Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, Karen Foulds and Dr Bill
8 June 2011
Q244 Chair: We
have discovered, Minister, that the acoustics in this room are
not terribly great.
I will try to speak up.
Chair: Hopefully everybody
will speak up. Welcome this morning. Thank you very much for
appearing before us.
You are welcome.
Q245 Chair: You
have probably appeared before us as a Committee more than the
Secretary of State has; I am not sure whether that reflects the
heavy workload that you have, or the interests of the Committee.
You do not need to introduce yourself, as we know who you are,
but could you introduce your colleagues for the record?
I will indeed. I have Dr Bill Gunnyeon, who is our Chief Medical
Adviser to the Department, who has overall responsibility for
the Work Capability Assessment Policy, and on my left is Karen
Foulds, who is overseeing the migration from within Jobcentre
Plusthe organisation on the ground of the Jobcentre Plus
interaction with claimants and the management of the process.
Q246 Chair: All
three of you are very welcome. We have visited Burnley, and yesterday
morning we visited an Atos Assessment Centre, so we have had some
practical insight into the process, and, needless to say, as an
Aberdeen MP I have been well briefed by colleagues in Aberdeen
who are involved in this. Our first set of questions is about
your policy and the objectives.
Q247 Stephen Lloyd:
Good morning, Minister. Thank you for coming this morning. Before
we get into the details of the assessment process itself, we would
like to hear from you what the Government's objectives are for
the Incapacity Benefit (IB) reassessment?
The rationale for this goes back three years, when we were shaping
the Green Paper on Welfare Reform in opposition, and were looking
at the ideas that have turned into the Work Programme and a number
of other changes that have materialised under the last Government
and this Government. The one huge gap seemed to me to be the
fact that at that point we had in excess of 2.5 million people
on Incapacity Benefitit has come down a bit since thenthat
were just being left there. There was no real process of challenge
to say, "Is there something better you can do with your life
if we provide you with the right help and support to get back
into work?" They were being left on the margins, which seemed
to me to be completely wrong.
Most sensible assessments suggested that there were
a significant number who had the potential to return to work,
but maybe not doing the same thing they were doing before; you
might have somebody who had been a manual worker who had got an
orthopaedic problem who was not able to return to manual work,
but that did not mean there was not something else they could
do. We recommended in that Green Paper, and the then Secretary
of State, James Purnell, picked it up rapidly afterwards, the
concept of reassessing all of those people, except for those who
are going to be reaching state retirement age in the very near
The aim is not savings measureit is not a
financially based exercise, although clearly if we succeed it
will save moneybut is about identifying the people who
have the potential to return to work, and helping them to do so.
Interlocking with that is the launch of the Work Programme to
provide specialist back-to-work help for those people. It does
seem to me to be completely wrong that we should be in a position
where we have this big block of people who we are effectively
abandoning, and not trying to find something better to do with
Glenda Jackson: Good morning,
Minister, and thank you for coming. If that is indeed the Government's
aim, which is entirely laudable, and which everyone here would
support, why has the Government sold this programme, or attempted
to sell this programme, as being attacking the workshy? They
have not only said it up front; it has also been the subterranean
message that the majority of people who are on this benefit could
easily work but simply do not want to. This has had a very serious
impact on people whoand this is anecdotal
Chair: That was actually
Q248 Stephen Lloyd:
That is exactly what I was coming tothank you very much
for that, colleaguebecause I do want to drill down to that,
but I want to get to it with a series of steps, because, as you
know, Minister, I have been incredibly supportive of what the
Government is trying to do. It is something I am very passionate
about, but on the issue around language I have real concerns,
but I want to get there step by step. Are you satisfied that
the Government's objectives in relation to the assessment for
ESA are being communicated
clearly and that claimants understand them?
I think it has got a lot better than it was. Being absolutely
frankand we will go on to talk about the Harrington process
and the changes that have been made in the previous few monthsI
do not believe that the system that was inherited, the original
system that was set up for new claimants for ESA around three
years ago, was up to the job. It was very clear to me last summer
on becoming a Minister, when I saw some of the early feedback,
that there was something amiss, and that is what led to the Harrington
Process. I hope and believe that we have significantly improved
the communication around that.
Most directly and most importantly, as we will discuss
during the morning, in the direct communication to individuals
whose turn comes up to go through this process, the contacts are
much more personal, and the level of detailed explanation is much
greater than it was. At the start of April, when we began the
national rollout, we distributed articles and letters to as many
papers around the country as we possibly could with the very clear
message: this is not about forcing people who cannot work into
work. If you are not able to work, you have nothing to fear from
this, and, in fact, if you end up in the Support Group, you get
more money than you do now. It is absolutely clear: we have done
everything we can. It is almost impossible to stop the rumour
mill, but we will do, and are doing, everything we can to dampen
that rumour mill down.
Q249 Stephen Lloyd:
Thank you for that. Let me read you a couple of things. "The
WCA is based on the principle that a health condition or disability
should not automatically be regarded as a barrier to work."
I am sure you recognise this. "There is a large body of
evidence which shows that work is good for physical and mental
wellbeing, and can be beneficial for individuals with health conditions
and disabilities." I know you believe that, and I know you
know I believe that, practically, and people around the table
do. Let me read you a couple of things that we have had from
two professors. One of them is a professor at Atos, Professor
O'Donnell, who says that, "One thing that would make a difference
would be if we could find a way of explaining to people that failure
to be awarded ESA is not the same as being classed as a malingerer,
someone who does not have a disability, or someone who is not
ill. I think we need to get that across very clearly."
Clearly we are going in the same direction of travel as what you
have been saying.
I would like to read you something that Professor
Gregg said: he highlighted the importance of creating a culture
of trust around the assessment process, exactly what you said.
Professor Gregg: "A lot of the messages that are coming
outand I think the Government is guilty of thisare
creating a culture where the disabled community feels the primary
function is about driving them off the benefits onto lower value,
less supported-type benefits, and is destroying the potential
to create a trust environment. I am deeply concerned that the
work related activity programme, which is for those who need significant
help, requires positive engagement from individuals." I
support totally the direction of travel of Professor Harrington,
and I applaud the Government for taking on board a lot of his
recommendationsI really do. However, the Government has
singularly failed with the tabloids, with the media, and with
the messages getting out: completely failed.
Chris, I feel so supportive of this programme, you
cannot believe it, but I think you have failed. I think there
have been examples of the Government Ministers still using inappropriate
language. I certainly do not see any vision at all of the Ministers
and the Government going out selling this for what it is, which
is a once-in-three-lifetimes enormously positive opportunity to
transform the lives of many disabled people. I think it has been
Q250 Stephen Lloyd: What
I would be really interested to hear from you as the Minister,
with all the good things that you and the Department are doing,
is how you can turn this around. I understand there are some
irrational fears out there, but how can you as a Government Minister
give a commitment that you are going to draw a line in the sand
and start selling this programme for what it is, which is a hugely
positive once-in-a-multi-generation opportunity to transform people's
lives, with the media, starting now?
Okay. Let me take both of those points together, and let me push
back to a degree on that. First, I challenge anybody on the Committee
to find any quote from me or any quote from the Secretary of State
that uses the kind of language that Ms Jackson referred to. I
have gone out of my way in the last few months to set these reforms
and the challenge of getting people back into work in the context
of the specialist support we are going to be providing through
the Work Programme. I have not used the language of scroungers
and, indeed, I have been criticised by the tabloid press for not
using the language of scroungers. Let us be clear about that.
I cannot guarantee to control every newspaper outlet or every
parliamentarian, but I can give a clear statement: we, as Ministers
in the DWP, go out of our way to set what we are doing in the
context of helping people and delivering specialist support to
get back into the workplace, and we do not use some of the language
that has been used in some quarters.
I would also dispute the fact that we have not sought
to try to sell the kind of message you are asking for. If I look
back to what we did at the start of the launch in April, we produced
an article that I wrote for local newspapers, which set out what
we were trying to do and the purpose of it; the fact that it was
designed to identify those with the potential to work, not to
force those who could not work into the workplace; that there
were no financial targets attached to it; that there was specialist
support available through the Work Programme for those who could
return to work; and that there was actually extra money available
for those who ended up in the Support Group.
That article was placed in a very substantial number
of newspapers around the country: the cuttings file was about
that thick. We reinforced that with a letter with the same message
that went to each local paper. I did a web chat with one of the
mental health charities for their members to question. I have
convened meetings with the voluntary sector groups involved in
this field. We have had discussions at local level between Jobcentre
Plus teams and the representative groups. I have prepared presentation
packs for colleagues, some of whom are in this room, to enable
them to have discussions with local representative groups for
those most affected by the changes about what we are trying to
do and why. I have done briefings for parliamentary researchers
to enable them to deal with casework, enquiries and concerns.
I asked if I could go and speak to the CAB's
conference in February to set out what was happening, so they
could communicate to people they were dealing with; unfortunately
they were not willing to allow me to do that.
That is just a snapshot of what I have done. There
has been a very determined effort. I make no bones about it;
there are moments in which one would love to control the editorial
tone of the newspapers, and there are strong feelings about this
issue out there. In my view, on the record, we are clearly dealing
with some people who are claiming Incapacity Benefit who are perfectly
fit for work. The majority of those who could return to work
are people who are a long way away from the workplace, who have
become detached from the world of work through that length of
time on benefits, who probably no longer have the self-confidence
to get back into the workplace, and who often think they do not
have the ability to work. I have talked to some of them myself
who do not think of themselves as being able to work, where somebody
else has no doubt that they could.
The challenge for us, through the reassessment process,
and then through the Work Programme, is to re-energise those people
and focus them on the things they can do. I do not profess that
this process will always be perfect, but we have done everything
we can to get things back on to the straight and narrow and deliver
a package that is thoughtful, considerate and sensible. There
is also a duty on the part of the representative groups, who are,
on occasions, apt to voice strong opinions themselves, which can
exacerbate the very real concerns that are out there, and there
are real concerns. We are not going to remove those concerns;
we are putting people through a process that is quite difficult
for them, potentially quite life-changing for them, and some of
them will find it very difficult. I think they will look back
in a few years' time and say, "That was the best thing that
ever happened to me," but it probably will not feel like
that at the time. But I passionately believe it is the right
thing to do.
Q251 Stephen Lloyd:
Good. One more question, Chair, and then I will pass over. I
am reassured by a lot of what you say, and I believe you, because
I have watched your direction of travel over the last eight to
nine months on this whole process. What I would add is, we still
have not broken the fixed way of looking with the tabloids, middle
market media, and the media generally. I would like you and your
team, the Secretary of State to the Department, the DWP, to keep
that focus absolutely remorselessly for the next few years. You
have not turned the tide yet; there is still all this nonsense
out there, there is a lot of fear, there are still people on IB
that you and I know should work, and their lives would be transformed
if they were supported back into work. To change that narrative,
what I would urge is make it one of your three priorities in the
Departmentconstant: again, and again, and again. Eventually
we might begin to get the message out to the media, and they might
begin to sell it the way it is. Until that is done, we are still
fighting against the tide.
One of the things I am very much hoping is, as we go through this
year and we start to see people move into work, there will be
more role models that we can use to communicate this message.
Therefore it starts to be a story about what we are achieving
rather than the theoretical direction of travel. I very much
want to use role models. We have people that have in the past
moved off ESA into work; we have a few from the trial areas who
look like they have got into jobs. As we start to build up a
portfolio of people who have got into work and are saying, "This
is much better," we will have some positive stories to tell.
I hope that will come up.
You made reference to Professor Gregg. I want the
Committee to be aware that when Professor Gregg first made criticisms
of the process and the system, shortly after we were elected last
summer, the Department tried to contact Professor Gregg. I left
a message on his mobile phone saying, "Please phone me: here
is my mobile phone." As of yet we have had no response whatsoever
from hima total lack of willingness to engage and come
back. He admitted in a radio interview when challenged about
this that he had not come back to us. I want the Committee to
be aware that I was, have been, and am still very happy to brief
Professor Gregg, but, as far as I am concerned, he does not have
current information about what we are doing, despite being offered
the opportunity to be briefed on what we are doing.
Chair: I am sure he will
have heard you this morning.
Q252 Oliver Heald:
The charities and representative groups have argued for years
that people with disabilities could work: hundreds of thousands
of people are missing this life-enhancing opportunity. Now that
you are finding out what people's capabilities are, offering them
help to work, these charities seem to have turned their backs
on the whole project, and seem to be complaining about every aspect
of it. Do you feel you are getting adequate support from these
groups given their longterm aims and ambitions?
