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DWP Pilot Scheme for ESA Claimants

The DWP has announced a two year pilot scheme for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants in the work related activity group who are expected to be able to return to work in 18 months or more.

The pilot will see around 3,000 people having regular mandatory meetings with doctors, occupational health nurses and therapists to help them address their barriers to work.   The meetings will focus on helping claimants to move closer to being able to get a job, alongside helping them manage or improve their conditions.  These meetings will replace the existing work-focussed interviews that claimants have with JCP staff, with the length and frequency of meetings designed to meet individual need.

There will be three separate pilot schemes, which will compare results to ascertain the most successful approach:

  • Health care professional-led – mandatory engagement with health care professionals 
  • Jobcentre Plus – enhanced Jobcentre Plus support
  • Work Programme – enhanced support designed by Work Programme provider

The DWP announcement states that the two year pilots will begin in November and will run until August 2016.  Yes ... that is nearly three years, so already the sums are not quite adding up!

Comment by W2W Solutions

This pilot announcement comes hot on the heels of the publication of Work Programme statistics, where performance for ESA claimants is poor. The Work Programme deals with ESA claimants assessed as being able to return to work in 12 months or less, allegedly 6 months closer to the labour market than the claimants the new pilot is aimed at.

Is it really sensible to introduce yet another claimant group and programme to a market place which is already failing to provide adequate support for claimants who are assessed as being more capable of work?

Giving people with long-term health conditions and illnesses better access to professional healthcare and support can only be a good thing, and will undoubtedly lead to positive outcomes for those involved.  It is not difficult to work out that there are likely to be real benefits - reducing the impact of their condition, promoting a quicker recovery, and improving their overall quality of life.  Ultimately this group of people could move into work quicker than those in the 12 month group covered by the Work Programme.  Will this pilot really tell us anything we don't already know?

Assuming that there is adequate funding for a high level of professional healthcare support, our preliminary conclusions for this pilot (3 years in advance of the final report) are:

  • Work Programme providers are not funded sufficiently to provide the level of professional healthcare needed by this group - hence the Work Programme model is not appropriate and performance is poor.
  • JCP staff are under-resourced and the system is over-stretched.  Staff lack the expertise to provide the appropriate support for this group - the results are similar to the Work Programme provider.
  • The professional healthcare pilot offers real benefits for this group of ESA claimants - the hard tangible outcomes are underpinned by a wide range of soft outcomes that impact on the individual, their families and society as a whole.

Maybe if we used the extortionate amounts of money and time we spend on pilots and research, whose findings state what was obvious to most observers from the outset, we would achieve more outcomes for the customers we should be helping.  

Another question this raises is about the government department responsible for meeting the needs of ESA claimants whose prognosis of recovery is at least 18 months.  While these individuals are claiming benefits, they have been assessed as having a sufficiently serious condition that they cannot be expected to work for the forseeable future.  Should it really be part of the DWP remit to deliver back to work support, when there are a couple of million other people who are fit for work that they could be helping?  Surely the responsibility for providing healthcare rests with the NHS.  It is obvious that the two are closely related - if we can improve people's health by providing better healthcare advice and support, there will be a cost saving in benefits by moving these people into work much quicker.  

Also, are we asking a bit much of healthcare professionals in expecting them to become back to work specialists?   It may not be an inconceivable move for an occupational therapist to become a back to work adviser, but that isn't what we are paying doctors and healthcare professionals for.  We wouldn't ask JCP advisers to do a bit of physiotherapy during their work-focused interviews!

We appreciate that this pilot is being funded by the European Social Fund, but what impact will this have on health services in areas of the pilot?  We can't imagine the NHS will be recruiting increased numbers of doctors and therapists to deliver this programme, so the resource is likely to be taken from the existing pot.  How many NHS Trusts have Occupational Therapists sitting around waiting for something to do?  The healthcare providers will no doubt be receiving funding, but that doesn't mean they can conjour up additional healthcare professionals at will.  Has DWP considered the impact diverting this resource will have locally?

And an obvious question to ask, in light of the inquiry into the future of public employment services, is – is there more to this pilot than meets the eye?  Is there another agenda related to the future of JCP?  If the NHS can improve the outcomes of ESA claimants, does this put another nail in the coffin of JCP?

Maybe the devil is in the detail, and some of our concerns will be answered by DWP as more information is published.  Watch this space!

9 July 2013

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