[Hywel Williams in the Chair] — Work Capability Assessments

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:49 am on 1 February 2012.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 10:49, 1 February 2012

I accept that, but I genuinely hope that hon. Members will take note of what I said about the time lines and the changes that we have introduced. Professor Harrington said of the concerns highlighted in the Citizens Advice report to which hon. Members referred, “This happened before my changes.” I hope that we can send the message that the system is changing and improving and that we are making genuine efforts and will continue to do so. That is why we changed the guidance in November. It is a process of continuous improvement. We want to get it right as far as we possibly can.

I shall try to answer one or two specific questions before I finish. On audio recording, we will offer everyone who wants it the opportunity to have their session recorded. We decided not to implement universal recording because, based on the trial experience, people did not want it. Few people wanted their sessions recorded, and some said that they definitely did not. We decided therefore to offer recording as an option to those who want it. That seems entirely sensible.

Contact between Atos health care professionals and decision makers will be done by telephone. What matters is not the contact between a single person and a block of decision makers, but trying to phone up the decision maker themselves. On capacity issues, as we stand here today, the incapacity benefit reassessment is on time. New claims for ESA have fallen a bit behind, mostly because of the introduction of the personalised statement following Professor Harrington’s report. We discovered in the first few weeks that it took health care professionals much longer to complete the statement than expected, so the number of completed assessments dropped. That has changed. They have caught up again, and we are chasing through to clear the backlog, as we are doing with the appeals backlog that we inherited.

Finally, the right hon. Member for East Ham asked about the Work programme. Incapacity benefit reassessments are progressing according to time. The biggest impact on numbers in the programme has been created by the different mix of people coming through and the bigger support group. I am quite relaxed about having a bigger support group, because if we need to provide long-term unconditional support to a larger group of people than we had expected, it shows that we are making a genuine effort to get it right and are being sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities. We want to help them into work, but we want to do it in the right way.