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Harrington Report

Volume 552: debated on Monday 5 November 2012

6. What assessment he has made of the recommendations in the Harrington report that have not been implemented; and which such recommendations he plans to implement. (126303)

The work capability assessment was introduced by the previous Government through the Welfare Reform Act 2007, for which the hon. Lady will doubtless have voted. There have been two independent reviews by Professor Harrington. We implemented, or are implementing, all his recommendations on how to improve the WCA.

It is impossible to convey the distress, heartache and anxiety caused by this Government’s failure to get a grip on Atos. Whatever the Minister might say about the spirit of the Harrington recommendations, it is essential that he get back to me with clear details on the availability of audio-recording equipment, the recruitment of mental health champions in all offices around the UK, how we will ensure judges give full feedback to DWP decision makers, and advising sick and disabled claimants that they can submit evidence.

We are implementing the Harrington recommendations, so the things that the hon. Lady mentions are happening in assessment centres across the country. For example, audio recordings are available if people request them. Progress is being made, therefore, but the hon. Lady needs to recognise that it was the previous Government who set up the WCA and recruited Atos. We are trying to make the system work better and be fairer so as to get the right outcome for all claimants.

Does the Minister welcome Professor Harrington’s comment in his latest assessment that things have noticeably changed for the better? I have heard it said that 40% of appeals are successful. Is that right, or is the proportion lower than that?

Professor Harrington has done a very good job. He will produce his third review shortly. The reality is that the DWP makes about 1 million decisions about entry into work, and only 9% of them have been successfully overturned.

19. On the “World at One” on 11 October the Minister claimed that one of the reasons for so many successful appeals and wrong decisions was claimants withholding medical evidence. Given that the average time for assessment and appeal is 31 weeks—almost eight months—will he explain exactly what evidence he has for that assertion? (126316)

There are situations in which new evidence is brought forward by claimants. We all should recognise the importance of getting people into work, to give them the hope and the improvements in their well-being that work brings. We should also, therefore, all recognise the importance of finding ways to improve the system, and I would hope that the hon. Gentleman would welcome our efforts to improve it.

Last week in Scotland, the Daily Record ran a story about Kieran McArdle and the death of his father, Brian. Brian was paralysed down his left side, blind in one eye and unable to speak properly, and yet was declared fit to work. Atos said in response that

“our trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists strictly follow the guidelines given to them by the Government”.

Given the crescendo of complaints about the implementation of the work capability assessment, should the Minister not abandon his mantra that progress has been made and instead accept his responsibility and undertake a fast and fundamental review of the test, as called for by the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne)?

Our condolences are with Mr McArdle’s family at this time, and I believe that the Secretary of State is writing to his son, Kieran, in response to his letter, which was delivered to the Department late last week. We know that going through the WCA process can be difficult for claimants and their families, but we and Atos go to great lengths to make it as fair as possible. That is why we are undertaking this process of refinement, taking the system left to us by the previous Government through the Harrington reviews and ensuring we improve it so that it is fair. The previous Government set up this system, and Opposition Members should not shirk responsibility for that.

I am getting weary of the charge that this contract is somehow—[Interruption.] No; the reality is that we would not have managed the contract in the way this Government are managing it. Although the work capability assessments have been controversial to say the least, Atos, which delivered that contract, has recently been awarded two out of the three contracts for the personal independence payment. Did the company enhance its bid by naming disability organisations with which it would work, and what due diligence was done to test the authenticity of such assertions before awarding the contracts?

The right hon. Lady might be weary of that charge, but she will have to get used to hearing it. This Government are taking forward the changes that are necessary to get this system to work well. I think all Members on both sides of the House recognise one thing, however: as the evidence demonstrates, it is better for people to be in work where possible so that they can look after their families and provide dignity. That is exactly what we are trying to do in getting this process right. We are making progress, and we await Professor Harrington’s third review, which is due in the near future. Let me just say this to the right hon. Lady: when Atos bid for the PIP contract, it made it very clear that it would look to work with disability organisations to improve outcomes. We should try to work together on these matters, rather than make partisan political points.