[A very quick look at today's statistical release]

DWP has just released the latest statistics on the reassessment of Incapacity Benefit claims http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/workingage/esa_ibr/esa_ibr_nov12.pdf. This is the second 'quarterly' bulletin giving results from the reassessment process: the first http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/workingage/esa_ibr/esa_ibr_mar12.pdf was issued in March this year. Today's report indicates that appeals are continuing to have a major impact on the overall results.

Incapacity Benefit is in the process of being abolished, with existing claimants being assessed for its replacement, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). There are three possible outcomes from reassessment (excluding people leaving before reassessment is completed):

  • claimants can be found Fit for Work (FFW) , in which case they are refused Employment and Support Allowance but may be able to apply for another benefit

  • they can be found not Fit for Work but capable of some 'work-related activity' - in other words it is expected they will be able to return to work in the future, in which case they are placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

  • or it is decided that they are not likely to be able to return to work, in which case they are placed in the Support Group (SG) for ESA and their entitlement is unconditional.

The headline figure for those found FFW to date is 34%, but the Department stresses that this figure does not reflect the full effect of appeals or cases still in progress. As is well known, many decisions are appealed and the appeal success rate is high- about 40%. The appeals process can be very drawn out, so the impact of appeals on the statistics may not be registered until long after the original decisions. There has also been something of a build-up of cases in progress since mid- 2011. Data from earlier periods incorporates more of the effect of appeals and has fewer cases still in progress. The earliest data comes from trials of the reassessment process conducted in Burnley and Aberdeen in late 2010. In the initial results http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd1/adhoc_analysis/2011/wca_ib_reasses... 30% of claimants were found FFW; that figure is now 22%, and is unchanged since the last edition of the statistics in March of this year.

Results from March to July 2011 are included in both today's report and the March 2012 report http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd1/adhoc_analysis/2011/wca_ib_reasses... . Comparing the two reports shows a consistent pattern in which the later FFW results are between four and five percentage points lower than the earlier figures. This means that we are still seeing the effect of appeals coming through the system (the effect of claims still in progress as of the earlier report looks to be minor, in my view). Thus for March 2011, the previous report gave a figure of 29% Fit for Work; in today's report, the figure is 24%. The main driver of these differences is the percentage of claimants being placed in the WRAG, rather than the SG. (The dates are for when the claim was referred for reassessment, not for decisions.)

It seems likely therefore, unless there are further changes to policy or practice, that the final figure for reassessed claims found FFW, incorporating the effect of appeals, will be in the region 22%-24%. This would mean that more than three quarters of existing IB claimants are /not/ capable of an early return to work even on the notoriously tough criteria of the new assessment process (assuming tribunal decisions are consistent with those criteria). At the same time, the five percentage point difference between the FFW results for March 2011 in the previous report and today's results suggests that about 17% of FFW reassessment decisions were overturned at tribunal or revised by the Department's decision-makers. With about 14,000 FFW decisions every month, that is hardly a negligible figure.