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Monday, 31 October 2011

Attending IT hearings - FoI Act Request

30 October 2011
Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

Can you please confirm that as it possible for claimant representative groups to attend IT hearings, a claimant can too STRICTLY as an observer?

Yours faithfully,

Decision Maker accountability - FoI Act Request

30 October 2011

Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

One of the prime tenets of ESA decision making is that ALL relevant information is considered. If an experienced (repeat experienced) Decision Maker fails to consider a very obvious piece of information,

1) would it be regarded as a disciplinary matter?
2) what range of disciplinary actions are available for DWP management to take dependent ultimately on the precise circumstances?
3) Given such a high proportion of TS appeals overturn the DWP ESA decision, are these reversals collated by Decision Maker and usedas an aid to individual performance management?

Yours faithfully,

FoIA Request - DWP Backlog

Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

What are the rules around stopping ESA payments retrospectively and specifically is it

a) legal

b) DWP policy

to do this due purely to a backlog with its own workload?

Yours faithfully,


FoI Act Request - Decision Making and Disability Equality Legislation

31 October 2011

Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

DWP’s approach to the WCA/ESA relies heavily (amongst other things) on the fact that employers have fully embraced equality legislation with regard to disability to the point where there is literally no difference in capability between being in any way disabled as opposed to not disabled.

Regarding similar legislation over age discrimination, a well known national recruitment agency has said today that “Ageism is certainly rife in the UK and frighteningly so in some sectors.”

What evidence does DWP have that employers’ response to disability legislation is not equally poor and if there is none, how can it maintain its current logic within decision making which relies very much on this premise?

Yours faithfully,

WCA error rate is ok says Matthew Sinclair

I have just listened to Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers’ Alliance extolling the virtues of the WCA and accepting a 30+% error rate on the basis that it will slowly get better and there is after all an appeals procedure albeit there is a long queue.

I wonder if he would so readily accept the same misclassification rate with the same open-ended commitment to improvement and a long appeal process for car MOTs. 

The analogy would be that 30% of cars on the road had failed the MoT and the driver had appealed the decision, but would not know the outcome for another 9 months. 

I think the MoT test would instantly be written off as useless.

Decision Making at its very best (worst)

From a recent discussion with a DWP Decision Maker (and this is absulutely true)

1)  One's capability to work is improved by being wheelchair-bound as opposed to not.

2)  If you can drive a car for 10 minutes, you are fit to work.

All this does is expose the WCA sham for precisely what it is.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Something everyone should read

The note below was to my MP, but everyone should think about it.


Please take a few minutes to read the article below – a true story extracted from a blog I stumbled across.  It made me feel humble and that by comparison, that my condition is pathetic.  However, I have seen enough of the new approach to the sick and disabled to know exactly what she means.

Not all sick/disabled people are as genuine as this, nor indeed as articulate, but in my relative short inclusion with this sub-set of society, it is patently obvious that this is a far more representative picture of attitudes and feelings than the juxtaposed benefit-scrounging-scum image now permeating down through the public sector.  What I also find annoying, is that although it is an unimportant perspective, I have nevertheless contributed considerably more to the public purse over my working life than the majority of DWP administrators now telling me that I don’t deserve any help or sympathy ever will.

My grown up children being both fit and well have had no direct experience of the welfare state, but  generally held it in high regard until they saw just how the changes have affected me.

Surely this is not the legacy the Government wants to leave?



All my life I wanted to work. I wanted to do something important.

I did everything society told me I should. I worked hard, I went to college despite being told I'd never pass due to sickness absence. I went to uni despite being told by concerned doctors not to go. I worked. For years, despite well meaning loved ones telling me I should stop.

When I became unable to "work" (in the traditional sense) I tried everything from classy-bar-singer to teacher to saleswoman to trader. I tried self employed, part time and late shifts.

I worked. I got sick, I had surgery, I went back to work. I nearly died. Repeat.

In the end, family and friends launched "Campaign Save Suey" and nagged me at every dinner or party or wedding to STOP WORKING.

