There are quite a few things I've learned, some of which I can't and won't repeat because I was told them in confidence, but here are two very encouraging things.
The first comes from a question I asked. Given that Tom has been following the committee stage of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords much more closely than I have, I asked him where they were on it. Apparently they are still on clause 25 of the bill. The clauses relating to ESA and sickness and disability benefits don't start until clause 50. And yet, according to the original timetable, they should have finished the committee stage of the entire bill two weeks ago. Now, the more controversial a section of the bill the more time for debating and amending it will take up. And, if only one amendment to the bill is made then it still has to be voted on and then passed back to the Commons for more amendments, debating and voting.
Now, I've worked out that, making some reasonable assumptions about how long it will take to debate the bill, it might end up not being passed for at least another 12 months. This is very important because, at present, the plan is for changes to ESA to be backdated by six months from the present. But, given that the time limit for ESA will be 12 months, and that the bill might not be passed until 12 months hence, then it will prove impossible to backdate the changes. So, assuming I'm right, this is some very welcome people who now won't have to face the rug being unexpectedly pulled out from under their feet.
The other good news is that, while progress on the time limiting of ESA itself is difficult to judge this early on, the government does seem willing to make an assortment of minor changes if they are brought to their attention and, ideally, if they can be done through ministerial orders rather than legislation.You see Tom Wood has been speaking fairly frequently to the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb MP, (who is the Lib Dem in the DWP) and his office and asked me if there were any additions related to but in addition to the motion which should be raised.
Off the top of my head I was able to think of four. But there are lots more minor changes which would be easy for the government to make but which would make life much easier for sick and disabled people. And this is where you come in. If you're sick or disabled, or no someone affected by sickness and disability benefits, then please leave a comment suggesting any minor changes you can think of. The key is that they've got to be relatively easy to implement, for example, ensuring that all assessment centres have disabled access.
Below is a list of issues which I've asked Tom to raise with the DWP. I'll update it as I get suggestions and pass them on to Tom.
- Remove sanctions from the Work Related Activity Group
- Make the Atos appeals and complaints procedure fully transparent and accountable
- Remove clause 52 from the Welfare Reform Bill
- End the routine opening of ESA50 forms containing deeply personal information by post office staff
- Ensure all assessment centres are actually accessible and have sick and disabled friendly seating facilities
- Stop the time limit in which to submit an ESA50 form from being cut from six to four weeks
- Stop people six months away from being well enough to work being forced to attend information sessions on the WRAG even if they're not well enough to do so
- Stop the new physical descriptor on the WCA which only looks at ability to "mobilise" up to 300 metres and ignores (lack of) ability to bend down, kneel, stand, sit, carry, type, write and read for prolonged periods