremely flawed: from the conduct of the private companies that run assessments to the deaths of claimants declared “fit for work” by WCAs.
The DWP first started using WCAs for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and has released figures on them since 2010. Under that benefit, the DWP puts people into two groups based on the WCA. The first is the Support Group, where it says people are too sick or disabled to work. The other group is Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG). This is where the DWP says people cannot currently work, but will be able to in the future. It also uses them for Universal Credit, placing people into two similar groups. However, the DWP has never released figures for the outcomes of WCAs on Universal Credit – until now.
Finally releasing the figures
As Disability News Service (DNS) reported, the DWP has finally released the information, but only from July 2021 to March 2022. DNS editor John Pring wrote that after the department said it would make the data public four years ago:
The Office for Statistics Regulation told DWP earlier this year – following a complaint from [DNS] – that its failure to publish universal credit WCA statistics left “a gap in the information available” and that there was a “wealth of evidence around the need for transparency around Universal Credit WCA statistics”.
Finally, the DWP released the Universal Credit WCA outcome figures on 11 October via a parliamentary question. As Pring noted, they showed:
for every month… – apart from November 2021 – the proportion of claimants going through the [WCA] who were found fit for work, or were placed in the group of those expected to carry out work-related activity, was higher for those seeking support through universal credit… than for those receiving [ESA].
Pring doesn’t commit to the reason for this. However, it is possible to.
DWP: forcing more chronically ill and disabled people to prepare for work
The Canary dug further into the data the DWP provided. It showed that the DWP found roughly the same percentage of people fit for work on Universal Credit and ESA. From July 2021 to March 2022, 20.19% of Universal Credit WCAs resulted in a ‘fit for work’ decision. This was compared to 21.45% on ESA. The percentages of those who the DWP says do not have to work are also similar on both benefits. The figures are 61.51% on Universal Credit and 64.69% on ESA – a difference of just over 3%. However, there was one area where the figures were very different.
Under Universal Credit, the DWP is forcing more chronically ill and disabled people to ‘prepare’ for work – putting them in the Limited Capability for Work (LCW) group. This figure is 18.26% of all WCA outcomes – versus 13.83% on ESA in the equivalent WRAG. That’s a 32% increase in the number of people the DWP is saying can’t work at that time but should be getting ready to. This shows a major increase in the number of chronically ill and disabled people who the DWP is forcing to do activities such as interviews with work coaches, in order to get their social security entitlement.
The increase correlates with a sharp rise in the number of economically inactive people. These are people who aren’t working or aren’t looking for work. This might partly be down to more chronically ill people. The rise in the DWP LCW group decisions also fits with an increase in Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims. The point being that there might be more sick people now claiming social security. But the DWP says these people will have to work at some point.
A money-saving DWP exercise?
Of course, the end result of this is that the DWP also saves cash. The people it puts in the LCW group do not always get extra money. This is specifically if people are making new claims. If the DWP put them in the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity group, they would get £354.28 a month more. The department putting more people in the LCW group may also be linked to the introduction of over-the-phone WCAs in 2020. The DWP itself admitted that at first these phone assessments “resulted in a limited range of outcomes”, and it had to do second WCAs on people. This is probably because a phone assessment is no replacement for an in-person one. As such, the information the DWP can get about people is limited.
The DWP leaving chronically ill and disabled people languishing in the LCW group is dire for those affected. It means less money, the stress of having to complete tasks to get paid, and the constant, looming threat of the DWP forcing them into work. These new figures from the department confirm that this is happening.
Now, the DWP need to release the full figures for all WCA outcomes since it launched Universal Credit. We have to be able to properly scrutinise the department’s actions toward those it’s meant to support.
Featured image via the Canary