I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that officials consider safety of claimants and staff from the Department of Work and Pensions as their number one priority, and have informed me of such. It was on this basis that a decision was made to suspend all face-to-face assessments for health- and disability-related benefits with immediate effect. This includes benefits such as Personal Independence Payment, the Industrial Injuries Scheme and Work Capability Assessments in both Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit.
I of course recognise that individuals with mental health conditions face certain challenges in the application and assessment process for benefits. I am therefore pleased that special provisions are in place to support people with a mental health condition in making a claim. For example, individuals may bring a relative, carer or friend to the assessment in order to provide them with additional help and support. It is my understanding that all health professionals carrying out disability assessments receive specific training in assessing mental health conditions. Face to Face assessments can also actually help identify additional evidence to support a claimant. This is particularly the case with hidden disabilities, including those with mental health. Since the introduction of face to face assessments, people are now six times more likely to receive the highest level of support with a mental health condition than when it was purely paper based assessment.
I am delighted that Ministers are taking firm steps to safeguard the mental health of individuals claiming these benefits, many of whom are likely to be at greater risk due to their pre-existing health conditions.