HC Deb 05 July 1999 vol 334 cc622-3
3. Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

If he will make a statement on his proposals to reform the all-work test. [88024]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)

There is a provision in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill to replace the all-work test with the personal capability assessment. The personal capability assessment will determine entitlement to benefit in the same way as the all-work test has done hitherto. In addition, it will provide constructive information about what a person's medical condition or disability would allow them to do and advice on practical measures which might improve their chances of returning to work. This will enable personal advisers to help people identify and overcome the barriers that they face and take steps back into employment.

Mr. Day

Is the Minister telling the House that there will be no change to the criteria applied by the new system, as opposed to the all-work test? Will there be a change in the frequency of the periodic review? Will the information that claimants have to provide change in any significant way?

Mr. Bayley

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question. It is clear that he has not been following the debate. We have made it clear time and time again that the functional ability tests which existed in the all-work test will be repeated in exactly the same way in the personal capability assessment, so that entitlement to incapacity benefit will not change in any way. However, there will be a change in that the test will stop ghetto-ising people into incapacity benefit and will start examining the way to get them off benefit and into work. That is the difference.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

Will my hon. Friend say how the new tests will assist people who have mental health problems? People with mental health difficulties sometimes feel that the present system does not meet all their needs because their needs may be less tangible than those of people with physical incapacities. In my constituency, the benefits advice and tribunal unit feels that the presence of a qualified psychiatrist at an assessment would be helpful in recognising the needs of people with mental health difficulties.

Mr. Bayley

I welcome my hon. Friend's question. She is right that concerns have been expressed about the way in which the test deals with people suffering from mental health incapacities. We are not changing in any way the threshold of entitlement to benefit, and people who currently meet the criteria will in future receive the benefit. The special procedures that apply to people with mental health problems will continue. Claimants suffering from a severe mental illness will in future, as in the past, be wholly exempt from the all-work test.

It would not make sense to ensure that the test for certain groups of people was undertaken by a consultant psychiatrist, but it makes absolute sense to ensure that all the doctors conducting the all-work test are trained to deal with the psychological and psychiatric conditions presented to them. We are introducing better training for the doctors who undertake those tests, and in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians we are introducing for the first time ever a qualification in disability assessment management, which will lay a benchmark of good practice that will be used within the service.

Madam Speaker

I notice that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day), who put the original question, has already left the Chamber, before hearing the final answer. I hope that hon. Members will note that that is not the way to behave.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

The Minister knows that recently the composition of appeals tribunals hearing all-work test appeals was changed to allow for one professionally qualified chairman and no lay people. Will the new system encompass the fairer, older system? The change to one legally qualified chairman is seen as rubber-stamping a larger number of appeals being turned down.

Mr. Bayley

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, under the new regime, which is now fully operational, a minimum of two people will be required. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it was vital to speed up the appeals process, because justice delayed is justice denied. Many people had to wait months to have their appeal heard. That was unfair, so it was necessary to reform the system, which the Government have done.