The Government has welcomed further recommendations to improve the work capability assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance (ESA) but more work is needed to get it right for people with autism, a charity has claimed.

In his third and final independent review occupational physician Professor Malcolm Harrington found that no fundamental reforms are needed to the WCA, although he made some recommendations to improve it.

These include:
• Measures to further improve the collecting of medical evidence as early in the process as possible
• Ensuring Department for Work and Pensions (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.”

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.”

However, Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, gave the review a lukewarm welcome: “The new recommendations go some way towards addressing issues with the WCA.

“The Government must do all it can to ensure that expert evidence is gathered from professionals with specialist knowledge of the individual and autism. Where this is not sought it’s vital that the assessor justifies why, as Professor Harrington recommends.   

“The WCA should not be a money-saving exercise, but a system that fully supports disabled people in to work where possible and supports them financially where not.

“Implementation of Harrington’s previous recommendations has been too slow to date. The Government must make the most of this opportunity to get things right.”