Personal Statement re Mr Liam Dwyer and severe and degenerative condition exemptions.

Last Autumn we announced our intention to stop re-testing those ESA claimants with severe degenerative conditions. We are on schedule to bring the policy into effect this Autumn, and have been working with our health assessment provider, the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, medical professionals and other stakeholders, including disability charities, to develop a set of criteria that will help us identify those with the most severe health conditions or disabilities, for whom reassessments can be stopped.

However, in the meantime, we wanted to try and operate as much as possible on those principles, and not call forward those who were due for a retest and who would be beneficiaries of the exemption policy. That interim objective was never going to be completely comprehensive, but we felt it important to try and spare people the administrative burden if we could, and we have been operating on that basis since last autumn.

Let me be clear, we do not expect people in Mr Dwyer’s situation to be subject to a retest. Unless a person with a condition which will only deteriorate would benefit from a retest, i.e. it would yield greater support, there would be no point to doing so. As you will understand I’m not able to publically discuss Mr Dwyer’s case, but I can say that having flagged his case with my team as long ago as the 1st July after I saw it on twitter, I am disappointed at our response, in both tone and content. He will be getting an apology from me and clarity in regard to his situation.

It always amazed me why advocacy organisations sometimes do not feel able to flag cases with us, in this case MNDA or others aware of his situation, and might instead simply choose to post the cases to social media, especially given that in the vast number of cases, and millions of payments, processed by DWP it does a good job. But in light of this episode I can perhaps better understand why.

We will continue to work on the policy and systems to ensure the exemptions for severe and degenerative conditions, we all want to see, happen this autumn, but, it is clear to me, that is only half the job. Even in a perfectly designed system they will be things that go wrong. When that happens we need to ensure people and their advocates feel able to raise those concerns, and that requires them having confidence that it will be worth their while to do so. Without that confidence, from MPs, from the sector, and the person themselves, we will not have all the elements of the service we all want and need. As Min DPHW I will work build that confidence, and the systems that are worthy of it.

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