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Reform Watch

12 February 2007
Hutton heaps praise on Australian system.

Following on from Lesley Strathie's revelations about the sanction happy Australian private sector, (see Reform Watch 30.01.07) John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has traveled there himself to learn more.

An enthusiastic Hutton claims that:

'The Australian welfare system has shown that the radical use of private and voluntary sector providers has delivered tremendous benefits, including a dramatic improvement in efficiency.

Unless, of course, you happen to be one of the 80% of claimants who had their benefits wrongly sanctioned by private and voluntary sector providers.

Has LiMA been sold off?
Jim Murphy, Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform has claimed that Lima, the computer software used to assess claimants capacity for work, does not belong to the DWP.

In a written answer to MP Janet Dean on 7 February, Murphy claimed that stakeholders involved in the 'transformation' of the PCA could not be given access to Lima because it is 'owned by Atos Origin and is, therefore, commercially sensitive information'.

To Benefits and Work's knowledge this is the second time that this claim has been made. The last time it happened was when the DWP argued that we could not have access to the software under the Freedom of Information Act because it did not belong to the DWP but to Atos. On that occasion we were able to produce a statement made to the House by then minister Maria Eagle proving that the software in fact did belong to the DWP. (See Incompetent DWP admits untruth). Since that time, however, the contract with Atos Origin has been renewed.

It is possible, therefore, that the DWP have now sold off Lima to Atos origin in order to prevent further attempts to get access to the software. On the other hand, a private sector company may once again be claiming to own resources which they really don't. We've spoken to Jim Murphy's office and whether it's a real change of ownership, dishonest contractors or an incompetent minister we'll let you know the facts as soon as we have them.

Physical health PCA altered
As well as enormous changes to the 'transformed' PCA to be used with the Employment and Support Allowance ( see: Clampdown on future mental health claimants), the DWP have also been tinkering with the physical health test.

For example, references to hearing a TV set have been removed from the hearing activity and references to seeing hazards have been removed from the vision activity. The continence activity has now been made extraordinarily complex by the addition of sets of sub-activities relating to stomas and catheters. In total there are now no fewer than 23 descriptors relating to continence.

You can download a copy of ‘Welfare Reform Bill – Draft Regulations and supporting material’ from the DWP website. The new PCA is on pages 26-38.

Regulation 27(b)
The safety net Regulation 27(b), which allows claimants who do not score enough points under the PCA to be found incapable of work if there would be a risk to the health of anyone if they were found capable of work, has survived. It appears as regulation 4(c) in the new statute. Benefits and Work predicts that this provision will be one of the commonest grounds of appeal for claimants with mental health conditions once ESA is introduced.

Combined physical and mental scores update
The details of how physical and mental scores will be combined under the new PCA have now been released. The system is at least straightforward, if less generous than the current arrangement.

Under the new PCA a claimant will have to score 15 points for physical health or 15 points from mental health or 15 points from a combination of physical and mental health. The current calculation method, under which a score of between 6 and 9 points for mental health counts as 9 points when combined with physical health points has been dropped.