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Work-related Activity Group

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:18 am on 3rd February 2015.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 11:18 am, 3rd February 2015

I accept that point. There are of course people in the support group who do permitted work. I think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh East was arguing that it was somehow inappropriate for those diagnosed with progressive conditions to be put in the work-related activity group and expected to undertake some form of work-related activity. I was simply making the point that it does not follow that putting someone with a progressive condition in the WRAG is inappropriate, and that they should automatically be in the support group. That was the only point I was trying to make.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh East made a good and sensible point—she raised this at my Select Committee appearance last week, and I promised that I would respond to her—on some of the communication. Letters that say to people that they are not expected to return to work—I cannot remember whether it said “indefinitely” or “ever”—are not very well worded. We are looking at all our communication. We have a freeze on IT changes until we do the cutover from Atos to Maximus, but once that is out of the way, we will change the wording on the assessor recommendation. The hon. Lady made a good and reasonable point in the Select Committee session last week; the wording as set out does not accurately reflect the position.

The hon. Lady also raised the point about the work capability assessment generally. We will respond to Dr Litchfield’s report in due course, but he said that the WCA was not a perfect assessment, and I would not pretend that it was. He also made the point, however, that there is not a magic alternative assessment that can be pulled off the shelf. As the hon. Lady knows—I think she remarked on this in her speech—a number of experts looked at whether there was an alternative way of assessing people’s need for benefits and for support to move into the workplace, and there was not a magic solution there either. That demonstrated that the WCA is a pretty good assessment. I would not pretend that it is perfect, but it is probably the best that there is. One thing Dr Litchfield suggested is that we give the WCA a period of stability, so that it can settle down, rather than continuing to make changes to it on a permanent revolution basis.

The hon. Lady also discussed whether we should be able to refer people to the work-related activity group without a face-to-face assessment. As we said in our response to the report—I think this blends the two slightly contradictory points that she made—we should not have unnecessary face-to-face assessments. Decisions are made on the basis of the papers without a face-to-face assessment only if the decision maker believes that the information in front of them is clear and provides sufficient evidence to make a decision. The person about whom that decision is being made will not always agree with the outcome, which is why they can apply for a mandatory reconsideration, and if they do not agree with that, they can appeal.

In cases where the decision maker is clear that there is sufficient evidence to make a decision, having an unnecessary face-to-face assessment—an assessment that, in other cases, the hon. Lady is not a fan of—is not an enormous step forward. She will know from the statistics we publish that the average length of time to complete a mandatory reconsideration is 13 days, and we complete three quarters of them in 30 days; that is not an enormous barrier put in the way of someone having their case looked at again and then being able to appeal the decision if they think they need to.