They are in a slightly difficult position. We have, generally
speaking, a good and constructive relationship with these groups.
They have been involved at all stages of the development of the
Work Capability Assessment, the development by the previous Government
of the Internal Review, the Harrington process, and are continuing
to be engaged in the Harrington process. Paul Farmer, the Chief
Executive of Mind, became one of the Harrington Review Group at
my specific request, because I wanted to see somebody with real
mental health expertise in that environment. At the same time,
I recognise there is a lot of uncertainty out there, a lot of
concern out there, and to some extent they have to voice that.
Q253 Oliver Heald:
But isn't he a signatory this week to a letter in the national
press that is highly critical of the whole process, and makes
no reference to Harrington, his role in the Review, at all?
There are sometimes a few frustrations, I would say. Perhaps
Bill Gunnyeon could talk a little bit about how they were involved
in the shaping of the Work Capability Assessment in the first
Chair: We will be coming
to that later; we have a lot of questions on that. At the moment
we are looking at the perceptions of the press.
Q254 Glenda Jackson:
I want to take you back, Minister, to your assertion, which I
entirely accept, that "workshy" or "scrounger"
are not words that have been used either by you or other Ministers.
It has undoubtedly been the case, since the whole introduction
of the change to welfare and to benefits, that the Government's
line has been that the comparison is between those people who
are hardworking families and those who are claiming benefit.
I cannot remember the precise percentage of the statistics, but
for example when the first report came out of the pilots of the
schemes that were running in Aberdeen and Burnley, the whole thrust
of what the Government was putting out was that the majority of
people in those schemes were fit and capable for work. When I
remember the enormous lobby that there was here in the House of
Commons only a few weeks ago of people with disabilitiesThe
Hardest Hit, I think it was calledyour message is clearly
not getting through to them, that this is actually supportive
of what everyone in this room supports: of assisting people back
into work. They regard it as some kind of punitive action on
the part of your Government. Who puts out these stories? Do
you have a press office that is linked in to the philosophical
arguments that you are putting forward, or does somebody just
hand out the figures? None of us in this room are prepared to
accept that the stories Government puts out are not stories that
Government wants to put out?
First, we have some requirements to put out statistics. The periodic
publication of the ESA new claim figures are a statutory requirement
that has run through both Governments, so there are some figures
that we have to publish come what may. If you look across the
last few months at the press releases we have put out, the news
stories we have pushed, they have had one single consistent narrative,
which is that there are people there with the potential to get
back into work, and through the Work Programme there will be specialist
help for them to do so. That is a message I stand by four square.
We have delivered on that: we are doing the official
launch for the Work Programme on Friday. There will be support
for many hundreds of thousands of people; there will be premium
prices for job outcomes for people coming from ESA, being mandated
into the Work Group. There should be better support than we have
had before. One of the ironies is that on the list of subcontractors
for the Work Programme are some of the very same groups that Mr
Heald was talking about. He is absolutely right: there is an
interesting challenge there in terms of the relationships that
we have. I personally believe there is a real expertise to capture,
and I am delighted that some of those organisations are going
to be working on the Work Programme.
The message that we are putting out is absolutely
consistent: that there are a large number of people on benefits
who have been there for an extremely long period of time that
have been effectively abandoned on the fringes of society. We
want to help those that can potentially get back into the workplace
and do something more with their lives to do so. We are carrying
out the assessments so that we can identify those people who can
return to work, and the Work Programme will deliver specialist
support to them to help them get back into the workplace. That
is the sole and single message we have put out as a Department
over the last few months on this subject.
Q255 Chair: Do
you not accept that some of the responsibility on your Department
is to make sure that the press releases that go out do contextualise
the statistics? As Glenda referred to, after the initial statistics
came out of the trial in Aberdeen and Burnley, your own press
release said the trial found 70% of people could work. It was
that that allowed, not just the tabloid press, but The Telegraph
and others, to be censured by the Press Complaints Commission,
because of the misleading nature of the statistics. It was the
phrase in your own press release that allowed the tabloids to
say, "All these people could be working, therefore they must
be workshy," without the subtleties that 30% that did not
qualify for ESA were going on to JSA
but would still need extra help to get into work, and the other
40% might be fit for work sometime in the future if they got better.
The subtleties were not reflected in your own press release.
Your press release was quite short.
I will have to check back on the original wording, but, as far
as I am concerned, we have always presented the distinction between
the fit for work and the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG).
The Work Related Activity Group is made up of people who have
the potential to return to work. It may be that they cannot return
to all roles, as I have said, and every one of those people will
have access to the Work Programme, and some of them will be mandated
to the Work Programme. I share the goal of all of the voluntary
sector groups that I have ever spoken to of helping as many of
those people into the workplace as possible. I sat with a group
last week who all wanted to work.
Q256 Chair: There
is no disputing that we want people to workthat is not
the issue. It is about the language that is being used, or the
way that those who could work sometime in the future have now
been stigmatised as being able to work now and just trying to
avoid work. It is the language around all that. Does your press
office in the Department, when they see something that is clearly
wrongand a lot of the coverage around the trial statistic
was clearly wrongget in touch with those media outlets
and point that out?
I have had personal discussions with a number of media outlets
about the need to be careful about how the issue is presented.
I will carry on doing so, because it is very important that we
get the balance right. I do not control the editorial approach
of the tabloids, and sometimes stories run in ways that completely
bemuse me and are certainly beyond any expectations. We have
had a couple of times when stories that were of not particularly
great news significance in our eyes actually soared to the top
of the news agenda in some of the newspapers. I cannot control
the editorial approach of the tabloids, but I have had a number
of conversations with people in the media about the need for care
in this area. Indeed, if you look back to a number of the papers
in November, I was accused of watering down our approach on welfare
reform, because I made the point that it is important not to judge
people as scroungers but as people who were a long way away from
the workplace and face big challenges.
Q257 Chair: People
who have gone through the new WCA, have found themselves on JSA,
and despite the help they get still cannot get a job. Can they
expect headlines in the tabloid saying, "Look, they are continuing
to be workshy even when they have been moved off Incapacity Benefit"?
No. First of all, if you look at the people who have been through
the pilots, in Burnley a number of them are working with Vedas.
In Aberdeen a number of them are working with people in the voluntary
sector to find jobs, and some have. What I will be championing
in the future is those who have succeeded in getting jobs. There
are the people who are long-term unemployed who are trying to
get a job and have not succeeded, and I see our job as to help
Chair: Can we move on
to questions around the contract with Atos?
Q258 Kate Green:
We are going to ask some questions later about the actual content
of the service that Atos provides, but first of all I would like
to ask some questions about the contract. There has been a lot
of interest in the contract, and people have asked questions and
not been able to get information, sometimes perhaps for commercial
reasons. I hope you can be quite open with us today. The first
question is straightforward: the Department told us last September
that the contract with Atos had been extended to 2017 in order
to allow for the ESA migration. Atos told us in oral evidence
last month that it has been extended only to 2015, so we would
like to understand which is correct.
It is 2015. I do not know where the 2017 has come from. It is
definitely 2015. I took the decision to extend it, because, first
of all, I think it would be good for the marketplace in this area
if there were more than one supplier in it, but it seemed to be
a bad idea to try to change the supplier in the middle of the
migration process. Having inherited a contract for this work
with Atos it seemed wrong and impractical to try to make a change
in 2012, which is when we would have been doing so otherwise.
Q259 Kate Green:
You will re-open a tendering process before 2015?
Chris Grayling: Yes.
Q260 Kate Green: We have
been told that the contract extension is subject to Atos delivering
substantial savings against the current cost of £100 million
a year. We are interested to know how the requirement to achieve
those savings will work in the context of the national rollout,
which will require them to assess and accelerate a number of claimantsup
to 1.5 millionby 2014?
I will ask Bill to talk about the detail, but I will give you
the overall context. Atos were one of the suppliers who went
through the renegotiation process with us and the Cabinet Office.
After we took office, the Cabinet Office summoned in all of the
Government's major contractors and effectively beat them down
on price. I was one of the Ministers involved in some of those
negotiations, and the starter for 10 was: you are getting a lot
of business from Government, we expect you to cut your prices
accordinglyreduce your margins, reduce your day rates and
so forth. That is one part of the savings that have been built
into the work with Atos for the next few years. Bill can talk
about other elements of that.
Dr Gunnyeon: It
is reasonable to expect any organisation to look at how it can
do things more efficiently, and certainly Atos have been doing
that. There has also been a move to look at how we can use different
healthcare professionals, and that is in keeping with what is
happening across healthcare generally: for example, the use of
more nurses to undertake assessments after appropriate training.
That happens in different aspects of the NHS, where there is
more responsibility being devolved to other healthcare professionals
who have the right skills to do things, and that has an impact
on costs as well. A number of things were part of that process.
Q261 Kate Green:
But we are in a position where you have beaten them down on price,
they have an increasing caseloadup to 11,000 assessments
a weekand we understand that the payments are based on
the number of assessments that they undertakethat is what
Atos told us in the oral evidence session we had with them last
month. With that payment structure, and with pressure on Atos
to do things within a smaller overall financial envelope, how
does the payment system guarantee quality and effectiveness in
the assessment process?
Dr Gunnyeon: It
is important that the payment is based on a report that is acceptable
to the decision maker, and the decision maker, if the report is
not acceptable, will send it back. The reworking that needs to
be done by Atos has to be undertaken at Atos's cost. If anything,
in fact, there is a strong incentive for Atos to try to focus
on producing reports of the right quality first time, and that
is the quality process that is in place anyway: to try to achieve
that. Obviously it is not in their interests to have lots of
cases referred back.
Karen Foulds: It
is not all additional work, because they would have been doing
the Personal Capability Assessments, but instead of that they
are doing the Work Capability Assessments. The 1.5 million people
that are going through the reassessment process are not all new
customers to Atos; they would have seen them, but they were doing
a different thing with them. There is an increase, but it is
not an increase of 1.5 million.
Q262 Kate Green:
I am interested in what you say, Dr Gunnyeon, that the reports
need to be acceptable to the decision maker: what does that mean?
Yesterday we saw, in a mock Atos assessment, that the interview
was carried out with the aid of the online information sheet,
and I am not quite clear what coming off that sheet would or would
not be acceptable to a decision maker?
Dr Gunnyeon: Obviously
the decision maker needs to be able to have a report that shows
why the recommendation of the healthcare professional is as it
is. They have to be reassured that the points that have been
allocated look right on the basis of the information that the
claimant has provided and the assessment report itself. Clearly
if the decision maker cannot see why the recommendation is as
it is, for example, if it looks as though points should have been
scored on some descriptors where they have not, then that would
not be acceptable, and the decision maker would send that back.
It is about getting clarity of the reason for reaching the conclusion
the healthcare professional has reached.
Since Professor Harrington's report, at the end of
each report we now have a very clear paragraph, which the healthcare
professional is required to complete, justifying the conclusion
they have reached. That is very much in keeping with what would
happen in any other report by a healthcare professional, but that
will be much more helpful to the decision maker as well. Hopefully
that will ensure that the healthcare professional confirms they
have reached a robust decision, which will also help quality.
Q263 Kate Green:
Are you able to tell us what proportion of Atos reports have been
sent back by decision makers?
Dr Gunnyeon: I
do not know if I have the number, but I can find that out for
the Committee. Each healthcare professional is subject to audit
once they have completed their training until they have reached
an acceptable standard, and they are then subject to random audit,
so that we are continuing to check the quality. Those reports
are graded either A, B, or C, and C are of an unacceptable standard.
The proportion of Cs is very small, and remedial action is taken.
The challenge is to try to have as many at grade-A standard as
possible and to continue to look at that, and there are certain
Atos audit their auditing process, and we in the
Department also do that periodically. In each of the regions,
we audit their auditing process to look at how quality standards
are being maintained. Everything is designed to continue to drive
up quality, and where problems are identified with individual
healthcare practitioners there is a very clear programme of remedial
action and ongoing closer auditing until either things have improved
or that healthcare practitioner's approval to undertake work is
revoked. Those approvals are done by me on behalf of the Secretary
Q264 Kate Green:
We still have a very high level of successful appeals. That might
be a problem at the Atos stage of the process, or at the decision-making
stage of the process, or both. We are going to ask some questions
about appeals later, but one of the concerns we have had expressed
to us is that, while the average time for an assessment to take
place is 45 minutes, many claimants have told us that they were
only in a face-to-face interview with the Atos assessor for 20
minutes. Yesterday we were given to understand that the 45 minutes
was the total process of the Atos healthcare professional working
on the individual case, not the total face-to-face time. That
seems to have led quite a number of claimants to feel that they
are being rushed through. Are you concerned about that? Do you
feel that the payment system might incentivise Atos to process
as many cases as quickly as possible?
