Incapacity Benefit: Medical Examinations

– in the House of Lords at 11:40 am on 20 April 2006.

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Photo of Lord Kimball Lord Kimball Conservative 11:40, 20 April 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What percentage of those who receive incapacity benefit have had a full face-to-face medical examination in the last full year for which figures are available.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, as at August 2005, there were 2.77 million people claiming incapacity benefit. During 2005, 477,000 face-to-face personal capability assessment examinations were undertaken. This represents some 17 per cent of the caseload.

Photo of Lord Kimball Lord Kimball Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. It proves that the Department for Work and Pensions plus the Minister for Welfare Reform have not done a great deal over a period in which the Prime Minister himself said that there were 1 million people claiming incapacity benefit who wanted to work. The situation will not be made any easier for the Government with a backdrop of a slowing economy, rising unemployment and the unprecedented funding crisis in the National Health Service. All the same, I wish that the Government could do more.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I really cannot accept the noble Lord's criticism. It was under his government that the huge increases in incapacity benefit took place. We have seen a very encouraging reduction in the numbers on incapacity benefit this year. As for the economy, I would point out to noble Lords that just under 75 per cent of the working population are now in work; historically, that is very high indeed. The economy is in a sound state, and we are determined, as part of our welfare proposals, to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefit. We believe that, if they are given the right support and encouragement, then, as the Pathways to Work pilots experience has shown, we can get many of them back into work.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, surely everyone who suffers from incapacity is entitled to the benefit that the state allows. Can the Minister give us an undertaking that, in every case, there is a full inquiry into the incapacity benefit that should be paid?

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Yes, my Lords, I can. Those who are in the exempt category can be awarded incapacity benefit through an examination of the paperwork by the decision maker. Some claimants have to be referred to the medical service; for some that will be a paperwork process, whereas others will be called in for a medical examination. So every claimant is duly considered. Those who are entitled to incapacity benefit will receive it. We are saying in the welfare reform proposals that there are many people on incapacity benefit who would benefit and would wish to be in work if they were given all due support. That is what we intend to do.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords (Disability), Work & Pensions, Deputy Chief Whip

My Lords, can the Minister give us some assurance about how the in-depth initial examination will be expanded under this system? There is undoubtedly a case that these are not happening fast enough and lead to too many appeals. That would remove many of the problems in the system. It simply takes too long, and there is initial misdiagnosis.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. As the numbers show, many appeals—about half—are allowed because new information has come to light. Our proposals on the welfare reform agenda are intended to ensure that as much information as possible is up front right at the start, so that we can get the right decision made the first time and reduce the need for people to go to appeal.