HC Deb 10 January 2000 vol 342 cc9-10
7. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

If he will make a statement on the future of the all-work test.[102933]

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

We are in the process of replacing the all-work test with the personal capability assessment, which will play a key role in supporting disabled people and encouraging them to take steps back to work. Regulations are now in place to enable medical assessments to provide positive information on what people can do, as well as what they cannot. Last month, we started using the personal capability assessment in the ONE areas.

Mr. Leigh

The concept of changing the all-work test to a test to gauge people's personal capabilities may be a good one, but is the Minister aware of the concern among many disabled people, particularly given that Ministers originally talked about some people abusing the system? How can we keep the existing medical criteria—as the Minister intends to do—and stop people abusing the system without putting undue pressure on people, especially those with learning difficulties, who often find form filling demanding?

Mr. Bayley

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the medical criteria for entitlement to incapacity benefit will not change as a result of the changes that we have made to the all-work test. For example, people who cannot walk and use wheelchairs will score 15 points, and therefore qualify for incapacity benefit, as they have done in the past. Many people who use wheelchairs can and do work. That includes Members of this House and of another place who use wheelchairs and do extremely demanding full-time jobs.

The personal capability assessment supplements the test of entitlement to benefit—which does not change in any way—with medical advice on the steps that people may take to make it more possible for them to work should they want to do so. That is the Government's intention, and that is what we are doing.

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

Is not it essential to raise the standard of examinations? Several of my constituents have been traumatised by medical practitioners who have performed poorly. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is working hard to raise standards in the all-work test? Some of my constituents have been advised that they cannot take along a representative to the test; will he confirm that they can in fact do so?

Mr. Bayley

The simple answer to that final point is yes, they can.

The overwhelming majority of examinations by medical services are conducted to a high standard. One of our recent innovations is to grade the reports—grade A, B and C—to keep much closer control of the quality of advice that is given, but it is true that the advice sometimes does not come up to a decent standard; when that happens, both Government and Opposition Members complain. The Government are taking a wide range of steps to improve the quality and consistency of the advice that medical services give to decision makers on the benefits: toughening the selection and recruitment procedures, improving in-service training and improving the clinical advice on disability assessment medicine that is given to the doctors who provide the advice to decision makers.