Friday, 2 September 2011

Letter from Chris Grayling

My MP has forwarded to me the response he received from Chris Grayling, after he sent to him my own letter. I am really upset by this. I actually sat and cried after reading it.

It's a three page letter, very well written, covering a lot of ground. However, it does NOT cover even half the issues I mentioned in my letter, and it does cover a lot of things I did not even mention. Evidently therefore we have been sent a standardised letter. I find that disgusting. He has not only wasted my time, but wasted my MPs time. What is the point in pretending to be interested in what the public has to offer if he's not even going to read the letters sent to him?

Dear Ms Voljeti

I have now received a reply to my letter from the Department of Work & Pensions regarding the Work Capability Assessment.

I am enclosing the Minister's reply which, as you will see, sets out the current situation with regard to this issue.

My thanks, again, for having raised this important matter with me and I do hope this information is of help to you.

Yours sincerely

Your MP


Thank you for your letter of 27 July on behalf of Ms Olana Voljeti regarding the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

Entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is based on an individual's functional ability rather than the condition itself. Anyone claiming ESA  will undergo the WCA which is based on the premise that eligibility should not be based on a person's condition, but rather on the way that condition limits their functional capability.

The assessment gives people with fluctuating conditions the opportunity to explain how their condition varies over time. The questionnaire that customers are sent has been re-designed so that people are directly asked if their mental or physical functions vary, and to give more details of how this affects them as an individual.

The health care professionals who carry out the WCA are trained to ask about and take account of fluctuation. The assessment is not a snap-shot - if a person cannot carry out a function repeatedly and reliably they will be treated as unable to carry out that function at all.

The activities and descriptors used in the assessment were developed in consultation with medical expert and representative groups in order to ensure that they are appropriate for all conditions. The consultation involved considerable discussion about the variability of some conditions. We are now making some changes to the WCA, including ensuring that it more fully accounts for the effects of exhaustion.

Turning now to the issue of healthcare professionals' integrity, I can confirm that the Medical Services Agreement between Atos Healthcare and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) does not include any provisions either from the Department or from Atos Healthcare to incentivise healthcare professionals to find claimants undergoing the WCA fit for work, and nor would we wish to do so.

It should be noted however that all decisions on benefit entitlement are made by DWP decision makers and not by Atos Healthcare professionals. Entitlement is determined by the Department's decision makers and is based on all available evidence, including that provided by the claimant. Decision makers are rightly impartial and also not incentivised to find claimants under going the WCA fit for work.

We recognise that attending any medical assessment can be a stressful experience, and these will not be carried out if there is enough existing evidence on the claimant's  current condition to decide entitlement to the particular benefit in question. The healthcare professionals who carry out the examinations are trained in assessing vulnerable customers, and when people are asked to come for an assessment they are encouraged to bring a friend or relative with them.

I turn now to the issue regarding the overturning of decisions at appeal. An appeal tribunal hears all evidence afresh, including any new evidence that was not available to the original Jobcentre Plus decision maker, in order to decide whether the original decision on benefit entitlement was correct. Thus when an appeal panel reaches a different decision this does not necessarily mean that the original decision lacked validity.

To try and improve the accuracy of initial decision-making and reduce the number of cases which proceed to appeal, a number of innovations have been trialled within Jobcentre Plus. These include encouraging benefit applicants to submit all the available evidence at the beginning of their claim rather than only producing it for the appeal hearing; and strengthening the reconsideration process so that more decisions are reconsidered, with additional information if available, by decision makers and healthcare professionals, before proceeding to appeal.

Both of these processes have produced very encouraging results. In addition, there are processes in place for the result of appeals to be sent to both decision makers and healthcare professionals in order to improve the accuracy of decision-making, and the Department continues to monitor the outcomes of appeals to continue to improve the assessment.

We are committed to continually improving the WCA to ensure that it is as fair and accurate as possible.

As part of this, we have a statutory commitment to independently review the WCA annually for the first five years of its operation. Professor Malcolm Harrington, a highly respected occupational physician, carried out the first review, reporting in November 1020. We fully endorsed his review and have implemented the vast majority of its recommendations, and are working hard to implement the remainder as soon as possible.

In addition, a department-led review reported in March 2010. We have now implemented its recommendations which include taking better account of the effects of exhaustion and making greater provision for people awaiting or in between courses of chemotherapy. The improvements as a result of this review came in to force on 28 March.

We have now appointed Professor Harrington to conduct a second independent review of the WCA and provide further recommendations as appropriate. He has already started work on the programme of work he has identified, to look in detail at the descriptors for mental health and other fluctuating conditions. Also as part of his review, on 14 July the Government published a call for evidence as part of Professor Harrington's second independent review of the WCA.

The call for evidence is particularly interested in views and evidence about:
- the implementation of Professor Harrington's Year 1 recommendations and the impact they are having;
- what, if any, further work is required in future reviews; and
- the face-to-face assessment.

The call for evidence runs until 16 September. May I encourage Ms Voljeti, to contribute to this process.

I hope this is helpful.

With best wishes,

Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP
Minister for Employment

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