Eventually, I had to. It was without doubt, the very worst thing I ever had to come to terms with about being ill. "There's no such word as Can't" was the mantra in my house as I was growing up and realising that in fact, there WAS very nearly impossible.

I wrote a book (no-one would publish) about NHS reform. I fed the homeless and took in waifs. I bought and sold properties, keeping us afloat for around ten years longer than we would have managed by sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves.

Through that whole period, my country accepted I was so unwell, that I needed support. I didn't feel like a "Scrounger" I felt very, very sad that my ambitions and dreams had been taken away. I marvelled at just how I'd managed to stay alive and blessed with a loving family. I thanked the NHS every day for saving me and I thanked the welfare state for giving me a little dignity.

Sometimes I thought "Well, my husband works, why should I get this money?"

Then when I spent £60 on petrol to get to the specialist bowel disease centre 130 miles from my home, or bought food that meant I wouldn't make myself more ill, I was grateful.

I claimed DLA, but in good periods, when my "fluctuating condition" allowed me a little respite, I would cancel it, secure in the knowledge that the next time I needed it, I would simply re-apply.

I didn't look at the ground every time I parked my car using a disabled badge. The nice lady at county hall had explained to me that "mobility" meant different things to every disabled person. I'd felt reassured and privileged.

All of that is now under threat. I feel like a burden on society. I feel that my voluntary contributions to many people in society are worth nothing. I feel that my life has been useless. Not to me or the people I cared for, but to "society"

I feel weak and pathetic, where I used to feel accepted and lucky. I cannot earn even a little money from the writing I do or my family will lose everything - much more than I could earn from the few articles I might be able to publish when I am (unreliably) able to write.

It really isn't about what I'll "lose" if welfare reform is steam-rollered through. It isn't about how I will survive - I would rather work myself to death than see my family suffer.

It's about how I feel now. Every day. It's about the articles full of lies I read every week in the Daily Mail. It's about the distortions and mis-truths I hear from politicians now. It's a society that is so convinced that a "something for something" society is fair, they never ask what becomes of those who need your support for nothing. Just because you care.

This is what you're doing. Not "taking away" or "sanctioning" or "getting tough".

You are making me feel invisible, unworthy and frightened. It's THAT that I despise you for.

WCA - an alternative, very obvious approach.

I am not a social scientist, but the current “model” is designed along adversarial lines based on an assumption of dishonesty and mistrust which not surprisingly generates conflict – it talks about evidence, appeals etc.  Play around with semantics as much as you like, but a WCA is essentially a health assessment so where better to undertake it than within the NHS, whose role in society is given away by the “H”.  On average, a GP surgery would have to cope with no more than a few a week, less once in steady-state.
Think of the benefits.  I am in familiar and safe surroundings with good disabled access.  I am seeing people I know and who know me and my history.  I know they have my welfare at heart and I trust their judgement to be in my best interests even though I might not always like what they say.  They have my records on hand for reference if needed, so I don’t have to mess around getting copies of notes, letters, prescriptions, X-rays etc. to “prove” what I’m doing.  There are other experts around who could be called in for a second opinion if needed.  I know they are all suitably qualified and do this day in day out, so they know what they are talking about.  At least when I walk out of here, I will know exactly where I stand and what will happen next because I’ve agreed to it – I won’t have to wait a month to find out.  If something changes, I can always drop in for a chat and an update.  I am using resources already in place and with pretty much a fixed cost, so I’m not costing anyone a lot even if I have to come back a couple of times.
This is much better than the old rigmarole . . . . . . . . . . people I don’t know, don’t trust, have doubtful motives and conflicting interests; appeals, tribunals, months of waiting, indecision, uncertainty, stress . . . . . . .
And as far as I can see, the only barriers are:
·         A belief (partly justified) that GPs are too soft.  So re-train and re-educate them.  If you can trust them with £bn of NHS budgets, why not with this?  Also, for people working, we are quite happy for a GP to provide “fit-notes” for an employer to manage absence, so we presumably trust their integrity and professionalism, so why not in this area.
·         If we need a different breed of GP in the future to cope with all these changes, adapt the degree courses etc. now.  If you never start, you will never finish.
·         The lobbying power of the BMA, who will probably resist based on a spurious argument about breach of trust – for heaven’s sake, they are not priests!  GPs are very well paid and the occasional small upset in their daily routine will not do any harm.
·         DWP protectionism – deciding on benefits is our job.  You have created the non-job of decision maker because you have outsourced the assessment, but surely you can trust your NHS colleagues.
·         The inherent (spurious) attraction of outsourcing – someone else to blame.  You can outsource a service, but you cannot outsource accountability and the PM continually needs to remind his direct reports of this simple fact.
·         In the short term, the contract with Atos and the exit costs, whether early or on natural expiry.
·         Political dogma.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

