17 March 2011

Earlier this month we wrote about a possible challenge to the harsh new work capability assessment (WCA) by the House of Lords.

The issue was indeed debated by the house on 16 March.  A number of well briefed lords, including Lord Low of Dalston, raised very cogent arguments against the new WCA. 

The response they received from Lord Freud, former banker and  Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the  DWP, was a dismissive rehashing of the standard government line, with no real attempt to deal with specific criticism of the various changes to the WCA.

Freud was challenged about his claim that the review of the WCA was “was undertaken with significant input from technical experts and specialist disability groups, in the same inclusive way that we used for the original work capability assessment.” 

The Countess of Mar responded:

 “The noble Lord said that the department worked with disability groups. Why have those groups unanimously dissociated themselves from the internal report?”

Freud’s response reveals the degree to which disability charities are either being duped by the DWP, misrepresented by Lord Freud or misleading their members about their role in the new WCA’s creation:

“My Lords, I am pleased to answer that question. I am rather surprised by the actions of the groups. I have seen a lot of correspondence and a lot of internal work. There was very full engagement by both sides, and a lot of correspondence about fine-tuning the regulations. At the end of the process there seemed to be real agreement. Therefore I am genuinely surprised that, after the passage of some months, the consensus seems to have been significantly eroded. Income elements may have come to the fore, whereas the technical analysis that was the subject of the interplay between the department and the groups was perhaps easier to get to grips with.”

In other words, according to Freud, disability charities were happy to engage in discussions about the new test and to agree final wording.  It was only when they realised the financial implications of the new WCA for the people they are supposed to support that they began to make a fuss and distance themselves from the process.

At the end of the debate the lords simply rolled over and withdrew their ‘prayer’ against the new regulations on the basis that Lord Freud now understood that “he may have some work to do to reconnect the department properly with the disability community and the pressures groups that represent it.”

You can read the whole debate here.

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