My Right Honourable Friend The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (The Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd MP) has made the following Written Statement.
I would like to update hon. Members on the speech I will be delivering at Scope this afternoon.
This Government has a clear ambition to support people with health conditions and disabilities into work, where they can, and to live independently. We have already made significant progress but we need to continue to make improvements to better support people with health conditions and disabled people. I am pleased to set out today a number of measures we will implement to make improvements now and in the future to support disabled people and those with health conditions to achieve their aspirations.
We will improve and simplify the customer experience by no longer undertaking regular reviews of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) awards for claimants at or above State Pension age unless they tell us their needs have changed.
We will also be transforming the delivery of assessment services. I have established the Health Transformation Programme to undertake the significant task of transitioning the currently separate Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit (UC), and the PIP assessment services into one unified, integrated service from 2021. To support this, we are developing a single digital platform. An integrated approach will allow for a more joined-up claimant experience across these benefits, which takes account of the multiple interactions an individual may have with DWP. We hope that developing our own digital platform will also enable a greater range of assessment providers to compete to help us deliver this important service in the future.
To enable an integrated service, we are extending the contract for the Health and Disability Assessment Service (HDAS), which includes the delivery of the WCA, and aligning it to the duration of the extended PIP contracts. This will allow for a safe and stable service now, and as we transition to the new integrated service.
This strategic transformation will also open up new opportunities to improve our functional assessments in the future. For example, we will test whether it is beneficial to claimants requiring face-to-face assessments to offer a single assessment for UC and PIP to capture all the information required for both claims in one appointment, reducing the need for claimants of both benefits to attend multiple appointments.
My Department will be testing how we increase engagement and build a trusted and strong relationship between work coaches and claimants awaiting an assessment in Universal Credit, and those found to have Limited Capability for Work. Last month, in response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on benefits sanctions, the Department agreed to carry out a small test where work coaches start from a point of no conditionality and scale up where appropriate, focusing on what claimants can do. This contrasts with the current approach, which starts at full conditionality and then tailors down accordingly. The Minister for Employment is taking this forward.
We will also be exploring whether we can enhance the mandatory reconsideration process to gather further evidence from claimants and make more accurate decisions sooner.
These improvements will make significant progress in better supporting those with health conditions and disabilities, but this is only the start, we can, and should, go further.
My ambition is to continue this important conversation around the future of support and I will, alongside the Minister for Disabled People, be regularly engaging with stakeholders to enable on-going conversations on the future of the health and disability agenda. This includes exploring how the welfare system can better meet the needs of claimants with disabilities and health conditions.
I am also committing to looking at whether the incentives we provide for and the expectations we have of employers are right. We will consult on proposals to encourage and support employers to play their part in helping disabled people and people with health conditions get into work and remain in work, and to improve access to occupational health. We will be seeking stakeholder input, and that of employers and other partners, in to how we make a real difference to the working lives of people with health conditions and disabilities.
In 2017 we made a manifesto commitment to see 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027. In the coming months I want to review this commitment to see if we can make it even more ambitious.
We constantly reflect on how we can improve and know that improvements come from listening to people and adapting. As such, we plan to commission independent research to understand the needs of disabled people to live independent lives and how health and disability benefits can better support them.
This statement has also been made in the House of Commons