Dr Gunnyeon: We
have identified some of the challenges: people sometimes have
a misunderstanding of what they are going to go through. They
expect that, if it is referred to as a medical examination, they
are going to have some very detailed medical examination the way
they might if they were going to see a specialist. That is not
the case, and people's expectations of how long something might
take differ. It depends on the complexity of the case. If somebody
has a simple physical problem, for example, it may be very easy
to assess very quickly, and it does not take terribly long. If
somebody has a complex problem, a number of problems, or a complex
mental health problem, it will take much longer. In the range
of time that assessments take, the upper end is 200 minutes, which
is quite a long time.
Although some cases are done in less time than the
average, many cases take a lot longer, and the time is based not
just on the contact with the individual but the healthcare practitioner's
time reflecting upon that and completing the report. They have
not necessarily concluded everything by the time the individual
leaves the consulting room. They then reflect upon the evidence
they have gathered and reach their conclusion, which can sometimes
be quite difficult. They may need to consult colleagues, because,
as you would do in any other healthcare setting, if you have a
difficult case you will often discuss it with another colleague
Q265 Chair: That
sounds counter-intuitive, because surely the more complex cases
should be the easier ones in a Work Capability Assessment. Someone
coming in that is a quadriplegic will have complex medical needs,
but it is pretty clear they are in the Support Group
That is probably the easy case. It is the ones that are more
complex in terms of judging where they fall.
Dr Gunnyeon: The
more complex a problem, the longer it takes to gather the evidence.
Remember that we are looking at this being a robust process.
We are also looking at being able to identify when it is reasonable
to expect somebody to have improved to the point where consideration
of being fit for work again may be a possibility, so that we can
identify when it is reasonable to see an individual again. It
is important that we look at things, because the next time somebody
is reviewed we want to be able to consider whether they have improved,
and what the likely pattern is beyond that. If you have not collected
the information and considered the case carefully, you will not
be able to do that.
Q266 Stephen Lloyd:
To an extent this is about psychology. Whatever we are saying,
it is a perfectly rational position for these individuals to feel
that "I am going through a test to find out whether I keep
the money". It is a bit like when we go for a job interview:
if I am in and out of a job interview in 10 minutes flat, I know
I have not got the job. I do understand rationally where you
are coming from, and we saw it yesterdaya very experienced
assessor can take 25 minutes and do a very thorough job, and that
gives him and her slack to do 50 minutes for a more complicated
one. But the issue you are dealing with here is psychology: "Crumbs.
I was in and out of there in 20 minutes and they have taken my
money away." Do you understand the counter-intuitiveness
Dr Gunnyeon: That
is why a lot of work has gone into preparing claimants in advance
for what they should expect. I visited Aberdeen and looked at
some of the assessments, and I know that the healthcare professional
doing the assessments felt that those coming through having been
prepared for reassessment had a much better understanding of why
they were there, and what to expect, and I think that is helpful.
If it is very clear to a healthcare professional early on that
it is someone whose problems are such that they are quite clearly
in the Support Group, then they will quickly bring things to a
conclusion. Although we do a paper review of cases to try to
identify people who should be in the Support Group early on, with
the best will in the world with some people the evidence will
not have been there, but it will be clear at the start of the
assessment that they should be in the Support Group, and that
there is no point in continuing.
One point that I would like to make to the Committee is I would
ask you, in the context of preparing your report, to bear in mind
that there is almost nobody that has been through the Work Capability
Assessment as a result of following the lessons learnt from the
two pilots, and also from the Harrington Review. We are talking
about a very small number of people who will not, at this stage,
know the full results of their assessments. Almost nobody has
experienced the system that we have put in place over the past
few months, and we have learnt lessons from the trials in Burnley
and Aberdeen, which have been put into place. We have learnt
lessons and put in changes as a result of the Harrington Review.
Any experience that you are hearing from individuals or recounted
from pressure groups, unless they are from people in Burnley and
Aberdeen going through the trials, will by definition have come
from the previous system as new claimants for ESAa system
that I fully accept was flawed and that we sought to improve.
Q267 Glenda Jackson:
That leads me on to my question for you, Minister: apart from
being the cheapest bid, why did you give the contract to Atos?
On a constituency case basis their past working has hardly been
glorious. Dr Gunnyeon, I would like to know what constitutes
a grade-A Atos worker? What is the desired outcome for Government
as far as the assessment process is concerned?
That is a lot of questions
Q268 Glenda Jackson:
Let me finishwhat is the desired outcome? Is it to save
money? Is it genuinely to assist people into work? If we accept
that, that is okay, but I cannot find the linkages between the
Government's desired aim, if that is what it is, and what Atos
is doing, because that does not seem to be their desired aim.
Let us be clear: Atos were contracted by the previous Labour Government.
They were not contracted by the current Government; they were
contracted by the previous Labour Government. I took the decision
last summer that it was impractical to re-contract this contract,
and to continue the IB reassessment process. Therefore it is
better to improve the system, to improve any issues there might
be with Atos, or with the rest of the process, rather than try
to re-contract it, because otherwise we would have had to go back
to square one. Let us be clear that it was not the current Government
that contracted Atos: my view is that it is better to improve
what they do.
The goal of the reassessment is absolutely clear:
it is to find the right number of people who fit in each category,
and then to provide specialist support to those who have the potential
to return to work to do so. There is no financial target. Occasionally
people in the media put in a goal of a £1 billion saving:
that is not the case. There is no financial target. The number
of people we end up with in the three groups will be the number
of people we end up with. There is no target for Atos. There
is no target for decision makers. I want to get this as right
as we possibly can. It is not in our interests as the administration,
it is not in the interest of individuals, to find people in the
wrong place. It is in everyone's interests to try to get them
in the right place, because for those who have the potential to
return to work, if we can help them to do so, there is a win-win
for everyone, and in that way you do save money.
Q269 Harriett Baldwin:
Further to my colleague's questions, one of the first decisions
you took was to set up the Harrington Review, which has been so
widely welcomed, and the impact is just beginning to be felt.
You also decided, and we have looked at this separately, to set
up the Work Programme contracts, where you had a very specific
system in different regions of at least two contractors in every
area. I wondered whether you also thought, in making that decision
about sticking with Atos, it would be appropriate at that point
to perhaps bring in a second provider to do some of the incremental
work to create a little bit more of the competitive tension that
I know you wanted to see on the Work Programme?
I did give that some thought, and there were organisations that
were interested in doing so. The problem you have is, if in the
middle of the migration process you effectively retender what
you are doing, which you would becurrently the contract
that Atos has is to carry out all of the assessments for the DWPit
would unduly disrupt the migration process, and would leave people
for longer before we had the opportunity to help them through
the Work Programme. That is why we did not, but there is another
important point to make in relation to Atos: Atos get a lot of
grief. They are very much in the firing line in the eyes of a
lot of the claimants, because they are the ones seen to be carrying
out the assessments. Like every big organisation, they have not
got everything right, and they probably will not get everything
right. We have put a lot of effort into working with them to
ensure that they improve and have got the right quality of people.
I think they would acknowledge that the quality of the professionals
working on this, the level of training and so forth, has steadily
improved as time has gone by.
It is also important to remember that, as a result
of the Harrington Review, we have downgraded the role of the Atos-carried-out
Work Capability Assessment in this process. What Professor Harrington
said was, effectively, decision makers in Jobcentre Plus were
rubber-stamping the assessment, because they felt it had been
carried out by a medical professional, and that was it, so they
had to take that as gospel. We have clearly said to our decision
makers: "That is not right." They have all been retrained,
and I will ask Karen to say a bit about that. They have been
told very clearly that they should use the assessment as an important
part of their decision-making, but not the only part, and that
they should also be looking at input from the evidence from a
hospital consultant, for example, or a mental health specialist.
Karen, do you want to say more about the decision maker's role?
Karen Foulds: Thank
you. The role of the decision makers has changed quite significantly,
because, as the Minister said, previously it had been very much
following a set process.
Chair: Can I stop you
there? I know we have questions on the decision maker's role.
Q270 Harriett Baldwin:
I have one supplementary on that. Minister, do you think, in
retrospect, that the previous Government made a mistake in deciding
to award the contract to Atos as the sole provider?
That is a difficult one. Would I have appointed two organisations
at the start? Probably, yes, but I did not think it was possible
to change horses mid-race effectively.
Q271 Karen Bradley:
If I could take you back, Minister, to the comments about how
we will not have seen anybody who has gone through the revised
process following the lessons learnt from the trials and the Harrington
Review. You may not be able to answer this question, but is the
mock-up that we saw yesterday of a Work Capability Assessment
likely to be the new style?
Yes. Yes it is.
Q272 Karen Bradley:
There was a big poster in the assessment roomI do not have
the exact wordingtalking about the process. It was a big
picture map, but it talked about "ESA entitlement test".
That immediately sets alarm bells ringing that people are going
to come into this room and think, "This is about my level
of money, not my ability to work."
Dr Gunnyeon: I
am surprised: I cannot answer that, because I was not there.
Apart from anything else, one of my key concerns is try to move
away from talking about this as a test anyway, because a test
implies something that somebody has to pass or to fail, and it
has been a problem all the way through. One of the challenges
of changing perceptions is getting people to see this as an assessment:
it is an assessment that is designed to try to identify where
somebody sits on this continuum, from being in work and fit for
work to being a long way from work because of a health condition.
Whether they are close to being fit for work, whether they are
actually fit for work in spite of a health condition, and whether
they are a long way away, and how long it might take them to move
back towards that, and therefore it is about that assessment process.
As you highlighted at the start, it is important
to remember that, of those who are in work, about 25% of people
in work suffer from a long-term health condition. Of working
age people as a whole with a long-term health condition, about
60% are in work. One of the challenges we have with perceptions
is that people think that, if they are considered fit for work,
that means the assessment has concluded there is nothing wrong
with them: that is a problem. I cannot answer your question on
that, but I will find out. Certainly, if there is something that
says "test", that will be addressed immediately because
that is exactly what we are trying not to present.
Q273 Karen Bradley:
I cannot remember the exact words, but it was very clear that
it said "ESA", and that immediately said you are looking
at the benefit rather than the ability to work and what work you
are fit to do, or how far you are from the workplace.
If we may, we will go and remove said poster from the wall, take
a look at it, and write to the Committee.
Q274 Chair: It
was also the screensaver.
We will take a look at those and write to you.
Q275 Kate Green:
On the contract, and the issue that Harriett Baldwin was raising
about the single supplier and your answer to me earlier about
the period of the contract being until 2015, as I understand it,
the agreement with Atos covers not just the Work Capability Assessment
for ESA but a range of tests for different benefits, including
Disability Living Allowance, which will disappear before 2015.
No. That is not right. This contract is purely for the Work
I believe Atos have a limited role in helping share their experience
of the WCA with the project team working on DLA, but no contracts
have been placed. The final test for DLA has not been designedI
have used the word testthe final assessment for DLA
Dr Gunnyeon: I
will remind you of that later, Minister.
has not been designed, so we are not at that stage now.
Q276 Kate Green:
That would be a separate contract letting process?
Q277 Kate Green:
And will be open to competitive bidding whereby you might introduce
a second supplier into the DWP assessments?
Absolutely it will. Yes.
Dr Gunnyeon: Very
specifically the extension to 2015 excluded DLA from 2013. It
was very specific and it will be subject to a separate process.
Q278 Chair: A
letter that we received from the Secretary of State on 28 September
2010, which was the letter that said the contract was to go to
2017, says, "The scope of the Medical Service Agreement is
to provide medical advice to the DWP, Her Majesty's Revenue and
Customs, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and Tribunals Service,
to support decisions in relation to a number of benefits and pensions.
These include, but are not limited to: Incapacity Benefits, Employment
and Support Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits,
Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, Statutory Sick
Pay, Child Trust Fund etc"
This would suggest that there is one contract with Government
that Atos has that includes all of this. That is not what you
Dr Gunnyeon: No
it does not. Most DLA assessments are self-assessments by individuals,
but when they need it, it is Atos which does it at the moment,
but that will not continue beyond 2013.
Q279 Chair: The
assessment centre we were in yesterday did DLA assessments.
Dr Gunnyeon: Indeed.
