28 February 2003
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is once again attempting to remove a legal safety net designed to protect vulnerable people, less than 4 months after the Court of Appeal ruled they must put it back in place.
Regulation 27(b) says that people with a physical or mental health condition which means that there is a substantial risk to their health, or someone else's, if they are found fit for work should not be found capable of work. The regulation was removed from the statute book in 1997 after the Secretary of State deliberately misled the Social security Advisory Committee by claiming the change would make no difference to claimants. (See previous item: Incapacity test changed - for the better).
After a lengthy court battle the regulation was finally restored on 8th November 2002. Now, however, the DWP has said the regulation is to be struck out again. Many claimants with mental health conditions such as agoraphobia and physical conditions such as ME/CFS or heart problems will thus lose the protection that regulation 27(b) currently offers.
The Social Security Advisory Committee will decide on Wednesday 5th March whether they wish to have the proposed change formally referred to them. SSAC has the power to scrutinise the change in the law and consult widely before making recommendations to the Secretary of State. Whilst SSAC cannot force the government to change its mind, their recommendations may be sufficient to ensure that the matter is debated in the House of Commons and will at least delay any change in the law. If SSAC do not ask to have the changes referred to them, 27(b) will be struck out without further ado.
If you think that the committee should scrutinise the DWP's proposals and you're reading this before March 3rd 2003, there is still time to let them know. A SSAC spokesperson explained that "The committee has complete and unfettered discretion to decide what matters they have referred to them. Anybody who wishes to make representations is free to do so."