3 March 2011

There is still a slim chance that the harsh new work capability assessment, due to come into force on 28 March, will be struck down.  The House of Lords’ Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee has raised the alarm about the new WCA, warning that ‘there are serious concerns about the effect on already vulnerable people’ if the new test is introduced.

The role of the committee is to ‘draw the special attention of the house’ to any statutory instrument which it considers to be flawed or inadequate.  In this case the committee has said that they that the new regulations “give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House and may imperfectly achieve the policy objective.”

The committee’s concerns may lead to a debate in the House and, should a prayer be raised against the statutory instrument, it is possible that it could be thrown out in its entirety.

Amongst the concerns that the committee say they have been warned of are:

“the current Regulations are premature and that piecemeal change will cause more harm than good”;

“there is insufficient data from the initial trial of the migration of Invalidity Benefit [sic] claimants to ESA to be clear whether the changes proposed will be an improvement”;

“the WCA system has not bedded in fully and the operation of the system needs to achieve greater consistency before further changes are added”;

“the current changes may not maintain the distinctions set out in the Act between the two levels of capability and may over-estimate many individuals' actual ability to work”;

“there are serious concerns about the effect on already vulnerable people from repeatedly changing the WCA eligibility descriptors”.

Much of the report by the committee is based on hard-hitting submissions made to it by a range of voluntary sector organisations, including:

Disability Benefits Consortium
MS Society
RNIB and Action for Blind People

We are grateful to Alban Hawksworth of RNIB for drawing our attention to this report.

We’ll keep you informed about the progress of any challenge.

You can read the committee report online.

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