What the Minister was showing was the difference between the
extension to 2015, which is for the assessments except for DLA,
because DLA will only continue until 2013 when obviously the new
Personal Independence Payment assessment will come in.
Q280 Chair: That
contract comes to an end at that stage?
Dr Gunnyeon: It
will be tendered before then.
Q281 Glenda Jackson:
I did not get a reply from Dr Gunnyeon on what constitutes a
grade A report?
Dr Gunnyeon: Yes.
If you think about what I said about the assessment, what we
are trying to do in the assessment is to, as accurately as possible,
identify those individuals who in spite of an ongoing health condition,
for whom it would be reasonable for them to work because other
people with similar conditions, in similar situations, do, against
those who, at this moment in time, it is not reasonable to work.
What we are trying to do in assessing the quality of the report
is to determine whether the evidence is there that supports the
conclusion that the healthcare professional has reached in terms
of the descriptors they have used, and the points that have been
allocated. Do the descriptors that they have used fit with the
evidence that they have gathered and the conclusions they have
reached? Unless we manage that, we run the risk of not correctly
identifying those who are on the borderline in the difficult caseswho
potentially are fit to work, but equally might just not quite
be. Those where it is clear it is much easier, so it is about
trying to ensure that we have a report that shows clearly the
conclusion that has been reached, that demonstrates that all the
evidence has been gathered, and that that evidence supports the
allocation of descriptors, and the points arising from those descriptors.
Q282 Glenda Jackson:
Who screens that report?
Dr Gunnyeon: Those
are audited by experienced healthcare professionals in Atos.
You saw the sort of standard of healthcare professionals that
Atos has yesterday. It is their most senior, most experienced
healthcare professionals who do the audit and review cases. Clearly
the decision maker also has a role in this. They get a report
in to them, and the decision makers handle a lot of reports.
They become very experienced at identifying what reports are good,
what looks right, and where they can see that the descriptors
have been appropriately allocated based on the evidence. They
are also identifying those and sending them back for reworking
if it is not right.
Q283 Oliver Heald:
Professor Gregg, who you have already mentioned, told us that
he thought you should have delayed the trials in Aberdeen and
Burnley until you were able to run the whole of the new system,
so all the Harrington changes, which you have now implemented,
plus the Internal Review changes. That would have given you a
good opportunity to see how the whole package worked.
There are a number of people who have suggested we should have
delayed, and there are those who still argue today that we should
delay for further changes. I personally take the view that doing
this is the right thing to do, and doing it in as timely a way
as we possibly can is the right thing to do, because every month,
every quarter, every six months and every year that we delay is
another period where we leave a large number of people with the
potential to get back into work on the sidelines. As the economy
recovers, as we hope it will over the next few years, and we hope
we see the increase in employment that the OBR
is currently forecasting, it would be a tragedy if we do not have
a system in place that is working to prepare those people with
the potential to return to work to take advantage of those vacancies
as and when they arise. Otherwise we will see what has happened
over the past decade: new vacancies have gone to migrant workers
My view has been we need to get on with this as quickly
as possible. We have learnt lessons from both Burnley and Aberdeen;
we have learnt lessons from the Harrington Review. The two have
fed off each other. Professor Harrington has spent a lot of time
with the teams in Burnley and Aberdeen sharing experiences, and
his work, as he went through, helped influence what they did.
The work being done in Jobcentre Plus helped influence his recommendations,
because some of the ideas he put forward came from professionals
within Jobcentre Plus. I made sure before we progressed the national
migration that Professor Harrington said, "It is fine to
go ahead: it is fit for purpose." I am very sure that we
have done the right thing. I have said I am not pretending that
the system is perfectI am not certain it will ever be perfect,
because some of this is subjectivebut this will be a continuous
process of improvement.
I am open to all further suggestions as to how we
improve what we do, but the key question for me is, do we go ahead
or don't we? I predicate it on Professor Harrington saying either
this is fit for purpose or it is not. What he came back to me
and effectively said was, "You can drive this car. It may
need some more fine-tuning in the future, but it is fine to drive
right now." If he turned up and said, "Do not drive
it; it will blow up after 10 yards," I would have not gone
ahead with the national migration, but that is not what he said
Q284 Oliver Heald:
What Harrington has proposed is quite resource and staff intensive
in the sense that it requires a lot of extra communication with
the people who are to be assessed. Is that something that you
are able to afford in your budget, and how does it fit in with
the cuts you are having to make, as all public services are, in
staffing? Is this something that is sustainable? How is it being
paid for? What is the situation now?
Let me get Karen to start off in answering that in terms of the
impact on the organisation, and then I will talk a bit about the
Karen Foulds: In
Jobcentre Plus, what we have learnt from the trialbecause
as the Minister said, the trial has been invaluable to usin
relation to Harrington specifically is it is in all our interests
to get the decision right for the customer from the earliest possible
opportunity. Particularly, one of the things that we are trying
to achieve through the customer journey for IB reassessment and
through Harrington is to gather all the medical evidence as early
as possible in the journey. One of the things that makes this
cost-effective and makes it affordable is that, if we get that
evidence earlier, then we make the right decision earlier, and
that is obviously better for the customer and more cost-effective
for us as an organisation. So although we are putting extra steps
into the journey, and when we come to that I can talk more about
how we have done that within the IB reassessment, they will pay
for themselves, because we are actually offering a more efficient
and streamlined and better customerfocused service from
the outset, particularly around further medical evidence at an
Q285 Oliver Heald:
And you have not had to change the plans in terms of how many
staff are in the offices?
Karen Foulds: No.
We had a certain amount of staffing available to us to reassess
Incapacity Benefit, because that is obviously a big, single, oneoff
exercise over three years. So, we had staffing allocated for
that, which I can give you the details of, but for the changes
that Harrington is wanting to make to the ESA journey, we are
just at the very start of that and we are just starting to test
some of that as part of a controlled national rollout. We have
not had to adjust our staffing in our offices for that, no.
It is worth adding, Mr Heald, if I may: I have been very clear
in budget terms that this is something we have to do, but Professor
Harrington in his report said specifically he believed in the
end this would save money rather than cost money because of the
impact it would have on the workings of the organisation and the
effectiveness of the system.
Q286 Oliver Heald:
Now, one of the things that has been heavily criticised is the
Internal Review and Professor Harrington did say to us that he
would have preferred the implementation of that to have been delayed
until his process was complete. What would you say about that?
Let's be clear first of all and say why we went ahead with the
Internal Review, and I thought quite long and hard about this.
The Internal Review was carried out by the previous Government.
Can I just ask Bill Gunnyeon to give you a quick snapshot of
how the Internal Review was carried out so that the Committee
has the context and then I will explain why I introduced it?
Dr Gunnyeon: When
we developed the Work Capability Assessment it was very much transforming
the previous Personal Capability Assessment. When we developed
the Work Capability Assessment, we tried as hard as we could to
ensure that the assessment was going to be robust and accurate,
but we recognised that we would not get everything right at the
start and we committed to a process of change anyway. We wanted
to, fairly quickly after the introduction of the assessment, look
at it, review it, to see whether particularly there were some
anomalies. There was always a riskthings that we had not
managed to pick up when we were doing the testing of the assessment,
and we knew that we had not focused on adaptation as well. So,
we started the process about six to nine months after the introduction
of ESA, and we brought together a group of technical experts,
some of whom are the same as those who have been involved in developing
the WCA and some were new, and representatives from specialist
Now, we learnt something from the way we did the
initial assessment development; when we did that we had two separate
groups. We had a technical expert group and we had a consultative
group, which was the specialist disability group representatives,
and they worked separately. We did bring them together, but they
worked separately. We felt when we did the Internal Review that
it would be much more sensible to have a single group that included
the technical experts and representatives from specialist disability
groups, and that is, in fact, what we did. That process, therefore,
reviewed the descriptors; it reviewed evidence from cases that
had been received and, in fact, when we did the modelling, eventually,
on the new descriptors, we ran that against about 50,000 cases
that by that stage had been through the WCA. So that process
At the end of that there were still some issues that
specialist disability groups identified because there was the
initial report produced by the group. I then chaired two sessions
with representatives of the specialist disability groups to look
at particular concerns and, as a result of that, we made some
further and, indeed, not insignificant amendments to the proposals
from the Internal Review, and, in fact, so it was clear what had
been done, that formed an addendum to the report, but all the
recommendations in that addendum were included in the legislative
changes to the WCA, which have led to the amended WCA, which is
the one that is now being used.
Now, that is what I inherited on coming into office, and basically
it did three things that I felt were justifiable and important.
The first is it dealt with some specialist individual anomalies,
which I felt needed to be dealt with. So, for example, in the
case of people going through chemotherapy, you could be found
fit for work between courses of chemotherapy, and I had a friend
who was going through chemotherapy and thought, "This is
mad." We should have people who are in between courses of
chemotherapy in the Support Group. The review does that and therefore
we should make that change. It also made changes, for example,
where somebody is in residential rehab; they are counted as being
in the work related activity group, and that again seemed logical
This had been the subject of debate, but the second
thing it did was to make a comparison of the new descriptors against
the 50,000 previous cases, which demonstrated that the new descriptors
placed more people with mental health problems in the Support
Group than had previously been the case, left about the same number
of people in the WorkRelated Activity Group, and therefore
had fewer people with mental health problems found fit for work.
Now, given the fact that mental health in this is one of my big
concerns, that seemed to be a sensible and desirable outcome,
and again, something I wanted to support.
The third was the issue of adaptation and, again,
I think that this is something that I believe is right as wellto
factor in the degree to which somebody has adapted to their condition.
We are in the situation where, in extremis, a Paralympic athlete
with a university degree has no obligation to look for a job.
Now that does not seem sensible to me. Equally, somebody who
is blind or partially sighted who has been in work for 20 years
who is made redundant would not theoretically have the obligation
to look for a job. It seemed to me to be sensible to have an
adaptation element within the process. So, all of those seemed
sensible to me. Professor Harrington did not, in his report,
say, "I do not think you should go ahead with this,"
so therefore it made sense. Particularly on the mental health
issue, I personally want to see people with mental health problems
in the right place, but I do not want people with mental health
issues who should be in the Support Group pushed into the WRAG.
I would rather err on the other side of things. So, I formed
the judgment it was best to implement that Internal Review because
of those reasons.
Q287 Chair: Can
I just clarify something you just said, because you said that,
as a result of the Internal Review, fewer people would end up
on JSA, but your own memorandum to us in paragraph 60 says: "By
accounting for adaptation, the number of new claimants being found
fit for work is also expected to increase by around 5%."
That is the adaptation issue; that is not people with mental
Q288 Chair: You
said about the Paralympic athlete with a university degree, but
you do not ask about people's educational qualifications when
you are going through the WCA.
I am simply illustrating the point that I think there are some
Q289 Chair: But
how can you make that assessment if you do not ask the questions?
Well, the whole philosophy of the approach that we are seeking
to take with the Work Capability Assessment and the reassessment
process is not to put any group entirely in one box. The fact
that you might be blind or partially sighted or the fact that
you might be in a wheelchair should not predetermine whether you
are in one group or another.
Q290 Chair: But
the questions that would allow you to make that differentiation
are not asked. That is one of the major complaints. The things
that will allow someone with a very severe disability to work
are actually not the physical things, nor, indeed covered by the
WCA questions at all.
I am using those two examples illustratively, but the WCA line
of questioning is designed, as I am sure you saw when you sat
through the assessment yesterday, to establish the nature of someone's
circumstancewhat they can do and what they cannot dovery
often by asking them questions about the way they live their lives:
about things that they can do, things that they cannot do. If
you are looking at somebody who is blind or partially sighted,
then I would expect one of the lines of questioning from the assessor
to be to probe how that person does or does not manage to perform
routine duties. Are they able to perform particular tasks? It
is designed to establish what their capabilities are, and I think
the adaptation issue is very important. I do not think it is
right to assume that by default because you have a particular
disability you are automatically and in all circumstances unable
to work. The circumstances for somebody who has been blind or
partially sighted for all of their life who has previously worked
are very different for somebody who has just been through a health
trauma and lost their sight.
Q291 Glenda Jackson:
With respect, Minister, earlier, at the end of your entirely understandable
and acceptable definition of what the Government wishes to achieve
in getting people back to work, your culminating sentence wasand
I am paraphrasing slightlyto assist them into jobs that
at the moment are taken by migrant workers. You put all those
people into that box, and as far as, certainly, the people out
there are concerned, migrant workers do things like picking strawberries,
digging for potatoes; it is temporary and they tend to be students.
