The Countess of Mar tabled a written question asking the Government for details of contacts departments have had with officials from the US-based UNUM Provident insurance company and other insurance companies.
The Countess asked the Government: “(a) on how many occasions they have met officials from UNUM Provident, (b) on how many occasions officials from UNUM Provident have been members of advisory committees or working groups of the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department of Health and (c) which other insurance companies have been involved in similar activities.
The Minister for Welfare Reform at the DWP, Lord Freud, replied on 16 November:
An extensive search of recent records within the Department was carried out following receipt of your question, and details of meetings between Department officials and representatives of UNUM Provident, details of membership of advisory committees or working groups, and details of similar activity with other insurance companies, are listed below. However, it should be noted that there are approximately 100,000 officials within the Department and it would not be possible, except at disproportionate cost, to ask each of them whether they have engaged in any such discussions.
a) on 14 February 2011, UNUM Provident officials met with officials involved in the independent review of sickness absence in Great Britain to discuss a research paper. In February 2011, the Government commissioned the independent review to explore the current sickness absence system and examine whether the costs associated with sickness absence are appropriately shared between the state, individuals and employers. The independent review is being jointly led by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE.
– on 18 October 2010, a representative from UNUM Provident, who was part of a delegation from the UK Rehabilitation Council, met with the Minister for Welfare Reform and Department officials.
A full list of Ministerial meeting with external organisations is available at www.dwp.gov.uk/publications/corporate-publications/ministers-meetings-overseas.shtml
The Minister for Welfare Reform has also attended a roundtable on 5 October 2010 at Conservative Party Conference which was jointly hosted by Demos and UNUM.
b) – two working groups were set up in 2006 to review the Personal Capability Assessment for Incapacity Benefit. One of these groups reviewed the physical descriptors within the assessment and, of the seven meetings for which we have a record, there were four meeting which the UNUM Provident representative definitely did not attend; the other looked at the descriptors which assessed mental function and, of the five meetings for which we have a record, the UNUM Provident representative was not recorded as being absent from any of them.
– Jack McGarry, CEO of UNUM UK, was nominated to sit on the independent review of sickness absence in Great Britain expert panel by the insurance industry body.
c) As part of the evidence-gathering process for the independent review of sickness absence in Great Britain, Department officials, as well as the independent reviewers, have met with or had contact with a number of insurers in the course of this work – the Association of British Insurers, Aviva, BUPA, Genworth Financial, Legal and General, SwissRe, and GRiD – Group Risk Development.
Ministers and officials meet with representatives of the insurance industry on a regular basis to discuss issues arising from compulsory employer liability insurance.
There is a fierce attack on UNUM Provident and its alleged influence on the Government's welfare reform programme in the current issue (11 November 2011) of ‘Private Eye'. Could the Parliamentary Question be related to this?