WCA Descriptors - an amazing new interpretation

I have just received the results of my latest WCA and not surprisingly like many others, scored zero points again.  This was against the new descriptors that no longer regard bending/kneeling as relevant.  I though first off I’d call DWP and try to get an explanation over the phone before appealing.  I did from a Decision Maker who spoke with authority, but had not actually review my own WCA – I will call him Mr Wleft (with a silent W, he refused to give me his initial).  It ran as follows.
My complaint is lower body physical, so only Activities 1 & 2 are really relevant – both with “nil points” as they say in Eurovision.
Activity 1
This used to be about walking, now called “mobility”.  After 25/30 meters walking various things hurt a lot, so I stop for a bit and set off again.  Frustratingly slow, but I’ve kind of gotten used to it and thankfully with the aid of a stick can manage to walk relatively upright and relatively normally’.  However my DM decided I am perfectly able to mobilise over 200m - ?????  He accepted my problem walking, but pointed out that as there was nothing wrong with my arms, I could cover 200m in a self-propelled wheelchair.  The fact that I don’t use one and nobody has ever suggested I should is irrelevant.  So, my capability to work (and presumably my life in general) is improved by being in a wheelchair over not being in a wheelchair – wow #1!
Still shell-shocked, I asked where the 200m had come from vs. the 100m and 50m alternatives.  The answer is that I can drive – if I can turn the steering wheel of a car, I can certainly self-propel a wheelchair at least 200m – wow #2.
Mr Wleft admitted that this last point was just his own opinion and might not be shared by other DMs.  I suggested this made the process worryingly subjective and a bit underhand, to which he said of course it is – what else did I expect? – wow #3.
His whole tone throughout was pseudo-sympathetic, more condescending and patronising, so I am clearly just another one of those benefit scroungers – no wow here.
When I first saw someone link the workings of a UK public sector department to the Third Reich through the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei”, I thought it in poor taste, but now I am not so sure.
Activity 2
On reflection he said I should have scored at least 9, but as the total was less than 15, it was academic.  This explains why so many WCAs come back with either 0 or 15 – no other score matters to DWP, when in reality I think having the exact best evaluation provides useful information about trends in condition.  But who am I to say?
My GP was surprisingly un-phased by my new need for a wheelchair, just commenting that DWP makes up its own rules.  My local JC+ tells me that finding a job being in a wheelchair is absolutely no different to finding a job without one – or was it “should be“ rather than “is”?  Maybe a few wheelchair users would like to comment on this comforting assurance.
I am still finding this hard to believe myself.

FoI Act Request - WCA recording trial

29 October 2011
Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

As a result of Professor Harrington's recommendations, I believe that a trial was undertaken to fully record a representative sample of WCAs and that it was completed around 6 months ago.

1. When did the trial start?
2. How extensive was it - which WCA centres were involved & how many WCAs recorded?
3. When did the trial end?
4. Where is it possible to find the terms of reference and/or project definition for the trial and in particular its objectives and success criteria?
5. Were the attendees at each WCA aware that the session was being recorded?
6. Has the trial been considered a success?
7. What initial conclusions have been drawn?
8. When will the full results, conclusions and recommendations be published?
9. What are the next steps and when?
Given the continued controversy around the WCA, it is very much in the public interest that the results of this trial are publicised as soon as possible to hopefully dispel much of what might be
regarded as hearsay even if further trials are deemed necessary. If you feel otherwise, please explain precisely why as it will strongly suggest that there is something to hide.

