The Department for Work and Pensions has pledged to improve disabled people’s experience of the benefits system and boost transparency around its decisions and processes, as part of a series of reforms revealed in today’s Spring Budget.
The health and disability white paper was published alongside the budget this afternoon, in which chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced what he called the “biggest change to our welfare system in a decade”.
The reforms will abolish the Work Capability Assessment for benefit claimants who say they have a health condition or disability that affects their ability to work. The assessment is carried out by a healthcare professional and determines if someone is “fit to work”. The evidence is used by DWP staff to decide the outcome of a benefit claim.
The paper says scrapping the assessment "will ensure that those who are able to can progress in or towards work, without the worry of being reassessed and losing their benefit". Instead, people will be asked to demonstrate what work they might be able to take.
The government will launch a voluntary programme called Universal Support that will provide up to £4,000 of funding per person to help disabled people find jobs and put support they need in place.
The government will also put £400m of funding towards mental-health and musculoskeletal resources to help people with certain health conditions to stay in work, and expand the Individual Placement and Support scheme, which provides intensive support to enable people with severe mental health difficulties to work.
The white paper sets out a series of practical changes alongside the policy reforms, which it says will improve services by “making it easier for people to access the right support and improving trust and transparency in our decisions and processes”.
Work to improve the physical accessibility of DWP sites includes the hiring of architects to develop a new Jobcentre Design Guide, which will ensure both new and refurbished jobcentres are “inclusive” and “accessible environments for customers, visitors and employees”, the white paper says.
“This will help ensure our buildings better meet the needs of disabled people and people with health conditions,” it adds.
“We are working with specialist accessibility and inclusivity consultants to ensure the guide meets our needs now and in the future,” it adds.
DWP will also make its digital services more accessible to users of assistive software – such as text-to-speech software – according to the document. Work has been completed to ensure the 36 most-used DWP customer forms on GOV.UK are accessible and meet new design standards, which will be applied to any new forms, it said.
The document also said department would improve the way it works with other public sector organisations to collect the evidence needed to support people’s applications for welfare support.
It said the DWP should work with the Department of Health and Social Care to improve how it obtains medical evidence needed – noting that this is “not always straightforward”.
The department said it is also working with NHS Digital – which was absorbed into NHS England earlier this year – to identify how data can be shared between DWP, hospital and GP IT systems “to provide more standardised information earlier in the assessment process”.
The changes set out in the white paper will require a change in primary legislation, which ministers will “aim to take forward in a new parliament when parliamentary time allows”.