ESA New Compulsory ‘Conversation’ brings more Sanctions, and a Dispute over Co-design Claim

We can tell when politicians are lying because it happens whenever their lips move and words come out.

We don’t like it but we know it’s true; it’s the same as a politician’s promise – worthless. But it is now spreading beyond those who are elected, and I find that extremely concerning. This time we have caught out two senior civil servants.

esaOnce again, the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is at the heart of the matter. It claims, wrongly, that disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) had “co-designed” a new scheme with Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions attached.

I have to congratulate the Disability News Service (DNS) for its tenacity and determination to expose the truth in the face of continued denials from the DWP.

The DNS revealed in March that nearly all new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) would have to attend a new Health and Work Conservation (HWC) with a DWP job coach. Attendance would be compulsory and claimants’ benefits sanctioned if they failed to take part “without good cause”.

The HWC can take place weeks or even months before claimants have their ability to work tested through the work capability assessment.

HWC co-designed or not?

DNS reported details of the HWC from a presentation delivered by the two senior DWP civil servants.

They are Ian Anderson, DWP’s project and programme management head of profession, and Matt Russell, its policy advisor for disability employment strategy. They claimed the HWC was “co-designed with the Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), health charities, front-line staff, disabled peoples’ organisations and occupational health professionals”.

DNS says it has now obtained the names of those DPOs and charities. It used a freedom of information request to DWP to obtain the list.

All of those contacted by DNS have denied any endorsement of the HWC. In its report issued yesterday, it quotes four leading DPOs. Each refutes the DWP’s claim.

DWP stands firm on ESA

A DWP spokesman refused to apologise for the claims by Anderson and Russell. That is despite the DPOs stating clearly they are firmly opposed to sanctions, conditionality and a mandatory HWC.

He said: “We used various feedback to help design the HWC – however not all contributions will have been used.”

He said that any actions agreed by an ESA claimant in the mandatory HWC would be voluntary. There will be DWP “safeguards” to ensure “appropriate exemptions from attending the HWC,” he added.

Of course, we all believe that – don’t we?!

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, who has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Diagnosed with MS in 2002, he continued to work until mobility problems made him retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective. Besides that, he is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.



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