Yours faithfully,

Thursday, 27 October 2011

WCA Descriptors - no need to bend or kneel now

It appears that the Government has decided that as the modern workplace is so well designed ergonomically, that there is no longer a need to kneel or bend so it is no longer relevant to a WCA.  This of course means that ALL workplaces now only operate from the waist up – warehouses will have to be doubled in size (no bottom shelves) and all shops and supermarkets will have to reduce their stock by half.  The filing cabinet manufactures will have mixed feelings – no more sales of 2-drawer, but potentially double the sales of 4-drawer as the bottom two are no longer usable.

Seriously, have you ever heard anything so absurd?  Bending and kneeling is probably the most difficult manoeuvre for anyone with any form of muscular-skeletal problem so what better way to deny them ESA than eliminate their main problem from the assessment criteria.   For all those ejected from ESA to JSA has the Minister ensured that he has created sufficient jobs that involve no kneeling or bending to offer a realistic proposition of employment?  Of course he hasn’t and he could not give a toss!

Up until now, much of what I’ve come across with DWP/ESA I have put down to naive and /or mischievous management, but this is downright vindictive and based on the most ridiculous assertion I have ever heard. 

FoI Act Request - Interpretation of (new) Activities 1 & 2

27 October 2011

Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

This descriptor used to relate to walking, but now uses the word “mobilisation” which I assume is intended to mean movement by any appropriate means.

Q1: Can you provide an exact definition?

I have been assessed in a recent WCA as 1(e), which means that on this activity, my condition presents no impairment to me working and as a result I was attributed no points. The distance threshold is at least 200 meters. I cannot walk even with a walking stick any more than about 25m without severe pain and having to rest – over this there is no dispute and my Decision Maker (DM) was happy to concede that this might be the case, but pointed out that it is irrelevant. He explained that the assessment was based on the fact
that he believed I could cover 200m+ self-propelled in a wheelchair, even though I have never used one and none of the medical experts I have seen nor the Atos HCP have ever suggested I should. On this basis, any person with lower body problems of any severity, with any level of pain would be regarded as being able to work as long as they have use of their arms to self-propel a wheelchair. The justification is apparently that I did not declare
any particular problems with my upper body at my WCA. true, but there was no conversation at all anywhere close to this - the Q&A in this regard was no more than my ability to work at a desk and make a cup of tea – nothing as strenuous as propelling a wheelchair.

Q2: Is this the correct and universal interpretation applied through the whole of DWP?

When discussing the distance thresholds (50m, 100m, 200m) the DM stated that in their opinion the fact that I could drive a car indicated that I could propel myself in a wheelchair over 200m+.  This “correlation” does not appear in any manual and was just his opinion which he said may or may not be shared by other DMs. He admitted this makes the DM process highly subjective and was surprised that I thought it could be anything else. He acknowledged that the outcome of my assessment could well have been different from another DM.

Q3: Is this suggested correlation between driving and wheelchair usage sanctioned by DWP management and if so why is it not included
in any manual or guide?

Q4: Do you regard its use with all of the assumptions in contains
as fair on claimants and legitimate?

Q5: How can you guarantee consistency in decisions with the level
of subjectivity he acknowledged exists.

We then discussed my zero points on the standing/sitting descriptor along similar lines. He acknowledged that the assessment was probably in error and 9 points was probably more correct, but as my total was going to be less than 15, it didn't matter what score was recorded.

Q6: Does this misrepresentation of points reflect departmental
policy and if so, in which manual is it articulated?

What I am looking for here is a clear explanation of how the treatment I have received reflects department policy, not just a statement of what that policy is. i.e. is what I have experienced precisely what you would have expected and if not what steps you will be taking to address.

Yours faithfully,

PS.  For Activity 1, please confirm the view of my DM that I am more able to work in a wheelchair than without one as I will need to find out how to get one.

