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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 think the hon. Lady’s point, which is perfectly good, is that we need to ensure that we make accurate decisions using all the information, that we get the information in the first place, and that we have properly explained to the claimant what information we need. She is right that we should make those decisions accurately, but that does not in itself suggest that making those decisions on the papers is wrong where there is sufficient evidence to do so. Saying that everyone has to have a face-to-face assessment when there is sufficient evidence is not a good argument. The fact that there are some cases where someone might not have made a good decision does not in itself invalidate the system. It is inevitable; however brilliant the system, there will always be cases where someone does not agree with the outcome, and is successful either on a mandatory reconsideration or on an appeal.

The hon. Lady referred to the communications that we send out. In Dr Litchfield’s fourth review, he recommended that we look at all the key ESA letters and forms to ensure that they are in plain English. The main ESA50 form has been reviewed and will be issued later this month. The decision letters are on a later time frame. The ESA260 form, which notifies someone of the decision in the first place, was revised last October. I looked specifically at the point on contribution-based ESA and the time limit because I know she is concerned about that. If someone is getting contribution-based ESA, it is clear that that is what they are getting. It is clear that that is time-limited, and that the time limit does not apply if they are in the support group. We are starting to do that work, as Dr Litchfield recommended, to improve our communications. There is more to do on that, and the hon. Lady is right to highlight that.

On the Work programme, which the hon. Lady referred to, it matters what time period one looks at. It is perfectly fair to say that in the first year of the Work programme, only one in 24 of the people claiming ESA moved into work, but up to the end of June last year, one in 10 ESA claimants had had at least three months of work within the first 12 months of being on the Work programme, which is a considerable improvement on its initial period and above the minimum performance level of one in 14. We want to improve the one in 10 figure, but she should acknowledge that the Work programme has improved its performance for this group of claimants. It has got a lot better, but we want to continue to improve it.

On the specific case that the hon. Lady referred to, an employer should have dealt with adaptations and hours of work through reasonable adjustments. On the issue to do with support workers, people can get support through the Access to Work programme. It is about ensuring that someone who goes through the Work programme has—