So, on two counts there, it seems to me, you do have a mindset
here and despite everything that we have heard earlier, you are
being extremely casual about your use of language.
I am afraid I think that is not correct.
Glenda Jackson: Well,
there you go.
I think if you look at the jobs being performed in our society
by migrant workers you will find an enormous range of tasks by
people from countries around the world. As I say, I think one
of the things we should be ashamed of if we look back over the
past 15 years is that probably between 3 and 4 million new jobs
were created in that period of time and yet through that period
we consistently had almost 5 million people on out-of-work benefits,
and in those years we did nothing as a nation to try to help those
people with the potential to get into work to escape from that
environment and get back into the workplace.
Q292 Chair: That
is not strictly true. There was the Flexible New Deal; there
was New Deal for Disabled People, there was Pathways to Work,
which your Government has now cancelled, so I think that is a
bit disingenuous, Minister, to say that nothing was done, when
a great deal has been done through the various New Deals over
the years. You may not agree with whether they were effective
or not, but there was a huge attempt.
I think I would argue in the case of what is technically and crudely
called the Incapacity Benefit stock, who are by far the biggest
block and were by far the biggest block of the people on benefits
during those years, actually nothing was done to help themvirtually
Q293 Chair: A
large number of them went through Personal Capability Assessment
(PCA), carried out by Atos. It is wrongand it has been
repeated again this morningto say that when someone got
their Incapacity Benefit they were not called back for reassessment.
Particularly those with mental health problems very often had
yearly reassessments, and they were classed as the stock because
over the years they had been out of work for some time. So, I
think, again, there is a bit of rewriting of history going on
here this morning, otherwise the Personal Capability Assessments
would not have existed or Atos would not have got the contract.
One of the reasons why Atos is going to be able to deal with
the increase of the WCAs is because they were already doing PCAs.
I think we could have a debate about political history. I would
look back to the work done by James Purnell as Secretary of State
in the wake of the publication of our Green Paper three years
ago, which was the moment at which it first started to feel as
if the previous Government recognised there was a problem that
they had to do more about. But we could debate that one a long
time. I think that virtually nothing was done over that period
of time to try to deal with that problem of 2.6 million people,
as it was then, on Incapacity Benefit, and it was a crying shame.
Had more been done earlier, had this process happened properly
10 years ago, we would now see far more of those people in work,
because we would have gone through the process that we are going
through now at a time when there was a much more buoyant labour
market. I am absolutely determined that, as we go through the
next four years, and if the OBR is right and we see almost 1 million
net new jobs created in this country over the next four years,
I want some of the people who are currently sitting on Incapacity
Benefit at home to have the opportunity with the specialist help
from the Work Programme to get into those jobs.
Q294 Chair: But
the lesson from the last Government was that is incredibly difficult;
you can redefine people but actually getting them a job, even
with a great deal of help, can still face insuperable barriers.
That is precisely why we have set a much higher tariff in the
Work Programme: to get people into work who are facing bigger
challenges in their lives.
Chair: Obviously, only
time will tell.
Q295 Oliver Heald:
I have two questions left and will put them together so we can
move on. The descriptors are likely to change again, aren't they,
as a result of the second Harrington Review? As you change descriptors
over time, are you going to be assessing how that works and what
the effect of it is, and how are you going to do it?
The answer to that is yes. My expectation is we will go through,
in looking at descriptor changes as rapidly as possible, a similar
exercise to what we did before. Do you want to just explain that
Dr Gunnyeon: Yes,
I think one of the challenges, of course, is that the amended
WCA was only introduced at the end of March this year, so we still
have not got any data on how the new descriptors are performing,
which is one of the challenges, because one of the significant
areas of change in descriptors was around the mental health descriptors
to try to simplify the descriptors, improve the language, make
it easier and provide more flexibility for the way they were applied.
We are obviously not going to know yet just quite how that is
working. But, as you know, Professor Harrington, in his year
two programme of work, asked three of the mental health charities
to look at how to refine those descriptors to further improve
things. That was recently delivered to the Department, and we
are just looking at the moment at how easy it will be to implement
because I think the charities have gone, perhaps, a little bit
further than expected and taken a slightly different approach
to the assessments, so it is going to take us a little bit of
time to work out just how we can actually assess the potential
The challenge, of course, is that we have not been
given any robust evidence so far that the previous set of mental
health descriptors was not working, other than in the assessment
that we, ourselves, had done with the technical working group,
which included specialist disability group representatives. We
have not got any evidence that what is being proposed is necessarily
going to be any better, so we need to be very careful. What we
clearly do not want to do is to do something that has the opposite
effect of what we intend, which is obviously to improve the accuracy
and the fairness of the assessment for people with mental health
One point, Dame Anne, very quickly: I am very clear that there
needs to be a process for continuous improvement, and I am very
clear that we are and will remain open to changes that improve
the robustness of this process. I do not think we will ever get
a system that is 100% perfect, but we will work as hard as we
can towards that and we will continue to do so.
Q296 Andrew Bingham:
Professor Paul Gregg again, although from what you said I am not
sure how much store we should place into some of his comments,
refers to this profound disconnect between what people expect
from the assessment and what they get when they get there. Is
there a better way we can make them more prepared or aware of
what they are walking into when they walk into an assessment?
I have a big bugbear that people see being found fit for work
as failing, which to me is a pass, if you want to condense it
I completely agree and I am going to ask Karen to talk through
how we have changed the human side of the process. I think this
is one of the big flaws of what we inherited. I have had some
of the standard letters passed back through my office so we can
get them rewritten, and my correspondence team member has rewritten
some of the original letters so they come across as being human.
They were previously your kind of classic computer generated:
"Dear Claimant, following your assessment
one of the key recommendations of Professor Harrington's review
was to humanise the process, and we have worked extremely hard
to do that. I ask Karen to now talk you through how things are
Karen Foulds: Thank
you. Yes, we have made massive effort with this change to really
address and focus on customer need. That starts right at the
beginning of the customer journey, where we have learnt from ESA,
as the Minister says, and we have put quite a few additional steps
in, particularly a telephone call to the customer that has no
other purpose other than to help the customer and to orientate
the customer. We do not collect any information; we do not press
any buttons. It is purely about talking to the customer to do
exactly as you have asked, which is to explain what the process
is about and how they need to engage with us.
Q297 Chair: Can
I just stop you there. This is all really good stuff, but we
have already heard it from when we went to Burnley.
We have also got it in a lot of our documentation,
and in fact interestingly enough in your own review of the actual
administrative processes, which is what this trial was, there
is not a lot of criticism about that. That was actually quite
well handled. I think Andrew can concentrate on the questions
about the customer experience of the things that are going wrong,
not the things that are necessarily going right
Karen Foulds: Okay.
Chair: rather than
this detailed step-by-step account, because we do not have time.
We have only got a half hour left and we have got lots and lots
Q298 Andrew Bingham:
We have been told by claimants that some of the Atos centres are
not appropriately located or appropriately accessible. Has that
come back to you? Have you discussed this with Atos?
In the past few months, I have had two meetings with the Chief
Executive of Atos, in which a clear message has been handed across
and changes have happened and indeed are happening as a result.
I was pretty surprised to discover the issue existed in the first
place. Bill can explain to you the exact detail of what they
have now done.
Dr Gunnyeon: Obviously,
part of the issue is access for people with disabilities and obviously
a lot of buildings that are used are difficult. The requirement
would obviously be to have wheelchair access, for example, and
other suitable access. If there are buildings where that is not
possible, Atos are making arrangements for the assessment to be
carried out in other locations, or indeed, in an individual's
home. In fact, they are trying to ensure that there is always
ground-floor access in those buildings, which goes beyond, really,
what they need. So long as there is lift access and there are
arrangements for emergency egress in the event of a fire, it would
be okay to have somebody on the first floor. They are actually
going further; they want to try to ensure that they can always
offer ground-floor access that will meet the requirements of anyone
with a disability, and they are moving rapidly towards that.
I was amazed that this was not part of the original process three
Q299 Andrew Bingham:
Did I hear you right then when you said that they would do them
in people's homes?
Dr Gunnyeon: If
it is not possible to
Q300 Andrew Bingham:
In extreme circumstances.
Dr Gunnyeon: In
some circumstances assessments are done at home for other reasons
anyway, because individuals perhaps are not able to travel, but
if it was not possible to find a suitable alternative location
that is going to be suitable for the customer, either because
of geographical issues or whatever, then they would consider a
homebased assessment. They will also provide transport
if it means someone travelling further than the normally expected
Q301 Andrew Bingham:
I was almost speechless when Atos told me that 30% of claimants
do not turn up for their assessments. Now, I know Atos do not
follow up non-attendance, but I know that Jobcentre Plus do.
Is information collated on the people who do not turn up to see
if it is a particular group or a particular demographic that does
not turn up, because I think that is a huge difficulty for them?
Karen Foulds: I
think that is a really important point, because that is the national
figures for Atos for ESA, but for the IB reassessment trial, which
is following a new process and, as you said, you have details
of that, the fail-to-attend rate is only 9%.
Q302 Andrew Bingham:
Is it? Oh, right.
Karen Foulds: And
that is, in our view, a direct result of this additional engagement
with customers from the beginning of the process so that they
understand what is happening to them, what we are going to do
for them and with them. So that is not an issue in IB reassessment.
Q303 Stephen Lloyd:
That is going to cost a lot more money, so are the Department
committed to rolling that more detailed and comprehensive process
out across the whole piece?
Karen Foulds: Yes.
We have got about 1,150 staff that are working particularly on
IB reassessment, but, as I answered in the previous question,
as far as ESA is concerned, it is actually more cost-effective,
because if those 30% do not turn up, as the questioner has just
said, we then have to get in touch with them again, find out why
they have not and send them another letterall those sorts
of processes. If only 9% are not turning up, that in itself is
much more cost-effective and that will be part of, we hope, the
impact on ESA. But at the moment that figure is purely about
IB reassessment; I should just stress that.
Q304 Andrew Bingham:
Are Atos going to review their policy of overbookingI think
they booked around 120%to allow for that 30%?
Karen Foulds: Yes.
Q305 Andrew Bingham:
I presume that they are now going to review that as well.
Karen Foulds: Their
policy of overbooking is based on 30%.
Andrew Bingham: Right.
Karen Foulds: They
are now reviewing that, but remembering again, as the Minister
said earlier, the number of customers who have actually gone through
the IB reassessment process is still very small in comparison
to those that are going through ESA, and we have not seen that
impact yet on the whole of ESA. But they will be reviewing their
policy on that basis.
Andrew Bingham: I only
wondered if they review it accordingly. That is fine.
Q306 Glenda Jackson:
On this issue you mentioned of "failed to attend", this
was something that Atos raised with us. Is there any push on
your part for Atos to change that, because the implication of
"failed to attend" is that it is the responsibility
of the claimant, whereas we have had evidence where the inability
to attend had absolutely nothing to do with the unwillingness
of the claimant. There were things outside their control quite
often but it is still put down as failure and that can carry sanctions,
Karen Foulds: Yes.
The term "failed to attend" is a term that we use widely
within Jobcentre Plus for people not attending interviews, and
I take the point that you are making. The sanctions would only
apply if we had considered good cause and we considered there
was no good cause for the person not attending. But, for example,
if we know that somebody's got a mental health condition, then
we would take that into account with good cause. We would do
safeguarding visits to people's homes if they had not responded
to either our telephone call, our letter, and had not attended
the appointment. We put safeguards in place to ensure that, where
there is a good reason why the person has not attended, or, in
fact, they have not been able to engage with the process at all
because they have not perhaps understood what is happening to
them, we would put those measures in place.
Q307 Glenda Jackson:
We had evidence of people who had been deemed to fail to attend
when actually they had been part of that 120% of over-bookings
and the time simply ran out before the Atos individual could interview
Karen Foulds: We
are aware of that and that categorically should not happen. Any
cases where that has happened, we need to know about.
I would just emphasise on that latter point: that is utterly unacceptable.
I do not believe it has happened in very many cases. I am not
saying it has never happened. If there was evidence of it happening
in significant volumes we would have to clearly go for process
changes, but in every big organisation things sometimes go wrong.
It is not supposed to be the case and we would not tolerate it
being the case.
Chair: Yes. Certainly,
I have a constituent in exactly that position.