FoI Act Request - ESA paid to mass murderers

27 October 2011
Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

I have read that some convicted criminals serving long term prison sentences for very serious crimes (including mass murder) have successfully claimed ESA payments on the basis that they are being held under the Mental Health Act and it is their "illness" that is preventing them from working.

a) Is this true?
b) What is the current average weekly cost of ESA and any other benefit payments to these people?
c) What is the current average weekly cost of all benefits payments to all prisoners, excluding those unconvicted and held on remand?
d) What legislation allows these payments to be made?
e) Does DWP regard these payments are equitable?
f) If not, are there specific plans in hand to amend the legislation and by when do you aim to have them implemented?

Yours faithfully,

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Atos Complaints Procedure and the Invisible Independent Tier - what is the point?

As anyone who has used it will know, the internal Atos WCA complaints process is pretty poor.  The second level doesn’t stick to the laid down process and the third and final level, the so-called Independent Tier (IT), is a complete misnomer being shrouded in so much secrecy it is impossible to find out anything about it – so much for the principles of transparency & public scrutiny that the Government claims to be so keen on!!! You will get more hits on Google by searching on Opus Dei!!

Worse still, being appointed, controlled and paid by Atos itself it can hardly be described as independent as DWP continues to insist, unless there is a meaning of the word I have not yet come across.  We are still however expected to trust its integrity and believe that whatever changes it recommends within Atos are enthusiastically embraced, faithfully implemented and sustained.  Who knows?

Many people have tried to break through this absurd, undemocratic barrier to no avail.  The practical problem is that DWP has foolishly allowed the anonymity of the IT to be included in its contract with Atos, so releasing its identity would place them in breach of contract, which probably has financial consequences.  This may be a problem in the short run, but the terms of any contract can be renegotiated, so hopefully DWP has recognised its naivety and already has this in hand (???).

But my purpose in writing this is simply to ask from a claimant’s point of view “What is the point of using the Atos complaints procedure at all?”

Most commonly DWP has received the WCA results (the ESA85) from Atos and acted upon it before a claimant has received a copy and has decided whether or not they want to complain to Atos.  [Note that claimants have to request a copy of their ESA85 if they want one and can only request it  from DWP, not Atos as contractually DWP owns it.  They are not issued automatically and DWP can of course control the sequence of who sees what & when].  The claimant’s first notification is therefore normally a letter from DWP say whether or not ESA will continue to be paid – by which time of course the damage may well have been done.

There is (at least for the time being) an appeals procedure through firstly DWP itself and then on to the Tribunals Service, but it can be many months before the appeal is heard by the TS.  This process takes its course whether or not you have raised a complaint with Atos and the TS will take its decision regardless of an ongoing or finalised complaint with Atos – it has no bearing whatsoever on the appeal process or its outcome. 

In fact a DWP decision maker will happily use an ESA85 they know has been contested, meaning it is Atos that receives benefit of the doubt, not the claimant.  So much for the “support” Chris Grayling has promised.

So as far as I can see, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from complaining to Atos, other than perhaps to let off some steam!  If Atos does accept your complaint is valid, they will not automatically admit an error to DWP and DWP will be continuing with its procedures anyway.  DWP claims to maintain an interest in complaints made to Atos, but only from a distance, NOT sadly on a case by case basis, which is where the Atos errors have the greatest impact.

Hansard 24/10/2011 - Grayling on no ESA during appeal period

Unfortunately, Mr Grayling does not indicate the level of WCA accuracy needed before even thinking about this proposal nor how he would deal with the error rate no matter how small it might be.  Of course if it is extremely small allowing appeals to be heard quickly, maintaining payments is far less of an issue.

Hansard  24th October 2011

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): What the average length of time was for an appeal in respect of a decision on a claim for employment and support allowance in the latest period for which figures are available. [76004]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): In the current year, the average actual clearance time between the Department’s receiving an appeal and its being lodged with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service was 35.2 days. That, of course, includes the time allowed for individuals to produce new evidence about their circumstances. The average time taken from receipt of an appeal at HMCTS to the date of the first appeal hearing was 23.2 weeks. That information covers 1 April to 31 August 2011, the latest period for which figures are available.

