Next month, the WPLS(Work and Pensions Longitude Survey) data for August 2011 will become available. This is statistical information about various benefits administrated by the DWP and it takes so long to process it all that the schedule is that quarterly snapshot figures are published six months later.
The last time I looked at these, the data for Employment Support Allowance showed that as of May 2011, only 880 of those who were on Incapacity Benefit had been assessed and transferred to ESA. There are a number of reason for why this figure could be so low. First, the date that the IB-ESA transition rolled out nationwide is not entirely clear: a DWP press release announced it last April, but a FOI response to a FOI request made by the Employment Related Services Association published in September stated that the roll-out began in February last year. So if it was April, 880 transferred claims might be understandable as it had only been going for a few weeks.
But if it was February, then it would be likely that a substantial number of the claims are not being transferred because they are being found 'fit for work'. I do not however think that will be a significant number. The government inflated the 'fit for work' figure in their press releases by often suggesting the WRAG group and 'closed their claim before assessment' as 'fit for work' and the cheerleading newspapers followed through. One of the larger ones is those who closed their ESA claim before any assessment could take place; usually it's about 36% but as far as I'm aware this figure is similar to what it was under Incapacity Benefit and this is supported by one of the first graphs I made here:
The green line shows a stark drop in November 2008 when new claims for Incapacity Benefit stopped and they would from then on be ESA caseloads. What's relevant to this topic isn't the amount which IB dropped in one yeah(about half a million claimants) but how suddenly it did. I'd expect the line to stutter as those who had already begun their IB claim would carry it on and then the line would continue falling, but the number of people that didn't get beyond the assessment for IB seems to dampen this. So why is this group relevant to the IB-ESA transfer figures? Because all the IB claims being assessed are older than three years, very few of those claiming expect to get better between being put in the Assessment Phase and the actual assessment. Virtually none of them will close their claim before the assessment is complete and this will pretty much kill dead the notion that people were dropping their ESA claims because they were supposed fraudulent, so don't expect this fact to be widely reported. I don't even expect the government to include the very low percentage in their press releases despite making a song and dance about them when it was just new ESA claims being processed.
There is something about the IB-ESA transition group that I am looking forward to, despite knowing that behind the figures there are real people and they are going to be forced through severe hardship and a test not fit for purpose being reviewed by a man not fit for purpose. What I'm looking forward to is that unlike with many new ESA claims, none of the transitions will be speculative applications and they are long-term claimants put through what was already the most severe assessment in the OECD membership. Their appeals will crash the system that is already falling to pieces. Atos can not keep up with the caseload they were already getting and the FOI request forced the DWP to reveal that as of September and even if the transition roll-out was actually April, only 56,000 of the transitions had happened and the DWP had to add the disclaimer that an unknown number of these hadn't actually had an assessment. I've seen that Atos productivity on assessments after the ESA on-flow was spiking in 2010, almost completely collapsed to around 12,000 after that, down from around 20,000 each month prior to the spike.
There has been some off-cuff remarks in places that have made me suspicious; certain editors speaking of the transition in the future tense as if it hasn't begun yet. It gives me a sneaking feeling that they have been told by ministers that it hasn't and that the transition will re-launch at some point in the future. I have a prediction.
First: when the figures for August 2011 become available, they will be around the same as the FOI request revealed: 56,000. If they are higher, questions will need to be asked of why the DWP in September gave the wrong figure.
Second: bloggers and campaigners will uncover some evidence that the government has delayed or restricted the IB-ESA transition because they've figured out...
Prediction: the IB-ESA transition claimants will not only collapse the system but also reveal every prejudice about IB claimants to be wrong. Their appeals will be far more successful, almost none of them will drop their claim before the assessment and it could even be that substantially more of them are put in the Support Group than usual because if they are not- the claim that Atos is not set a target or under pressure to reach a target they set themselves in order to win future contracts will start looking very wobbly.
Conclusion: when the transition actually starts proper, there will be chaos and a chance to put across an argument that can't be ignored. I suspect the government are even going to try to delay the full unleashing of IB-ESA transitions until 2013 so they can shove PIP out the door without questions being asked.