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Work Capability Assessments

Volume 565: debated on Monday 1 July 2013

8. If he will take steps to ensure that work capability assessments better meet the needs of people with mental health problems.


We recognise the challenges in accurately assessing people with mental health conditions, and the potential vulnerability of such claimants. The previous Government built safeguards into the work capability assessment. We have introduced further improvements to ensure the process deals with people with mental health conditions fairly and accurately.

In recent months, I have been in contact with a number of constituents with mental health conditions who tell me that the work capability assessment fails to recognise the nature and severity of their problems. In the light of the recent court case in which it was ruled that the current assessment process discriminates against those with mental health problems and autism, will the Minister stop the transfer of people with mental health conditions from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance until the system is fixed for that group?

It is important to ensure that we get the right support in place for people. Not long after ESA was introduced under the previous Government, 33% of people with a mental health condition received the support allowance, but under this Government the figure has increased to 43%, so more people are getting the right support as a consequence of this assessment.

Will the Minister encourage a scheme that Mind had—the “way to work” campaign—under which people with spasmodic mental health illnesses could work flexibly? It was not taken up as well as it could have been by employers, and it would help people who are assessed as having periods of good health as well as ill health.

My hon. Friend rightly says that we need to find ways to help people with mental health conditions, and other conditions, back into employment—the work we do under the Work programme is part of that, but other interventions are also being made—because there is a strong link between work and good health outcomes.

23. Given today’s launch of Rethink’s Unfair WCA campaign, when will the Minister finally decide whether to implement the changes to the descriptors recommended over a year ago by the mental health charities? (162112)

Work is going on at the moment to test those descriptors, and we are working closely with the charities. Today also marks the launch of the call for evidence of the fourth independent review of the WCA, which recognises our commitment to improving on the system we inherited from the previous Government.

Will the Minister examine the way in which people with mental and physical health problems are assessed before they are placed in their WCA, specifically by Seetec in my part of the world? Will he examine how appropriate the placement is after they have started, because in my experience such placements are often inappropriate and therefore do not benefit anybody at the end of the exercise?

The Work programme does not undertake the assessments; they are undertaken as part of the ESA process. It is in the interests of providers to ensure that they get people placed with the right employer, because that maximises the chance of that person staying in work and, thus, the provider getting paid for the right outcomes.

In May, Dr Greg Wood, an Atos-appointed doctor, made a series of specific allegations about failings in the WCA process as he saw it, as a doctor working for Atos. I asked the Prime Minister to investigate and I received a reply from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions this week that made absolutely no reference to the specific allegations that have been raised. Does the Minister understand that one reason why there is such a lack of confidence in the Atos test is this complacent, contemptuous disregard for, and head-in-the-sand attitude towards, what is happening in the system?

I just point out to the hon. Gentleman that, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), today we have launched a call for evidence for the fourth independent review of the WCA. That demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that we get this right, so that people get the right support, and that we continue to deliver the right outcomes for people going through this process.

It is encouraging that over the past three years the number of people with mental health conditions who have been put into the support group has trebled. Does the Minister agree, however, that we need constantly to monitor the effectiveness of the WCA, perhaps by working with mental health charities, to make sure that it is suitable for people with fluctuating mental health conditions?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is because we are committed to continuing to improve the whole process that we work with mental health charities. Since coming to office, I have had several meetings with charities to talk about what we can do, and this is why we are currently going through the process of assessing alternative descriptors, particularly for those with fluctuating conditions and mental health issues.