Q308 Brandon Lewis:
I just want to disassociate myself with comments that Ms Jackson
made earlier and agree with the comments you made about migrant
workers. Representing Great Yarmouth, obviously I cover a huge
number of people from whole different backgrounds doing this whole
different range of work, and I fully support the comments you
made earlier; I just wanted to put that on the record. What I
want to ask is about the appeal rates. I think, to an extent,
you might have already answered this when you explained earlier
that a lot of the data we have is on the old system rather than
the new system. Is the aim of the changes that have been made,
that are coming into place with the trials, and, indeed, the new
system you have put in place, to see that the level of appeals
falls, basically? Because I can understand a lot of people will
appeal if they get a decision that they are not happy with, but
there has been about a 40% on average success rate for those appeals.
Is the aim that the new system will see that come down?
We have two aims in this. The first is to reduce the number of
people who feel the need to go for appeal. That is going to be
a big challenge and I will explain why. The reason we are putting
extra emphasis on reconsideration within Jobcentre Plus is I want
people to bring forward new evidence, if they have it, before
it ever goes to the Tribunal Service. One of the things Professor
Harrington found was that evidence was emerging at the tribunal
that Jobcentre Plus had never seen. So one of the things we are
seeking to do after the decision is taken, if somebody comes back
and says, "I am not happy," is to say to them at that
point very clearly, "You can give us further evidence to
take into account."
I want to be absolutely clear about this: it is likely
that an awful lot of people will appeal. They have a statutory
right to appeal. They are being found fit for work and many will
be reluctant to take that step. They are moving on to JSA in
many cases and many will be reluctant to take that step as well.
I do not think it is going to be possible to reduce the number
of appeals that are actually lodged. What I want to do is to
reduce the number of appeals that are successful, and that could
be done by making sure we take much better decisions right the
way through the process.
Q309 Brandon Lewis:
Yes, I agree with that. I can see that being the perfect end.
As to the comment you made about new evidence, a couple of witnesses
have made a comment about the proposal in the Welfare Reform Bill
to enable the Secretary of State to acquire consideration of revision
before appeal. Is that partly linked to this issue around new
We need to really try to make sure we get it right within Jobcentre
Plus before things ever go to the Tribunal Service, and what we
wanted to do is to create a kind of sequential process rather
than a parallel process and really make sure we get the decisions
right within Jobcentre Plus where we can. So, that amendment
is designed to try to achieve that.
Q310 Brandon Lewis:
There have been some comments from some of the people looking
to appeal about the length of time an appeal can take, and then
after the appeal how quickly they can then be reassessed sometimes.
Is there an aim that, with potentially there being fewer successful
appeals, that time would be reduced or are there other things
coming into place that might be able to reduce the length of the
appeal process and also to give support to people who are going
through that process?
Yes, there is and there has been a big backlog for some very considerable
time in the appeals service. They are now beginning to make headway
on that. For the last three or four months there has been a reduction
in that backlog and they are gearing up capacity wise quite substantially,
so effectively the Tribunal Service will have doubled its capacity
between 2009 and 2012 in part to deal with the extra people who
are being assessed as a result of the migration. We are in close
contact with the Ministry of Justice; we are trying to identify
sensible and smart ways to improve the process. But, of course,
if we can get the quality of decision making up to the really
best possible level in Jobcentre Plus then I hope that the reputation
that goes round will be that they are being treated fairly and
so, in the end, we will start to see fewer people appeal. But
in the short term, as I say, I think an awful lot will do.
Q311 Chair: While
the percentage appealing may drop, the numbers will go up simply
because the number coming through the system
That is right and that is why the Tribunal Service is doubling
Q312 Chair: Have
you managed to quantify that, because doubling may not be enough.
At the moment, in some areas it is gridlock. It can be taking
up to nine or 10 months to get an appeal.
It has been very long, and in the last four months or so we have
seen the backlog beginning to come down for the first time in
recent times. At the same time the Tribunal Service is ramping
up capacity as rapidly as it sensibly can. We will keep working
with them to make sure that we head off and address the problem,
but it is certainly a challenge; I make no bones about the fact
it is a challenge.
Q313 Andrew Bingham:
I just want to pick up a point that Professor Harrington confirmed
and I believe was true: when it goes to appeal, no representations
are made to the tribunal by the Jobcentre Plus who made the original
decision. It seems that the appeal is a bit onesided when
it gets there. Is that something that we want to look at, given
the level of appeals that are upheld?
Yes, definitely. In recent times we have had staff there. Karen,
do you want to say a bit about that?
Karen Foulds: Yes.
The appeals that are going through from the trial we are having
presenting officers, as we call them, there to see what impact
that has, and that is part of all of the work that we are doing
with decision makers to enable decision makers to use the increased
discretion that was mentioned earlier. We are putting a quality
assurance framework in; we have introduced three new training
packages for decision makers; we have monthly telekits with all
the decision makers nationallythe Minister is actually
dialling into the next oneall around trying to support
our decision makers, who then also become the presenting officers,
obviously, as they are part of the same team, in being able to
implement the findings of Harrington and support the customer
service through this journey.
Andrew Bingham: Thank
Dr Gunnyeon: One
of Professor Harrington's recommendations as well around the personalised
summary, which we referred to earlier, is also an attempt to make
sure that, when the decision is fed back to the claimant, they
have a much better understanding of why they have been unsuccessful.
Often people have appealed in the past because they did not really
understand why they had not been successful. If we can start
by helping people to understand better the reason for the decision,
that may help some people accept that that is a reasonable decision.
There are a number of things that are all designed to try to
help this process.
Q314 Glenda Jackson:
You said it was unsuccessful. I thought the whole thrust was
that, post the process, it was successful if you had to move on
I do not think we will see it that way.
Q315 Glenda Jackson:
This comes from your guy in the Department.
Dr Gunnyeon: Sorry.
I apologise if the language I used was slightly inconsistent.
Q316 Glenda Jackson:
We have been talking about language used from the beginning.
Dr Gunnyeon: I
think I have just demonstrated exactly why it is so difficult.
I apologise, Chair, but the message I was trying to communicate
was that somebody's understanding of the reason why the decision
has been made may help them feel that they do not need to appeal.
There is a risk that people appeal simply because they do not
understand. That is one of the things we are trying to move away
Q317 Teresa Pearce:
This is probably a question for Karen. We have heard a lot today
about the improvements to Atos and the process and all the lessons
that have been learnt. My concern is that Jobcentre Plus staff,
who are used to dealing with people who are seeking work and on
JSA, are now dealing in numbers with people who are on IB who
are going to be coming through this process. What sort of budget
have you had for development and training of the staff to deal
with that much more nuanced, softskillneeding
Karen Foulds: We
have put 16,700 advisers through training and awareness for the
Incapacity Benefit reassessment. Our advisers have dealt with
these customers more than most people realise, because customers
through Pathways to Work and other things have been coming into
Jobcentres for some time. But we have given them all cultural
training and also enhanced training around dealing with people
with mental health issues, etc. We are also bringing in at the
same time, as part of the preWork Programme Jobcentre Plus
offer, a named adviser for customers when they walk in. So if
they are found fit for work and claim Jobseeker's Allowance, or,
indeed, if they are in the WorkRelated Activity Group for
they attend the Jobcentre for the first time they will be given
a named adviser who will work with them and support them until
they are moved to the Work Programme. That is quite a big change
that we introduced in April, and the reason for that is for that
adviser to use their discretion in terms of the time that they
spend with that customer and offer as tailored a service as possible
to support that customer taking workrelated activity or
some active steps to get closer to work, or, indeed, if they are
on Jobseeker's Allowance, helping them actually apply for jobs.
We have examples already from the trial where we
have somebody in Aberdeen who was profoundly deaf who has already
established a relationship with her personal adviser; they found
some provision locally that is going to help that person with
confidence to get closer to the labour market. They are on ESA
so they are not required to find a job, but to actually help them
get more confidence, and their adviser is staying in touch with
them whilst they work with the provider. I think that the experience
of our advisers and the training and support we have given them
really is there to make sure that they can deal effectively with
this customer group.
Q318 Karen Bradley:
Continuing with the decision-making process and going back to
what we started earlierand I am conscious of timeperhaps
if you could quickly explain to the Committee what changes you
have made to the decision-making process. Are you planning to
use the information to measure the impact of these changes on
the levels of customer satisfaction and number of appeals?
Karen Foulds: Yes.
I will just try to keep to some quick points then. The first
thing that we learnt from the trial is around our decision call
to the customer. That is the biggest change really for decision
makers. Previously, decision makers have had a set of case papers;
they have looked at them and they have made a decision, quite
often, and normally, following the advice of Atos. As the Minister
has already said, this is all about the decision makers using
their judgement with the Atos information along with other things.
The key part of the customer journey that is different, as you
will be aware from your visits, is what we call Touchpoint 13,
which is our contact with the customer.
One of the key lessons we learnt from the trialand
this is around customer satisfaction, because it came from the
independent researchwas that customers found that single
call too difficult to deal with; they were getting news that perhaps
they did not want to hear or were not expecting, and having to
make some decisions about what to do next in one conversation.
We have split that into two, so that now we will call a claimant,
explain at that point in our understanding we think we may well
disallow them; ask if they have anything that they want to discuss
with us, additional evidence; and then give them the opportunity
for us to call them back in about three days, where they can either
have a representative with them or source some advice, or indeed
gone and got some additional information themselves. So that
is based entirely on customer feedback that that was not working
in the way in which we had intended it.
We obviously have not, as previously said, seen the
impact of that yet, because we have only had a very small trickle
of people through the national reassessment that will have experienced
that new approach, but in terms of the decision makers themselves
we are encouraging them to use their judgement. One of the other
things that we are learning now is that we need to just make sure
that we have the guidance right and the steer for them about what
information they can take into account, what carries more weight
and how they effectively use that discretion. Primarily it is
about trying to get all the evidence, so that, as the Minister
said, we do not go to an appeal and find new evidence being presented
at that time.
Q319 Karen Bradley:
How long is it between the assessment and the decision being communicated
to the claimant?
Karen Foulds: It
is actually only about 10 days or so, because the report is done
the next day by Atosthat comes straight through to us,
and we get in contact with the customer pretty quickly after that.
Then we will give them a call back in three days or so if that
is what they want. In response to some previous questions, because
we have helped orientate the customer throughout, they do know
what to expect and they know the importance of engaging with us
and what we are doing to support them, and that, again, from the
trial research, came across stronglythat customers welcomed
that journey and understood what was happening to them.
I think the final point I would make on that is just
for the national reassessment our assumptions were that we might
have at this point anything up to about 40,000 people contacting
our Contact Centres with concerns and questions: "What is
happening to me?" That has only been 10,000, so it has been
significantly less than we thought based on the information that
we are giving to customers.
Q320 Chair: Are
you going to pay your decision makers a lot more money, because
they, at present, earn less than 20 grand a year; the doctor,
I suspect, probably earns more than 60 grand a year, and yet they
have the final say and they are being asked to use their judgment,
perhaps even more so than the medical assessor in the first place.
Do we need the medical assessors? Why don't we just leave it
all to the decision makers?
Karen Foulds: The
decision makers are graded at the same grade as our personal advisers
and they also, obviously, have a very important role to play.
What we are doing, as I have said, is increasing the support
for them, particularly from their managers. I have worked in
Jobcentre Plus all my life and worked with decision makers, and
I know that at times they have just been left to get on with it.
Now, with the line managers, they have got a Quality Assurance
Framework, they are quality assessing what they are doing, and
offering the support through learning and development and coaching.
Q321 Chair: And
that is why they should be paid more money, surely? I think that
is a question for the Minister about valuing your staff? Is that
not the important thing? I think most of the Committee agrees
that it is right that the decision maker has that final say, and
Professor Harrington's recommendation was absolutely right, but
it does beg the question: why do we need these expensive people
and a computer programme to do a lot of the earlier stuff?
I think I would answer that by saying you need both. Obviously
I do not know the detail of the circumstance of the assessment
process you were shown, but very early on I sat through a genuine
assessment. I will not discuss it in great detail, but the nature
of the questioning in that discussion was designed to tease outalthough
it was clearly trying to answer the questions in the assessment
processmuch more about how that person lived their life
and on the basis of that form judgments about what they could
or could not do. I think that is still a very important part
of the evidence for consideration, but what I also want to see
is a situation where, if there was a letter from a hospital consultant
saying, "This person has bipolar disorder; you may see them
on a good day but please bear in mind that they have some very
bad days," that is something the decision maker takes into
account as well.
Dr Gunnyeon: And
the decision maker also has the opportunity to go back and have
further discussions with the healthcare professional, and, indeed,
to get medical advice as well in trying to weigh up the different
bits of evidence they have.
