Incapacity Benefit: Reassessments
Private Members’ Business
Steven Agnew (Green)
I will not repeat much of what has been said already. In the debate, many of the main points have been raised on the figures of appeals and the concern that we should all have about the substantial number of people who are being deemed fit to work having been originally deemed unfit to work. I question what the agenda is. Perhaps it is to prevent unfair remuneration, through an incapacity benefit system and employment and support allowance, to people who are fit to work in order to protect those who cannot work and need support. It may be to save the public purse from money that is being spent on people who could potentially be earning themselves. However, one of the unintended consequences has clearly been an unfair system whereby people who are clearly unfit to work are having the genuineness of their claims questioned. In some cases, they have been denied benefits in the first instance, and, later, having shown their cases to have been right, that decision has been overturned. They go through significant and considerable stress and hardship. Indeed, the cost to the public purse of dealing with appeals cases is significant and considerable. We have to judge the quality of the system based on the original agenda. If it is to tackle unfairness and waste of public money, it is failing in a significant number of cases.
I welcome the amendment, and I speak in favour of the motion and the amendment. Not only is the reliability of claimant submissions being questioned, but, by excluding GPs from the initial process, we are, to some extent, questioning the ability and honesty of GPs in assessing the patients they have worked with, in many cases, over a number of years. This information is key. As has been pointed out, a short assessment cannot assess many of the disabilities and illnesses that it is required to judge. Not exclusively, but particularly with mental health, how can any kind of judgement in a very short space of time be made by someone who has never met the claimant, does not know the claimant and is not fully au fait with the claimant’s condition, or, indeed, is an expert in how that condition may affect the person?
In my previous role in the Simon Community, I worked with a number of individuals who had mental ill health. I saw those people on good days when they were able to use their skills to cope with daily living, but I also saw them on the days when they could not cope and needed support. A number of those people could be deemed to be fit for work under this assessment, but anybody who knows them intimately and has known them over a period of time would know that they could not be fit for work on a sustained basis.
We have to question the system, given the failure rate and that 40% of rejections are successfully appealed. However, it was mentioned that the statistic for that is actually 60% for those who have Citizens Advice accompaniment to their appeals. That suggests that we have to query a number of the assessments and try to get things right at the front end rather than waiting until the appeals process.
We have to be honest: no system will ever be perfect, and there will always be some margin for error. However, I contend that the system is fundamentally flawed.