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HomeBlogTory conference: Silence on eligibility means WCA announcement is ‘meaningless’

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By John Pring Disability News Service  Oct5th 2017

Changes that mean some sick and disabled benefit claimants will no longer need to face repeated assessments of their capability for work are “meaningless” because the government has refused to say which people will be affected, say campaigners.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced last week, on the eve of the Conservative party conference in Manchester, that some claimants in the support group of employment and support allowance (ESA) – and the equivalent universal credit group – would no longer need to attend “routine reassessments”.

They will be told they will not be assessed again after they have received the results of their work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for fitness for work.

DWP said the change applies to those with “a severe, lifelong disability, illness or health condition” who are “unlikely to ever be able to move into work”.

It was first announced by the then work and pensions secretary Damian Green at last year’s party conference, and has now finally been implemented, but DWP refused to say this week which claimants would be spared reassessments.

David Gauke, the new work and pensions secretary, told the conference that the government would “support those who are unable to work, while helping those who can work to maximise their potential”.

He said that about twice as many people were expected to benefit from the rule change as ministers had originally expected.

But asked by Disability News Service what the eligibility criteria were for the new exemption, a DWP spokesman said: “I’m not in a position to share the information you’ve requested. However, more details will be released shortly.”

He added later: “I’m afraid that I can’t elaborate. However, I can reassure you that people going through their assessments will be made aware of the changes and the fact a new criteria will be used.”

A Conservative party spokesman had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday) on the refusal to describe which groups would be spared reassessments.

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Without any information on who will be spared reassessment, this announcement means absolutely nothing.

“Sadly, we can’t trust that everyone with an impairment where their support needs are not going to reduce will benefit from this, and without further detail on the exemptions we are unable to gauge how far this measure will mitigate the current harm that the benefit assessment regime is causing.

“The fact that for the second year running, the Conservatives have chosen to trail their conference with an announcement on disability does indicate that they are feeling the pressure of their appalling record on disability.

“That’s a pressure we need to maintain if we are to secure meaningful reversals on the issues that are hurting disabled people the most.”

Disabled researcher Stef Benstead, a member of the Spartacus online network, said: “It is useless without any more information because we do need to know exactly who they are referring to.

“I do not believe they are going to stop reassessing me because I have a severe lifelong condition.”

She said she believed that the rule change would only affect those ESA claimants who were already not being called for reassessments because DWP did not have the capacity in the system to deal with them.

Benstead said that Gauke’s claim that the new rules would help twice as many people as originally thought showed that DWP should be able to say who will be affected.

She said: “It does suggest they have a defined group in mind.

“They must have some internal definition or description of who they think it will affect, and if they have got that they should be telling us because we are the ones who actually live with chronic illness or disability who could inform them on how sensitive and specific their definition is.”

Meanwhile, the minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, does not appear to have spoken at any event at the conference that was open to the media, and only spoke at a private roundtable event.

Her office also failed to respond to a request for a conference interview with DNS.

Mordaunt’s silence, and refusal to speak in public at the conference, comes just weeks after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

The committee also told the government to produce an annual progress report on how it is implementing the recommendations of a damning inquiry that found it guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of key parts of the disability convention, caused by its social security reforms.

A Tory party spokeswoman had not commented by noon today (Thursday) on why Mordaunt was not speaking at any public fringe events.

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