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Work Capability Assessment

Volume 514: debated on Monday 19 July 2010

16. What recent representations he has received from Citizens Advice on the employment and support allowance work capability assessment; and if he will make a statement. (8941)

I have read carefully the report on the issue by Citizens Advice. I have had meetings with its national leadership, and have also visited local volunteers to discuss the issues with them.

The evidence from Citizens Advice on Labour’s work capability assessment is clear and damning. It states that

“people are being inappropriately subjected”

to the assessment, that it

“is not an effective measure of fitness for work”,

and that it is

“producing inappropriate outcomes.”

The perception among my constituents, however, is that the Government are responding by making the test even stiffer. Can the Minister assure me that he is taking that evidence seriously?

Absolutely. I was profoundly concerned to discover some of the things that the last Government had done. That is why we are taking steps to address some of the problems, such as the fact that people undergoing chemotherapy have been expected to go to work, which is one of the examples of actions that were completely wrong. We have also commissioned a review by a leading professor, backed up by senior figures with relevant experience of matters such as mental health. We will seek to ensure that the work capability assessment, while being right, fair and proper in the system as a whole, is judged as effectively as possible so that it does not treat unfairly people in genuine need.

I welcome the Minister’s review of the work capability assessment, which is long overdue. Two thirds of sufferers from Parkinson’s disease have been deemed fit for work. Such people suffer from a long-term, complex, debilitating but also fluctuating condition. What assurances can the Minister give that his review will ensure that future assessments are not so crude as to brand them benefit cheats?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no way on earth that we would seek to brand people in that position benefit cheats. Our job is to find the right dividing line. When it is practical to do so, we should help people with disabilities into work. There is general agreement among all the groups who work with them that that is the positive and the right thing to do. However, we must also ensure that people who are genuinely not capable of working receive unconditional support, and all the care that we can possibly provide. That is where we will seek to draw the line.