Q322 Chair: That
process and discussion is obviously very important. The original
assessment of the numbers who would end up in each group, the
Support Group and the WorkRelated Activity Group, are quite
different for the migration group as opposed to the new claimants.
But even once migration is done you are still going to have the
new claimants, so obviously those groups are important. In both
cases those figures were way out from the original estimates that
the Government had about the proportion that would end up in the
JSA, WRAG or Support Group.
One of the things I made clear in my comments at the time was
that some of those decisions would be overturned on appeal or
in reconsideration, and so therefore the overall number will come
down. The truth is that now that we have been through the full
Harrington process, now that we have implemented the changes that
arose as a result of the two pilots, we genuinely do not know.
Now the national migration is starting. It is going to be a
few months before we get a genuine picture, and what has been
clear from both the pilots and all the work done so far is that
there is a significant number of people who will be found fit
for work, who can get support through the Work Programme and who
I hope we can get into employment. There is also a significant
number of people who will go into the Work-Related Activity Group
who we can offer support to and guidance, both through Jobcentre
Plus and through the Work Programme. So, where we end up in terms
of the final numbers will really only become apparent in a few
Q323 Chair: Will
you be tracking people, particularly the migration group, who
have been found fully fit for work and put on JSA, and revisit
them six months down the line to find out if that assessment was
correct, because the suspicion is that the reason they were on
IB in the first place was they fell out of work. They had been
in work; they fell out of work because they had a health issue,
and perhaps even being on JSA and not getting work will exacerbate
that health issue and they really should be back either in the
WRAG or by this time in the Support Group. Will you be doing
that kind of intensive tracking?
We will do a lot of tracking, and we will have to as a result
of the monitoring of the Work Programme anyway, because those
people would be referred to the Work Programme and the JSA group
who came from Incapacity Benefit are a discrete group within the
Work Programme and so therefore we will certainly monitor very
carefully what happens to them. We will understand if there are
differences in the work placement rates between that group and
others, how great those differences are and then we will carry
out detailed research on a number of the groups post the WCA.
For example, we are going to be looking at what happens to those
people who disappear off benefits altogether after the WCA. There
are certainly some; that is the case with new claims as well.
I do want to understand and make sure we do not have people who
are genuinely falling through gaps in the system as a result of
what is happening to them.
Q324 Chair: 36%
of new claimants do not complete their claim, and at the moment
you do not know what has happened to those people?
No, well a number of those are people who have a shortterm
condition; they are people who sign on to ESA for a couple of
months because they have been seriously ill and have reached the
end of their sick leave at work, and then will go back into the
workplace. You are absolutely right; this is a concern for us
and it is something that we are researching and will be researching.
Q325 Chair: In
the IB migration group, it is interesting, again, from the report
that was done for you on that, the late and noncompliant
customers proved not to be the workshy or the people who had been
swinging the lead but actually proved to be the most vulnerable
Q326 Chair: who
had got the letter in and the phone calls and everything, and
had panicked and not been able to fill the form in, and actually
there was good reason; it was not a wilfulness that they had not
appeared at their assessment. There was good reason.
Dr Gunnyeon: There
was actually a survey done by the Department over the period July
to September of last year, which looked at those who had made
ESA claimsthis is obviously the new ESA claims, not the
reassessmentduring the period of April to June 2009 and
looked at what happened to the closed claims. Of that, 24% went
back to their own jobsthey obviously were making a claim
but still had a joband another 23% got a job or were self-employed.
So we have some idea.
Q327 Chair: Is
there maybe something in the system that, once they have had their
six months of SSP,
there was nowhere else for them to go but
to make a claim for ESA when they really were never going to qualify
for the ESA for one reason or another? All the other support
that they had had come to an end.
Karen Foulds: There
is going to be a report published in July on the reasons why people
ended a claim for ESA, so that might give us some of that information.
Yes. We do need to be careful about this. We are not about creating
a situation where people just drop out of the system and disappear
into obscure poverty. There has been plenty of talk about the
reforms in the United States, for example, leading to people disappearing
out of the system altogether. Now the system they have there
of welfare support is very different to the one we have here,
but we are absolutely not interested in creating a situation where
people just vanish from the system and end up with no money and
in extreme poverty.
Karen Foulds: We
are going to great lengths to ensure that people do not, as the
Minister said, slip through the gaps, and that goes from the sort
of safeguarding visits that I mentioned earlier, phone calls,
the extra steps in the customer journey, which I will not repeat,
all the way to the IT system. We have had a big investment in
an IT system and a management information system, which means
that, for the whole of the life of the threeyear reassessment
process, we can track all 1.5 million customers and what stage
they are at. We will be able to see very quickly down to quite
small local levels if there are gaps or if there are groups that
seem not to be progressing to the next stage. So, we are very
aware, because our aim is to get all 1.5 million customers through
this journey as effectively and in as customer-focused a way as
we possibly can. We have gone to great lengths to try to secure
Q328 Kate Green:
I just wanted to ask a little more about the outcomes and the
different categories people arrived in, and this relates to the
period before the migration, so I am talking about the new ESA
assessments. It was noted by some of the organisations we have
been dealing with that the figures tended to be very consistent
month on month. The same proportion were ending up in the WRAG
or in the Support Group or whatever, and that was in the context
where it appeared at the time, at least in some parts of Jobcentre
Plus, that there seemed to be some sense of targets being set
for the number of people that might be refused benefits.
No, that has never been the case in relation to this.
Q329 Kate Green:
I am talking about the way people have perceived what might be
the cause of that. I hear exactly what you are saying.
Let me be absolutely clear. As I sit here today, I am not aware,
and I am sure that neither Karen nor Bill are, of any attempt
anywhere in Jobcentre Plus to impose any targets around the categorisation
of this, and I would not tolerate it for a second if I discovered
that was the case.
Q330 Kate Green:
Can I ask two questions about that? The first is: are there any
benchmarks, levels of expectation that you have, albeit that there
are not targets for the proportion that will end up in each group?
Karen Foulds: The
only benchmark we have is a benchmark for the number of decisions
that we would expect decision makers to be able to deal with.
So we have planning assumptions but not any of the outcomes from
Q331 Kate Green:
And that is very specifically in relation to the decisions to
award or not to award ESA?
Karen Foulds: Yes,
it is just the number of cases. The number of cases that an individual
decision maker would look at, but there is nothing below that
in terms of what the outcome of any of those decisions would be.
Q332 Kate Green:
Do you have any comment on why the figures have been so consistent
month on month? Is that something that you would have expected?
Now that the system has bedded in, what you see is a fairly consistent
pattern of new claims. You have a fairly consistent pattern of
people who are claiming short term, and it is something we do
not yet understand enough about, and I have certainly seen examples
in looking over the shoulders of advisers where I think there
is more work to be done on those first 13 weeks, but we have 36%
who never make it to the 13-week assessment. We have then another
39%odd consistently who are actually found fit for work,
and then the remainder divides between the WorkRelated Activity
Group and the Support Group. Of course, a proportion of the fit
for work numbers go to appeal. In reality it is 39% of about
36%, which is 6% extras; you end up with about 35%, not 39%, who
end up being fit for work. I think it is just that the system
has bedded down and that is a fairly consistent pattern. Once
we get to later in the year we will have some genuinely robust
numbers to publish around the national migration, and I suspect
we will see a fairly consistent pattern all the way through the
Q333 Chair: You
said it was not your aim to take people off a benefit and for
people to lose money, but there is one group of people who will
lose money, and my constituents will be at the forefront of itthey
will be the first to lose moneyand that is the group that
are in the WRAG group who qualify for contributory ESA, who will
lose that ESA after a year and, because of household income, will
not qualify for any other benefits, and therefore, as individuals,
they will lose that benefit. Why have you decided to penalise
that group in particular?
I think basically it is applying to ESA the same principles that
apply to JSA in terms of the contributory element. Through the
benefits system, we provide, and indeed Governments of both persuasions
for a very long time have provided, a basic level of financial
support for those who have no other financial means. But there
has always been in regard to JSA, for those that contribute, a
limit to the amount that is paid. We pay something back in recognition
of the fact you have yourself paid in, but we only allow you to
draw for a period of time. With ESA, regardless of your means,
you can draw benefits indefinitely and regardless of your household
income, and amongst the tough decisions we have had to take to
deal with the deficit challenge that we face, one of them has
been to say, "We actually need to apply the same principle
to ESA as we do to JSA."
Now, it is not related to health conditions; there
has been a lot of talk about recuperation periods and so forth.
It is not a decision about how long or how short a period of
time we expect somebody to need to make a recovery before they
can return to the workplace; it is a simple, pragmatic decision
that says these are benefits that are being paid to people who
have other household financial means, either income or capital.
In straitened times financially we cannot afford to pay that
on an unlimited, unconditional and ongoing basis, and so therefore
we have placed a time limit, which is higher than the time limit
for JSA because we recognise that people need a bit more time
to sort their affairs out if they have a health problem, but it
is one of the budgetary decisions we have had to take to deal
with the deficit.
Q334 Chair: But
you have pointed out in what you have just said there that they
are not the same. Someone who goes onto JSA will be looking for
work from day one and will be able to take up that work from day
one. The person who goes onto contributory ESA may still be very
ill. They still may be signed off their work. They may actually
be signed off their work for the whole of the year that they get
the contributory ESA. They have worked all of their life; they
have paid their National Insurance contributions; they thought
that the welfare state would be there to give them that insurance
that, should they fall out of work because of ill health, they
will continue to get an income in their own right, and you are
saying, "Well, you can only get that income for a year."
Surely the social contract that people sign up to when they pay
their National Insurance contributions has been broken as a result?
Well, it is applying the same principles as we do to JSA, and
we have had to, and will have to, take a number of difficult financial
decisions across the piece because of the scale of the public
finances crisis that we inherited last year. I am sure that there
are many decisions that we will have to take as a Government that
we would rather not have to do, but when you get left a major
problem on that scale, you do have to do difficult things.
Q335 Chair: Have
you done any analysis of the potential social consequences of
this decision, where perhaps a working partner, because they perhaps
earn around £20,000 a year and therefore the household would
not qualify for incomerelated JSA, takes a decision to give
up their work, which is what the Government wants them to do,
in order to be the full-time carer of the person because that
is the only way that the income of the household actually can
be protected and they would be no worse off by that time, perhaps,
with the carer getting Carer's Allowance and be able to earn the
£100 a week that they could with Carer's Allowance. Have
you done any research into what might happen just because of human
behaviour, because the loss of that particular piece of income,
that £85 a week out of that household income, might be quite
Well, we have done detailed analysis of what we think the consequences
might be for this particular group. We expect around 30% of them
to move straight to incomebased ESA because of their financial
circumstances. We expect around another 30% to receive some element
of incomebased ESA, and we expect another 40% not to require
ESA at all. So we have done some analysis of this group and the
financial impact on them, but, as I say, it is a decision that
probably would not have been top of our agenda if we had come
into government in different circumstances, but across the portfolio
of what Government does we have had to take tough decisions financially
because of the scale of the deficit.
Q336 Chair: But
there is also an unfairness, as I say, with my constituents.
Because they went through the trial, they will have their contributory
ESA taken away from them quicker than elsewhere in the country
because of the nature of the rollout. Is the fact that you are
bringing it in so quickly fair? Would it not be better to roll
out everything and then perhaps bring this in? I do not agree
with you bringing it in in the first place, but if you are saying
that it is financially unaffordable, then surely it would have
been fairer to make sure that everybody was onto the ESA before
you start withdrawing the benefit from a particular group.
In the case of your constituents, of course, the numbers who went
through the assessment in Aberdeen were only a proportion of the
claimants in the city and, indeed, in the area. But, as I say,
we have had to take some difficult decisions to tackle the financial
crisis, and the impact of that will be felt across society. We
are making changes to child benefit, for example, that will, I
am sure, be unpopular when they are implemented.
Q337 Chair: But
the people going through the migration process today will be the
first to lose it in a year's time because the clock is already
ticking for them, and that is surely unfair when there is another
2 million or so still to go through it, and they at least get
their money for slightly longer. Is there not a bit of unfairness
In an ideal world it would not take us three years to do the migration,
but the practicality is that it does because it is huge logistical
task. It is a shame that it was not done years ago.
Q338 Chair: Obviously,
that is an area where we will differ, but it does seem incredibly
unfair and a lot of people feel very let down. They thought they
had done what the Government asked of them. They had worked all
their life; they had paid their National Insurance, and it was
an insurance for ill health. Their family income is taking a
double hit. It will have come down because that earner is no
longer earning because they are now on ESA, and in a year's time
they get another £85 taken out of what was already at least
half, if not more, of the household income. Do you have a sense
of or think that perhaps that is being very harsh?
