As you know, the DWP has sent letters to doctors and GPs which crucially omit to say that ill and disabled people applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are entitled to medical evidence if they choose to appeal their Work Capability Assessment (WCA) decision. This is unlike the previous version of the letter circulated until 2017, which explicitly stated that doctors may have to give patients new medical statements if they decide to appeal against their decision.
I am concerned that the decision to reword this letter has had devastating consequences. Without medical evidence from GPs and doctors, ill and disabled people have been unable to access the assessment rate of ESA while appealing their WCA decision. I am also aware of alarming reports that some people have been left close to destitution and in rent arrears as a result of being refused medical evidence during their appeals.
It is shocking that ill and disabled people have been left without vital social security support as a result of these letters from the DWP. The UK Government should scrap the letter and replace it with information which clearly outlines all the circumstances in which fit notes should be made available.
Furthermore, WCAs are not fit for purpose. DWP figures published in December 2018 indicate that more than two-thirds of fit for work decisions are overturned at appeal, which reveals the inaccuracy of the assessment. I am committed to scrapping this punitive assessment and instead introducing a tailored, personalised framework that treats disabled people with respect.
I know that the DWP recently stated that it is updating the current letter sent to GPs, with input from medical organisations, to clarify when a fit note should be provided for ESA purposes. While this is welcome, I hope the UK Government will go further and pause any further distribution of the misleading letter.
As requested I have written to the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions and I will provide an update as soon as I have received a response.