Press release

Hoban: The Work Capability Assessment continues to improve

Recommendations on further improvements to the Work Capability Assessment were welcomed by the Minister for Employment, Mark Hoban.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Recommendations on further improvements to the Work Capability Assessment were welcomed by the Minister for Employment, Mark Hoban, today, confirming the Government’s commitment to making the system as fair and accurate as possible.

In his third independent review occupational physician Professor Harrington found that, as improvements from the previous reviews are starting to have an impact, no fundamental reforms are needed to the current Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

In order to do more to build upon progress already made, Professor Harrington’s recommendations include:

  • Measures to further improve the collecting of medical evidence as early in the process as possible;
  • Ensuring DWP decision-makers have enough time to make carefully considered decisions while ensuring a timely service;
  • Continued engagement with the judiciary to understand why some decisions are overturned on appeal

Minister for Employment, Mark Hoban, said:

I welcome Professor Harrington’s findings that our strenuous efforts to improve the WCA are indeed making a difference. The system we inherited wasn’t working properly, but the changes we have made already to make the WCA more accurate and effective mean the proportion of people being placed in the Support Group for ESA has more than doubled in just two years.

However, I also share his view that more needs to be done. The WCA is the right process for determining who is able to work and who needs support, and we are committed to continual improvement, which is why I am happy to accept all of Professor Harrington’s recommendations. It is in everyone’s interest to make sure the system is as fair and as accurate as possible.

I would like to thank Professor Harrington for all the work he has done over the last three years.

Professor Harrington said:

Changing such a large and complex process as the WCA takes time, but change is happening. Through my reviews, my fundamental goal was to achieve a more humane and caring assessment which gives due consideration to those claimants who are least able to help themselves.

Strenuous efforts have been made by this government to improve the system and I believe the implementation of my recommendations is changing things for the better. Improvements to the WCA to make it more sensitive, accurate and efficient are being seen. There is some way to go, but I am confident that significant and lasting improvements are underway.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped me during my three reviews, from charities, patient support groups and individuals who have shared their experiences with me, through to the DWP and politicians in the three major parties.

Improvements made as a result of Professor Harrington’s previous reviews include:

  • Better communication with claimants, including phone calls from decision-makers to ensure all medical evidence has been provided;
  • Introducing 60 mental health champions into assessment centres to provide advice to Atos healthcare professionals;
  • Simplifying the process for people undergoing treatment for cancer, reducing the need for face-to-face assessments and ensuring more are placed in the Support Group

Notes to Editors:

  1. ‘An independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment - year three’ along with the Government response, is available here:
  2. This is Professor Harrington’s third and final review. The Government has committed to five annual reviews and Professor Harrington’s successor will be announced in due course.
  3. Recent figures for new ESA claims, published in October, show that of those assessed, 26% were put in the Support Group, where they get unconditional support as they are too ill or disabled to work. This is more than double the figure from December 2008 to May 2010, when between 10-11% of people were being placed in the Support Group.
  4. Overall only 9% of ESA decisions are overturned on appeal.
  5. If a fit for work decision is overturned at appeal, it does not necessarily mean that the original decision was inaccurate - often, claimants produce new evidence in their appeal.

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Published 20 November 2012