I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate, because this issue will have profound implications for the welfare and benefit system, and will impact on all our constituents.
Time is limited, and the scope of the Bill is extensive, so I shall focus on a few key issues, the first of which is the proposed changes to disability living allowance, particularly the work capability assessment. The Government appear to place more emphasis on the independence of those who judge someone’s fitness for work, rather than on their expertise, which is of concern to many people, particularly those who suffer from hidden, complex and often poorly understood conditions with variable symptoms, including autistic spectrum disorders, mental health issues and multiple sclerosis.
A medically qualified assessor may be independent, but not necessarily an expert in a particular condition. The single point assessment is unlikely to give a comprehensive view of an individual’s fitness to work that is more reliable than that provided by an expert in the field who has treated and monitored the patient over a long period. The clinician will also follow professional ethics in making judgments about a patient, which provides a safeguard for the Government. If expert written evidence is available, it should be used and should carry more weight than the opinion of a benefits assessor, who may not have detailed expertise in dealing with those matters.