I understand the point you are making, but we live in challenging
Q339 Chair: Can
I explore the employment support for the ESA claimants, because
obviously that is now coming in. This is our last set of questions,
honest. What support will there be to find work for those who
have come through the WCA process and have been found fully fit
for work and are on JSA, because ultimately the real test of this,
as was earlier suggested, is whether these people will get into
work. So, what support is there going to be into work? I think
that might help to allay some of the fears that are out there
that Stephen Lloyd was talking about, the references to "the
workshy". The reason people are frightened is that they
do not believe that the other side of the equation, the support,
the help and, indeed, the jobs, is going to be there. So that
is really important.
The way it is going to work is that, if somebody is found fit
for work and transferred onto JSA, they will spend three months
receiving the standard form of support through Jobcentre Plus,
but they will then, after three months, get early entry into the
Work Programme. We decided not to refer them to the Work Programme
on day one, because I think it is only right and fair that we
allow everyone in the Jobcentre Plus world, all of the claimants
who pass through the doors, to have a period of independent job
search, with some guidance from Jobcentre Plus and, obviously,
the support that Jobcentre Plus offers, and we are looking at
ways of strengthening the capabilities, for example, by close
partnerships with the careers service. For those first three
months, we felt it was right and proper that they should have
a window of independent job search.
They will then have early access to the Work Programme
after three months and that will offer them the kind of personalised
and tailored support that we talked about when we discussed the
Work Programme previously, and I very much hope, of course, that
they will also command a higher tariff than the conventional Jobseeker's
Allowance claimant, which again provides an incentive to providers
to provide extra support to them in getting them into the workplace.
Then it will be a matter of the providers and the provider network
doing their stuff and helping them get into work.
One of the points I was making to Glenda Jackson,
which I have sought to make all the way through this, is the narrative
about the migration: every time I talk about it, I always talk
about it in the context of the specialist support that is then
going to be available to get people back into work. You cannot
have one without the other. I am absolutely with you; it would
not be right to reassess people and then say, "Right; you
are on your own." It is all about making sure that there
is proper specialist support available to help them into work,
and we felt that the three-month early entry point was the right
point to do it.
Q340 Chair: But
in the discussion we had with Dr Gunnyeon earlier, the WCA does
not ask the questions about real life chances of that individual
getting a job. It does not take into account labour market conditions
in the area, educational ability or ability to retrain or any
of that. Now, we have been told that it takes the contractors'
personal advisers about 15 minutes to decide if somebody is work
ready or not. They are obviously using different criteria and
a different assessment from the WCA. Is there any way that the
WCA can start to take into account that kind of real life experience
to make a more sensitive judgment as to just how work ready someone
is? So it is not just a, "Yes, that person can work,"
but also there is a second part to their assessment, which is,
"Yes, they can work, but they will need this particular type
of help and it is probably in these areas that they are going
to be able to work." Now, I understand that Professor Harrington
is suggesting that that should be part and parcel of the process
of the assessment as well.
The one thing I am absolutely unreservedly and implacably opposed
to in all of this is a real world test. Either somebody is fit
for work or they are not, and what I am not prepared to do is
to countenance a situation where we are saying: "You are
fit for work, but you should not be on JSA because there is high
unemployment in your area." I think that does a huge disservice
to those peoplesome of whom have health problemswho
are on JSA. I think what is important, and what the Work Programme
is there to provide and what the higher tariff for this group
is designed to help support, is that where people are moving off
IB, we recognise the fact they have bigger challenges and therefore
there is extra work for the providers to do with them, and that
is why, as I say, the outcome price for the JSA exIB group
is 50% higher, and why for those who are mandated from ESA onto
the Work Programme, the tariff is almost £14,000 to get them
into work. That is really important. But what I do not think
we could possibly countenance is the situation where we are saying,
"Because of circumstances in the labour market in your area,
we will treat you differently." I think that would be a
Q341 Chair: Right.
I take that from the labour market respect, but what about the
educational opportunities and the type of jobs that exist anywhere
in the labour market, not just in the locality? Someone who is
illiterate is not going to get a desk job, for instance.
Karen Foulds: In
those three months before they go to the Work Programme, when
they first come to the Jobcentre they have a 45 minute diagnostic
interview with a personal adviser, so it is not 15 minutes; it
is 45 minutes with a personal adviser. That person's job is to
work with that claimant to look at their educational qualifications,
their previous work experience, life experiences, etc, to come
up with a jobseeker's agreement that gives that person the best
possible opportunity of finding work. Now, obviously, as the
Minister said, in three months they would go to the Work Programme
and we would expect that quite a lot of this claimant group, because
they are coming from Incapacity Benefit, probably will still be
with us after three months and go to the Work Programme, but it
is not that those three months is wasted. If, for example, somebody
needs some help with literacy, that would be one of the things
that the personal adviserthe named one that they would
have for that three monthswould work with them on.
There is provision to pay for training courses and all people
on JSA have access to shortterm training courses, so we
could refer that person to an IT course to fill an IT gap, literacy
or numeracythere are mechanisms there to help them move
ahead fairly rapidly.
Q342 Kate Green:
I just wondered, in view of your very, very definite position
on a real life test, why Professor Harrington is being allowed
to continue to investigate it and work with a number of external
groups to look at ways in which it could be designed. Is that
not rather a cynical situation that we find ourselves in?
Professor Harrington is independent and is entitledand,
indeed, should be entitledto make any recommendation to
us that he believes is appropriate. But sitting in front of the
Committee asking my view on this, clearly it depends on the nature
of his recommendation, but I would not countenance a situation
where we said to somebody who was on JSA long term, "You
are subject to conditionality and £67 a week," but somebody
who had come off IB and was found fit for work we would not move
into the same position, even though their circumstances might
be very similar, simply because the world is quite challenging
and we have built a real world test into the Work Capability Assessment.
That seems to me to be likely to build a huge injustice into
the system. The labour market is a challenge for us in some parts
of the country, which is why we have measures like the Regional
Growth Fund in place to try to stimulate private-sector growth
in those areas. It is right and proper we do that, but what you
cannot do is say to somebody, "Actually the labour market
is a bit tough in your area, therefore we will not expect you
to look for work." That would be a huge mistake.
Dr Gunnyeon: I
think there is also quite a lot of confusion around the issue
of a real world test, and I think one view is, as the Minister
has outlined. There is another aspectI think it is probably
more in Professor Harrington's mind, although it may not be in
some other groups' mindswhich is, is the assessment correctly
assessing whether people really are fit for work or not? I think
that issuewhether the way we do the assessment properly
reflects capability for workis slightly different from
the other aspect, which I think is what many people mean by real
world test. But I think Professor Harrington has a much wider
view, and I think one of the areas that he is certainly interested
in looking at is whether we can find ways of ensuring that what
we are doing in the assessment is really properly determining
people's suitability for work. Then, of course, there is the
separate issue of how you identify what support people might need.
Kate Green: Are you committed
to that particular definition of a set of proposals around a real
Let's be clear: I have said to Professor Harrington we will do
everything we can to improve the process. It is just that that
red line for me is we cannot create a point of discrimination
to say that, because you are fit for work but you are on IB, somehow
you should be treated differently to somebody who is fit for work
but never was on IB.
Q343 Oliver Heald:
It is often said, "Well it is not fair to do this, to have
this test, because there are no jobs." Now, what would your
take be on that? In all parts of the country there are people
moving into work every month. Now, obviously is it much more
difficult in some areas than in others. Would you want to comment
at all on that general proposition, which one hears quite often?
Well, I think it is important to remember that 90% of people move
off JSA within the first year, and I rememberI have not
actually checked the figures for the last two or three yearsin
1993, which was the deepest year of the last recession, which
had a higher level of unemployment than we have seen in the recession
we have just finished, around 700,000 people who had been out
of work for more than three months moved into work. So there
is a constant flow of people into and out of work. There are
job vacancies in every single part of the country. There are
more in some than in others. There are some where the labour
market is quite challenging, but there are still vacancies.
My particular view is that we should not allow people
who have been out of work for a longer period of time to end up
stranded. We have seen statistics emerge over the last couple
of weeks suggesting that the problem of longterm unemployment
is getting worse, and I see the role of the Work Programme particularly
as being to tackle that problem. I apply that not simply to those
on JSA long term but the people we are talking about today. I
want some of that flow, which is happening all the time, from
benefits into work to be the 10% of longterm JSA claimants
and those who are longterm IB but could get back to work.
So I think it is really important that we do not write off any
individual or any area and say it is just not worth bothering
about. Every single individual is worth an effort; every single
area is worth having some belief in and it is really important
that we do not take a step back and say, "That is all a bit
Karen Foulds: In
Jobcentre Plus alone we take 10,000 vacancies a day. That is
just Jobcentre Plusthere are other recruitment methods.
So there is quite a dynamic labour market, even in the current
Q344 Oliver Heald:
That is what I was going to ask you.
Karen Foulds: Oh,
Q345 Chair: I
represent a constituency where there is still a dynamic labour
market, but disabled people still do not get jobs. Now, that
is not because they do not try but because there is the other
side of the equation. All of our questions this morning have
been on the claimant's side, but would you accept, Minister, that
actually there is a problem from the employers' side? The employers
are reluctant to employ people with disabilities. They are most
certainly very reluctant to employ people with mental health problems
or a history of mental health conditions, to the extent that people
lie on their application forms. First of all, do you accept that
that is a problem and therefore they are always going to be disadvantaged
in the labour market because of that prejudice and that discrimination?
If you do accept it, what is the Government going to do, because
that needs to be tackled and it is very important that it is tackled.
I think it is particularly about breaking down barriers. On the
day I came up at the start of the trial process in Aberdeen, you
and I met a young man with learning difficulties who was in his
first job and getting lots of praise from his employer. I think
there you have an employer that now has a much clearer understanding
of the issues and challenges somebody in that position faces and
the difference they can make to that organisation nonetheless,
and so that employer will be much more willing to do the same
in the future. I think it is about getting more and more employers
to take that first step, to understand that somebody with a disability
can make a really positive difference to their organisation, and
then the door will be open to more. I would describe the Work
Programme as a sort of giant employment dating service of matching
individuals to employers, fitting individuals to jobs that work
and fit. One of the reasons that we are paying providers more
to help people from ESA who are mandated onto the Work Programme
into work is that it will take that extra investment of breaking
down barriers: persuading employers to give someone a work placement;
of helping them get to know how to deal with the issues and challenges;
but also helping them to understand the difference those people
can make. I think it is a really important part of what they
do, and it is why the differential pricing in the Work Programme
is so important.
Q346 Chair: Has
Jobcentre Plus got the power to take action against an employer
they suspect is turning people away that have been sent through
Jobcentre Plus because they have a disability or a mental health
Karen Foulds: If
we suspected that an employer was actually breaking the law and
breaking the Equality Act, then yes, we would take steps in terms
of our servicing of that employer, in terms of taking their vacancies.
We would also provide advice to the individual if they wanted
to take it forward themselves.
Q347 Chair: How
many cases have you taken?
I do not know. We could find out. I do not know.
Q348 Chair: Because
it is very difficult in the circumstances
Karen Foulds: It
is very difficult and I think it is moreand I have worked
in Jobcentres for many yearsa conversation with a senior
person and the employer to say, "This cannot happen; we are
not dealing with your vacancies anymore unless you get your act
together," rather than taking legal action. But certainly
we would not knowingly take any vacancies and advertise them through
Jobcentre Plus if we had evidence that that was happening.
Q349 Chair: Maybe
we do need to take to take legal action to encourage les autres,
as they say. Can I say thanks? It has been a long morning, but
thanks very much for coming along and thanks very much for your
You are welcome.
Chair: This is the last
evidence session so we will be writing a report based on the evidence
we have taken so far.
Okay. Thanks very much. Thank you.
1 Employment and Support Allowance Back
Citizen's Advice Bureau Back
The newspapers were required by the PCC to correct the record,
rather than being censured Back
Jobseeker's Allowance Back
Note by witness; ATOS do undertake a range of assessments
for different benefits. The contract extension however, excluded
This letter is published with the oral evidence the Committee
took from the Secretary of State on 15 September 2010 and is available
on the Committee's website Back
Office for Budget Responsibility Back
Note by witness: 9% is the failure to attend rate experience
during the trials Back
Statutory Sick Pay Back