The letter below has been passed to the Suvivor History Group by a primary contributor, Anne Plumb of Manchester. Anne, in turn, has given her permission for me to post it here. It contains information important to those on Disability Living Allowance in particular. Thank you Anne.
Department for Work and Pensions
Caxton House Tothill Street London SW1H 9DA
Your ref: 18311AP
Our ref: POS(2)10937/228 Email
Jim Dobbin MP
Thank you for your letter of 18 March on behalf of Ms Plumb regarding the changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and incapacity benefits. Ms Plumb is particularly worried about how the changes will impact on people with mental health problems.
We are determined to ensure that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) accurately assesses the capability of people with mental health conditions.* The Welfare Reform Act 2007 requires an independent review of the WCA each year for the first five years of its operation, and Professor Malcolm Harrington, an Occupational Health expert and Professor Emeritus at the University of Birmingham, was appointed to lead the first in June 2010. That review, published on 23 November, found that the WCA is the right process but made a substantial series of practical recommendations about how the process can be improved and set out a programme of work for the second review.
We fully accepted the recommendation that Atos Healthcare, who undertake WCAs for the Department, should provide mental health 'champions', healthcare professionals with enhanced skills, as a resource to support the assessment of individuals with mental health conditions. We will introduce these, alongside Professor Harrington's other proposals. Professor Harrington has also asked Mind, Mencap and the National Autistic Society to provide recommendations on refining the mental, intellectual and cognitive descriptors used in the WCA. They will report back to Professor Harrington shortly. The review and our response are available at: www.dwp.gov.uk/wca-review.
As part of his Spending Review announcement on 20 October 2010, the Chancellor set out his intention to introduce a time limit of one year for those claiming contributory ESA who are placed in the Work Related Group contributor ESA only. ESA for those in the Work Related Activity Group has always been intended to be a temporary benefit for people who are expected to move towards the work place with the right help and support.
Currently people can qualify for many years of benefit on the basis of National Insurance contributions made over a relatively short period of time. This is no longer acceptable in the current fiscal climate where we need to review the balance between contributions paid and indefinite entitlement to support. We do not think that it is right in principle that those who are assessed as able to undertake work related activity should be able to remain on contribution-based ESA for an unlimited period. By rebalancing the benefit system in this way we believe we are being fair to recipients as well as making the support provided affordable to the taxpayer.
More severely disabled people in the Support Group, who we do not expect to work or prepare for work, will not have their contribution-based benefit time-limited, nor will people claiming income-related ESA even if they are assessed as able to participate in work related activity. This is in line with our Commitment to support and protect the most vulnerable, and disabled people, in our society.
The current system is in need of radical reform. It is wrong to write off the millions of people currently receiving old-style incapacity benefits. We know that work is generally good for mental and physical health and wellbeing. Reassessing Incapacity Benefit customers will help us to ensure that those people who can work are given the correct help and support to do so. Professor Harrington did not say that the WCA is broken but that it could be improved. We are implementing all of his recommendations and the majority will be in place by the beginning of national reassessment.
I hope this is helpful to Ms Plumb. With best wishes,
Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP Minister for Employment