Gemma Doyle: I thank the Minister for his detailed answer. Will he take this opportunity to refute press reports that he will cut the ESA of people who appeal against assessment decisions, especially in the light of the information that 40% of cases are being won on appeal?

Chris Grayling: What I expect to see as a result of the changes following Professor Harrington’s review in the summer is a significant reduction in the number of cases that go to appeal when the Department’s initial review and the reconsideration are upheld. In order to ease pressure on individuals, we have tried to ensure that there is a proper reconsideration service in Jobcentre Plus, so that they can produce new evidence at that stage and need not use the Courts Service at all.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Is this the key to the Government's intransigence and denial over the WCA???? me dim, but it has taken me a long while to unearth this report, published in October 2009.  It claims:
·         That a detailed analysis of WCA decisions by experts confirms them to be extremely accurate in identifying who can and cannot work.  This is of course completely at odds with the turnover rate at Tribunal appeal hearings (40%).
·         That substantial changes to descriptors can be justified by corresponding improvements to workplace design, although there is no data to support this.  These changes are disguised under the banners of “removing unnecessary complexities” and “simplification” with the aim of “transparency”.
·         Crucially, to have the support of a number of well respected representative organisations and experts in the field, all listed in Appendix B.
Admittedly it has been superseded by Professor Harrington’s work in 2010, but despite assurances to the contrary, DWP is still blindly following the theme and recommendations here.

I will add to this post once I have looked through the report in more detail.

12m limit to contribution-based ESA - a reply to Lord Freud

If Lord Freud would like this change in legislation to be seen as anything other than an undeserved and unjustified attack on the disabled, I am afraid he has to reason his case better than this.  This policy has not been thought through very well and looks like a knee-jerk reaction to cut benefits payments regardless of consequences.
1.  The clue to the purpose of NI contributions is in its name.  It was conceived and always has been an insurance against certain unfortunate events that might arise in one’s working life, so the Minister cannot now change the terms on a whim.  If the same were to happen in the private sector it would be classed as mis-selling and require financial compensation, so what is the Minister offering as an equivalent here?
2. I can understand his concern about people who may have made few contributions over a short period but claim substantial benefits over a long period, but if legitimate, this is what a compassionate society does.  There is however no reason to effectively penalise their counterparts who have made contributions over most of their working life.  If this was a genuine concern, he would have geared the input and outputs accordingly. 
3.  Providing the necessary support to the people who are worst affected is clearly important, but it is inconsistent to do this through the contribution-based benefit, particularly as the Minister claims to have concerns about the correlation between NI contributions and contribution-based payments.  This rather undermines his logic and casts doubt over his motives.
4.  There appear to be only two classifications of illness – permanent and temporary and the dividing line falls at 12 months – a totally arbitrary time limit based on no data or evidence whatsoever.   With some conditions, recovery within 12 months may be perfectly reasonable in the normal course of events, but clearly not with others.  The fact that recovery might take longer than 12 months obviously does not necessarily make the illness permanent. 
5.  This policy discriminates against the elderly where recovery times are generally longer.  Ironically, this is also the group that have probably paid most NI contributions.
6.  Yes, income based ESA is still there, but the qualification bar particular as regards savings is extremely low.  The Minister well knows the pressure the Government is placing on pensions and is encouraging us to save for retirement, but then expects us to use those saving prematurely when it suits.
7.  The Minister refers to the right help and support.  I have been to my local JC+ and they had no idea what this means.  Previously I had been pointed towards Working Links who likewise were no help whatsoever.
8.  The notice offered for this change in itself is inadequate and effectively retrospective.  At the very least, the clock should not start running until the proposal becomes law.

