Following Benefits and Work’s revelation that a decision was made over a month ago that all repeat medicals for ESA claimants were to be stopped, we are now asking: did the minister for disabled people deliberately mislead the commons over the issue?
On 24 February during DWP oral questions, Mike Penning, minister for disabled people was asked by conservative MP Anne Marie Morris:
“Will the Minister inform the House of what steps he is taking to address the significant backlog that has been created by the delays in claimants receiving their work capability assessments? In my constituency, individuals say that they have been waiting for up to six months, which has a real impact on their financial circumstances.” (Column 5)
“The issues to do with the work capability assessment and the unacceptable backlog that Atos has built up over the years are due to capacity and quality. The quality, which was very poor earlier on, has been improved. That means that there is now a huge backlog, which is why we are currently in negotiations with Atos.”
Penning was directly asked what steps he was taking to address the backlog and chose not to reveal that over a month previously a decision had been made to stop referring ESA claimants to Atos for repeat assessments until a new provider could be found.
This postponing of repeat medicals was a huge step and was taken solely to address the Atos WCA backlog. It was also a step that flew in the face of government policy, which is to repeatedly test claimants to ensure eligibility for benefits and end the so-called ‘something for nothing culture’ .
For the minister to have admitted the change would have been embarrassing. But was failing to reveal it, in the face of a direct question, deliberately misleading the Commons?
We have asked Debbie Abrahams to pursue the matter for us. The MP, who sits on the Work and Pensions Committee, told Benefits and Work that:
‘Although I am pleased that the Work Capability Assessment for disabled people has been suspended, why didn’t the Disabled Minister, Mike Penning, tell the Work & Pensions Select Committee that was his intention when he came to give evidence to the Committee before Christmas? This is further chaos, confusion and deceit from W&P Ministers and I intend to take this further."