DWP to boost digital services and data-sharing to improve benefits system for disabled people

Range of reforms announced in new policy document published alongside budget

The Department for Work and Pensions plans to make its digital services more accessible and improve data-sharing with the NHS as part of a range of reforms intended to improve disabled people’s experience of the benefits systems.

The measures were announced in a new government white paper published yesterday alongside Jeremy Hunt’s budget, which set out what the chancellor claimed is the “biggest change to our welfare system in a decade”.

This will be supported by improvements to DWP’s digital platforms to make them easier to access for users of assistive technology – such as text-to-speech software – according to the paper. 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”.

Work will also be undertaken to improve the physical accessibility of DWP sites, including 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.”

Other changes announced in the white paper include the abolition of Work Capability Assessments 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 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”.

PublicTechnology staff

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