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.
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.
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.