Skip to main content

Work Capability Assessment

Volume 555: debated on Monday 10 December 2012

12. What assessment he has made of Professor Harrington's third review of the work capability assessment. (132038)

We welcome Professor Harrington’s invaluable contribution to our efforts continually to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the work capability assessment. We published our response on the day of the publication of his third review. We accepted five recommendations outright, and the sixth in principle.

I greatly appreciate the Government’s continuous efforts to get this process right—it is a very difficult process to get right—and it is great news that all Professor Harrington’s recommendations have been adopted. May I ask the Minister to join me in urging Opposition Members to stop scaremongering and frightening disabled people in my constituency who are being deterred from coming forward to claim the benefits to which they are entitled?

My hon. Friend has made an important point. There has been a great deal of scaremongering about the work capability assessment, and a great deal of criticism, most of it unfounded. Let me inform the House of two facts. First, decisions about eligibility are made not by Atos but by the Department’s decision makers, and, secondly, we have established that in only 0.4% of cases in which tribunals have overturned DWP decisions has Atos been the cause.

I am not sure whether some of those last remarks were aimed at me, but may I ask whether the Minister agrees with Professor Harrington’s comment:

“The appeals process remains an area of considerable concern”?

As a number of charities have pointed out, many people who were given zero points in the initial assessment discovered, following appeals, that they had at least 15. How many people have found themselves in that position in the last year?

If the hon. Gentleman feels guilty, perhaps he ought to examine his conscience in relation to remarks that he himself has made.

In his report, Professor Harrington said:

“All they call for is a scrapping of the WCA but with no suggestion of what might replace it.”

He added that to

“recognise that things are beginning to change positively in the best interests of the individual… would be helpful.”

This process is an important part of the way in which we help people to get back into work, but the scaremongering that we hear undermines people’s confidence in it, to the detriment of those who are trying to claim employment support allowance.

When the last Government placed the contracts with Atos, they omitted to ensure that work assessment centres were fully accessible. In 31 of them there is no ground-floor access for wheelchairs, which is clearly absurd. What is the Department doing to deal with that?

My hon. Friend has made an important point. We are working with Atos to ensure that as many centres as possible have ground-floor, accessible medical examination rooms, but when they are not accessible, we will try to make arrangements with claimants to ensure that they have access to suitable locations for their assessments.