ME/CFS raised in House of Commons debate on DWP Work Capability Assessments | 17 January 2013

January 18, 2013

The Commons discussed the DWP Work Capability Assessments during a 3-hour debate yesterday (17 January) – moved as backbench business by Michael Meacher (Labour MP for Oldham West) and Royton. The full Hansard report can be read HERE. Many MPs spoke during the debate and contributions included those below from Stephen Gilbert and Annette Brooke.

Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem MP for St Austell and Newquay):


I am particularly concerned about those with fluctuating conditions such as ME-myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome – and those with lifelong degenerative conditions, who will never recover from the illness from which they are suffering but who continue to be called in for repeated assessments. The principle is the right one; the practice, however, is failing many millions of the most vulnerable people across the country. Although the coalition has made welcome efforts to get right a system that it inherited from the last Government, much more still needs to be done to ensure that we are doing things in a humane way.

Annette Brooke (Lib Dem MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole):

Does my hon. Friend agree that most people were extremely pleased that Professor Harrington convened his working group to look at the descriptors for fluctuating conditions? However, whatever has happened has not solved the problem for people with ME, multiple sclerosis or mental health conditions. It is therefore imperative that the DWP get on with this and make the system work for those people.

Stephen Gilbert:

I could not have put it better. This is not about the principle of assessments; it is about how they are conducted in practice. We owe it to some of the most vulnerable people across our country to ensure that we get this right.


Annette Brooke:

I would like to refer briefly to the issue of ME-myalgic encephalomyelitis. I understand that although the discussions on ME were very productive, the changes that we all want are not coming through individually. What we are looking for today is a means of unlocking some of the frictions that are causing the individual

I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ME, so I have obviously received many representations on this matter. I would like to draw the Minister's attention to a survey on the work capability assessment carried out by the charity, Action for ME. It had 203 responses. I commend the report to the Minister and hope he will read all the conclusions. I shall refer only to several of them as I do not want to take up too much time.

The conclusions included one to the effect that ‘all face-to-face interviewees should be automatically given a copy of the Atos medical report', which I understand is not always happening. That is an area where the Minister could intervene to make sure that it does happen. Another conclusion was that ‘more efficient communication is needed between the DWP and Atos' – and that is almost certainly true. I believe we can have a positive and constructive debate when we look at those sorts of points.

One further conclusion was: ‘Atos healthcare professionals who carry out the face-to-face assessment should receive specialist training about fluctuating conditions, developed in consultation with organisations that support people with M.E. Training needs to be as frequent as the staff turnover at Atos requires'. Those are really important points to which I would like the Minister to pay some attention.

We had a meeting in the House this week, but it was not possible to get a Minister to attend it. I would like to request that the offices of the all-party group be used for a meeting to talk about ME, the work capability assessment and fears about the personal independence payment in the future.

5 thoughts on “ME/CFS raised in House of Commons debate on DWP Work Capability Assessments | 17 January 2013”

  1. The difficulty is that the agenda of ensuring that very sick people have access to enough income to survive should be the top priority of the DWP and of Atos – to make accurate assessements of disability and need.
    We seem to have to pretend that this is what is going on when the agenda – sadly, set by the Labour government, but of course carried on by the Coalition – is to save money. Investigations of Atos have confirmed that although they say they don’t have a quota, in fact workers are under pressure to deprive as many people as possible of benefits. ME sufferers, defined, illegally, by the DWP as having a mental health problem, are particularly vulnerable. The mental health label means that any refusal to cooperate with the treatments on offer – CBT, GET- which will make us worse – can be coded as a form of psychological ‘resistance’ – an unwillingness to get better. In fact, refusal of treatments which are known to make us worse is a sign of wishing to get better.
    What would really save the country money would be to treat people who are first severely disabled with ME with complete rest, followed by programs designed to minimize the physical exertion which makes us worse, using an ergonomic approach so that we can live as nearly normally as possible. Then every possible modification to minimize physical exertion should be applied to our work situation so that we can resume work, as most of us wish to, as soon as possible. The addition of extra exertion, called treatment, makes about as much sense as giving someone infected with bacterial illness infusions of the same bacteria – preventing them ever recovering – as happens to ME people forced to exercise. Current methods are increasing the numbers of permanently and severely disabled people – doesn’t even make economic sense. You can recover from ME, to a significant extent, over the years, given the right circumstances.
    It is heartening that these MP’s are doing their best to fight our corner, and we have to hope that they will have some success.

    1. Can you point me to where the DWP label ME as a Mental illness, as the definition for DLA, which I understand is also used for ESA, defines CFS/ME as a physical illness?

      This is important, as changes to the WCA descriptors at the end of the month will restrict claimants to only scoring points for the physical section if the have a physical condition and to points in the Mental Health section only if they have a Mental Health condition.

  2. I qualified for ESA in March last year (2012) & was placed in the WRAG as I was considered too ill to work.
    I appealed the decision (my Fatigue specialist thinks I should be in the Support group and so do I,) and am still waiting for my appeal to be heard. The DWP submitted papers for this Appeal.
    Yet, this week I received a letter and another application form from the DWP inviting me to apply for ESA!
    Are we expected to re-apply for this benefit every year, or is their filing system just disorganised?

    1. You are lucky you have had a year between assessments some claimants in the WRAG only manage 3 months.

  3. I did a WCA for transferring from long-term IB to ESA. The process leading up to it was a nightmare, and I couldn’t have managed without enormous support from my partner. But the WCA itself was OK, with a competent and nice HCP. CRUCIALLY, I think, I had insisted the WCA be recorded. This took some doing (3 attempts, I think) as many HCP’s refuse to be recorded – doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it……..So the fact that this guy was fine about being recorded already meant he was one of the better ones. You have to request the recording in advance, when you send in the ESA50 form. Join which is an enormously informative and helpful site. I used their pro-forma request letter about getting recorded, so it was legally worded.
    I also sent in, and brought along, supportive medical letters, and my partner took me to the WCA and accompanied me in to it. I got put in the Support group and the HCP has recommended in his report no further assessment for 3 years. He definitely assessed the ME as a physical condition.
    Despite the outcome for me, I can honestly say that I haven’t recovered from the deterioration caused by the exhaustion and stress of going through a lengthy process which has appallingly failed so many thousands of very ill people. I don’t know how people without a rock-like partner and a supportive GP get through it. You have to be so prepared, and keep checking with Atos that the appointment you’ve been sent IS with a HCP who will be recorded – despite my request, the first two appointments were not (I found out from phoning Atos “customer care-line” or some such ghastly title, NOT the 0800 help-desk number, which is just a call-centre and quite useless.

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