Clause 51 — Period of entitlement to contributory allowance

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of Jennifer Willott Jennifer Willott Liberal Democrat, Cardiff Central 1:45 pm, 1st February 2012

I will make some progress, because I have hardly said anything yet, and I am being intervened on left, right, and centre.

The Harrington process is critical to getting the assessment right. I welcome the work that has been done looking specifically at cancer patients, which will ensure that the vast majority go into the support group. That is the right way forward. I also welcome the fact that Professor Harrington is looking at how we assess chronic pain and fatigue, because in many chronic, long-term conditions—particularly fluctuating conditions—those are the elements that cause people most difficulty in thinking about returning to work, and the elements that, at the moment, the work capability assessment is not very good at identifying and reflecting. I really hope that Ministers will implement whatever recommendations Professor Harrington makes on those issues; on past experience, his recommendations have been sensible and have made a significant difference to the assessment.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan, there is evidence that the system is improving. I looked earlier today at the latest figures on the outcome of the work capability assessments, which I found quite reassuring when it comes to the Bill. We have to treat the figures with caution, but they show that initially, following the work capability assessment, more people are going into the support group than the work-related activity group. That is a crucial point. If we are getting the assessment right, and more people are going into the support group in the first place, the time-limit for people in the work-related activity group becomes less of an issue, because the people who need the most care are getting support indefinitely.