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Reform Watch

27 February 2007
Current claimants to be subject to harsh new PCA.

The government has finally admitted its intention to subject all current claimants to the harsh new incapacity for work test under the proposed new Employment and Support Allowance, due to be introduced in November 2008. This is in spite of the fact that existing claimants with physical health problems were twice as likely to be found capable of work in the DWP's first very small scale examination of the new Personal Capability Assessment (PCA).

The clarification, which Benefits and Work has been calling for some time, came as the House of Lords was examining the Welfare Reform Bill in detail for the first time.

Lord McKenzie of Luton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, told the Lords that the DWP was still testing the new PCA and, 'once that is finished, we will be in a better position to say what is the most appropriate stage to introduce it for existing customers. We expect that it will be at the first PCA review following migration to the ESA.'

However, it is likely to be some time before existing long-term claimants are 'migrated' onto ESA. According to Lord McKenzie migration will not start until the new benefit has 'bedded down'. When it does begin, claimants with children and those who have been on benefits for the shortest time will be the first to be moved over. ESA is not expected to be introduced before November 2008, so the new PCA will not begin affecting current claimants until some time after that.

Unfortunately, it seems increasingly likely that when current claimants are 'migrated' a very substantial proportion may be moved from incapacity benefits, not onto ESA, but onto Jobseekers Allowance instead. This is because the proposed new PCA is designed to be much harder to pass than the current test.

In its first very small pilot of the proposed new PCA, out of 18 claimants subject just to the physical health test, 14 passed and were eligible for benefit under the current PCA, but just 4 passed under the new PCA. A footnote to the results states that it is considered that the new test scored three claimants too low, but that the other failures were correct. In other words, claimants with a physical health condition were twice as likely to be found capable of work under the new test.

The DWP were very quick to point out that the sample was far too small for anything to be read into it. However, this didn't stop them making huge changes to the mental heath test (See Clampdown on future mental health claimants) following the results of this small trial, in which claimants with mental health conditions were much more likely to be found incapable of work under the new test. The physical health test, by comparison, had very few changes made to it.

The DWP now plans to carry out a larger scale trail, but has also already announced its intention to make further changes to the mental health test.
The government have made much of their promise that existing claimants will not be worse off under ESA. What has not been made clear until now is that this promise will be a worthless one to the many existing claimants who will not make it onto ESA in the first place.

You can download a copy of the interim report into the first small scale trial of the new PCA.

You can read the whole of the House of Lords debate on ESA.

ESA for terminally ill claimants
The government has given a welcome undertaking that, unlike other claimants, terminally ill people will not have to serve a 13 week waiting period on ESA when their benefits will only be the equivalent of Jobseekers Allowance. Instead, the DWP will aim to assess such claimants within 4-5 weeks and will backdate the higher rates of the support allowance to the date on which the claim was first made.

Lies about LiMA?
Is someone deliberately telling lies to ministers and the public about who owns LiMA, the largely secret software used to assess incapacity for work? In the last Reform Watch we asked whether LiMA had been sold off following DWP minister Jim Murphy's statement that LiMA belongs to Atos Origin, not the DWP. (See: Reform Watch 12.02.07)

Following on from that article we phoned Jim Murphy's constituency office and asked them if it was the minister's belief that LiMA had changed hands? They told us that they would contact the DWP who would then answer our question direct. But it was actually the minister's office which subsequently got back to us. They explained that they'd had an email from Atos Origin saying that LiMA has not changed hands, it has always belonged to Atos Origin Medical Services.

This, however, is almost certainly untrue. As regular readers will know, we have caught the DWP out once before claiming that they didn't own LiMA, a very handy line for trying to duck freedom of information and other requests to learn more about how the secret assessment software works. (See: Incompetent DWP admits untruth)

On that occasion the DWP were forced to apologise to us for 'providing incorrect information' and also claimed that ". . . there is no policy of deliberately misleading citizens who seek to exercise their rights under the Freedom of Information Act."

Now, it seems, there may be a policy of deliberately misleading government ministers.

When we asked Jim Murphy's office for a copy of the email from the DWP they refused to send it, on the grounds that 'there are allsorts of protocols'. They did eventually agree to ask the DWP to send us a copy of the email. Needless to say it has never arrived.

We have since had a call from Janet Dean MP, whose written question to the minister sparked off the claims about ownership. We have furnished Ms Dean with the full facts and await developments - we'll let you know what happens next.