Contracted-out Health Assessments

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th October 2018.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 12:00 am, 15th October 2018

What recent assessment she has made of the (a) accuracy and (b) efficiency of contracted-out health assessments for employment and support allowance and personal independence payment.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Let us not forget that behind every statistic is a person. That is why I focus on the claimant satisfaction survey data. Overall the customer satisfaction rate is positive, with 87% for PIP and over 90% for the work capability assessment in ESA. We continually look at how we can improve accuracy in our processes.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

Many of my disabled constituents are contacting me about their assessments for PIP and ESA. Of just two who contacted me about their health assessments, I identified 14 failures of due process—for just two cases. Given that 65% of appeals completed on the initial fit-for-work decisions were overturned and that the courts have consistently struck out DWP assessment decisions, does the Secretary of State not think that the money spent on defending those cases would have been better spent supporting disabled people?

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing up those specific cases, and of course I would be happy to meet her to look into them. Actually, of all the millions of people who have been assessed for PIP, only 9% have appealed those decisions, and 4% have been upheld, mostly because at that point, more medical information is brought forward. One person’s mistake is one too many, and that is why we are constantly improving the process.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

Given that people with autism can become particularly distressed and anxious at the prospect of a face-to-face assessment, what more can be done to support those people and perhaps conduct the assessment without the face-to-face interview?

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is important that we put people at the centre of our processes and make sure that they work for everyone, irrespective of their impairments, and that is what we seek to do.

Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Wavertree

My constituent David Gamble has a number of degenerative conditions that are so serious that he was granted higher-rate mobility DLA indefinitely, but when it came to his PIP assessment he was given a score of zero. It has been 18 months since then, his appeal has been adjourned three times through no fault of his own and still the DWP has not even applied for his full medical records. Will the Minister intervene to ensure that he can have a proper decision?

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Something clearly has gone terribly wrong in that situation and of course I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

NHS survey data show that, under the Conservatives, 43% of those in receipt of ESA have attempted suicide. Leading academics, disabled people’s organisations and clinicians have raised concerns that the work capability assessment is causing a mental health crisis. The WCA is not fit for the 21st century—it is outdated and is causing preventable harm—so I ask the Minister: is it not time that the Government scrap the WCA that is pushing so many people to suicide?

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

First, I remind the hon. Lady that it was the Labour party in 2008 that introduced the work capability assessment. Ever since then, we have been using independent advice to reform the work capability assessment.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

What is absolutely shocking is to misuse—[Interruption.]

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I apologise for barking at Marsha De Cordova. She has asked her question with considerable force and eloquence, but the Minister is entitled to reply. It is not for the Chair to take sides in these matters, but I do want to say that the Minister is unfailingly courteous and she must be treated with courtesy, whatever people think of the answer. The Minister must be heard.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Especially on such an incredibly sensitive subject as people wanting to take their own life. Our chief medical officer, Professor Gina Radford, has made it absolutely clear that the NHS data shows there is no causal link between applying for benefits and people tragically taking their lives.