This might not be so bad if the Government was adopting the same aggressive approach to high earners, but this is not the case.  Rather the reverse, where for them the Government is following a policy of lower taxation.
If the Minister is so keen on leaning more heavily on means testing as the basis of benefits payments, where on his agenda do the other non-means tested benefits fall, including of course the state pension?  I think I am right in saying that Sir Richard Branson and I both have the same state pension entitlement?
Also, where on his list of priorities are dealing with the ESA payments made to convicted mass murders and the benefits paid to families of migrant workers only one of whom might have spent as little as 6 months working in the UK?
I am afraid that there is no way to interpret this policy other than the Government has picked out a relatively defenceless group that it regards as an easy target. 

12m limit to contribution-based ESA - an explanation from Lord Freud

It may be helpful if I first explain that ESA is structured into both contribution-based and income-related elements. lf a person does not satisfy the National Insurance contribution conditions for ESA, they can claim income-related FSA provided they satisfy the eligibility criteria. Once a claim for ESA has been made, people are then expected to undergo a Work
Capability Assessment {WCA) which will make a functional assessment as to whether they are capable of work, taking into account their health condition or disability.

Claimants who are assessed as having limited capability for work will be placed either in the Support Group or the work Related Activity Group.  Those who are placed in the Work Related Activity Group are expected to undertake some work-related activity with a view to moving into employment in the short to medium term.

Those with the most severe health conditions or disabilities for whom work is not viable, are placed in the Support Group. These claimants are not expected to undertake work-related activity, although they can do so if they wish.

As part of his Spending Review announcement on 20 October 2010, the Chancellor set cut his intention to introduce a time limit of one year far those claiming contributory ESA who are placed the Work Related Activity Group only. ESA for those in the Work Related Activity Group has always been intended to be a temporary benefit for people in this group who are expected to move towards the work place with the right help and support.

However this will not affect all ESA claimants. People in the Support Group who we do not expect to work or prepare for work will not have their contribution-based benefit time limited

Nor will people claiming income-related ESA have their income-related benefit time limited even if they are assessed as able to participate in work-related activity. This is in line with our commitment to support and protect the most vulnerable and disabled people in our society.

Currently people can qualify far many years of benefit on the basis of National insurance contributions made over a relatively short period of time.  This is no longer acceptable in the current fiscal climate where we need to review the balance between contributions paid and indefinite entitlement to support. We do not think that it is right in principle that those who are assessed as able to undertake work-related activity should be able to remain on contributory ESA for an unlimited period.  We have therefore decided to introduce a one year time limit on entitlement to contributory ESA.  By rebalancing the benefit system in this way we believe we are being fair to recipients as well as making the support provided affordable to the taxpayer.

Yours sincerely

Lord Freud
Minister for Welfare Reform

FoI Act Request - The reality of ESA Decision Making

Dear Department for Work and Pensions,

The main principle of a WCA is that it concentrates on a claimant’s ability to work. It regards clinical condition/history as largely irrelevant and the WCA handbook instructs Atos HCPs to use drop-down menus and simplify condition/diagnosis wherever possible for the benefit of DWP Decision Makers (DMs) who are not medically trained. As part of the final assessment process, DMs consider a range of available information including information they might
have researched on the internet.

1. How can a DM make an informed, accurate and robust decision if the condition they are researching has not been precisely recorded? For example, a brain tumour may be recorded as "occasional headaches" and a serious spinal injury might be recorded as simply "back pain".

2. Given they are not medically trained, how can DMs interpret and understand information with which they are presented if it uses highly technical medical terminology?

3. Would they be expected to interpret the following, which relates to a very well known condition:
“The estimated rates of this complication are 0.3-4% after total
knee arthroplasty and 3-13% after proximal tibial osteotomy.
Ischemia, mechanical irritation, traction, crush injury, and
laceration can cause intraoperative injury to the peroneal nerve.”

4. Not all information on the internet has been fully authenticated and therefore cannot be regarded as reliable. To which websites are DMs therefore restricted and where is this "safe" list documented?

5. In many cases medical opinion on a particular condition and its short/long term effects can be divided and revolve around some very complicated features of the complaint. How does a DM resolve such dilemmas?

Yours faithfully,