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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 5 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what information his Department holds on people with rheumatoid arthritis; whether rheumatoid arthritis is classified as a disability under the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005; and if he will make a statement; (253918)

(2) what recent estimate he has made on the effect of the Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005 on access to employment for people with rheumatoid arthritis;

(3) if he will bring forward proposals to strengthen the legal rights of people with rheumatoid arthritis in the workplace.

Data are held by my Department in respect of information provided on claims made to incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance. These data indicate that at February 2007 there were 26,470 claimants whose medical condition was recorded as “other rheumatoid arthritis”1. Similarly, information on the disabling condition is collected for claimants of disability living allowance, but it does not separately record rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is not specifically classified as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act as amended (DDA). In general, a person is considered to be disabled for the purposes of the Act if they have a “physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities”. A person with rheumatoid arthritis will be protected by the provisions of the Act where he or she meets this definition of a disabled person. Furthermore, a person with rheumatoid arthritis may be able to benefit from special provisions in the Act which apply to persons with progressive or fluctuating conditions2.

My Department has made no estimate of the effect of the DDA on access to employment for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Access to employment by disabled people, including those with rheumatoid arthritis is influenced by a range of factors, for example, the economic climate, the availability of work programmes and in-work benefits, and the advice disabled people receive to help them to find work.

It is not possible to isolate the effect of disability discrimination legislation on access to employment for disabled people.

The Government have significantly improved and strengthened the DDA, so that it now provides a comprehensive and enforceable set of civil rights for disabled people. We have no plans to extend legal rights in the workplace specifically for people with rheumatoid arthritis. We are, however, taking the opportunity of the forthcoming Equality Bill to simplify and streamline the disability discrimination legislation to make it more accessible and effective for disabled people, including those with rheumatoid arthritis, to operate.

1 To qualify for IB, claimants have to undertake a medical assessment of incapacity for work which is called the Personal Capability Assessment. Therefore, the medical condition recorded on the IB claim form does not itself confer entitlement to incapacity benefits, so for example, the decision for a customer claiming IB under any category would be based on their ability to carry out the range of activities in the Personal Capability Assessment. These statistics provided are gathered by DWP for its own purposes and are based on DWP staff’s interpretation of what can sometimes be quite vague information about the disabling condition on medical certificates and other corroborating evidence given by claimants. It is important to note that, where someone has more than one diagnosis or disabling condition, only the predominant one is currently recorded. In light of this, the information provided cannot be taken as a robust indication of the underlying condition that results in entitlement to IB.

2 Detailed information on the provisions relating to progressive and fluctuating conditions are included in the statutory guidance on the definition of disability (Disability Discrimination Act: Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability: