Minister confirms testing of an new severe disability group for health and disability benefit receipt

Tue,12 September 2023
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Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate last week, Minister for Disabled People Tom Pursglove confirmed that, as part of its White Paper reforms, the DWP is “testing new initiatives to make it easier to apply for and receive health and disability benefits.”

This includes he said, testing a new severe disability group whereby: “People who are eligible will benefit from a simplified process, and will not need to complete a detailed application form or go through a face-to-face assessment.”

He added that:

  • the policy will be tested on a small scale across a range of health conditions
  • the criteria used for the severe disability group will be based on the impact of a disability or health condition
  • the DWP is looking at those that are lifelong, have a significant effect on day-to-day life and are unlikely to improve.

In terms of testing, the Minister said: “We worked with an expert group of specialist health professionals to draw up a set of draft criteria, which focus on claimants who have conditions that are severely disabling, lifelong and with no realistic prospect of recovery.

“The criteria were shared with several charities, whose feedback was used to develop the criteria further.

“We started initial testing at small scale across a range of health conditions last year, and we plan to augment our testing approach in the coming months to develop our insight and evidence.

“That is a welcome development, which responds to the clear feedback in the Green Paper: people wanted to reduce the assessment burden on those with lifelong conditions that are unlikely to improve.

He added: “This is an important step on that journey. We will continue to move forward in a collaborative way, particularly as we build our understanding and evidence base to scale the policy.”

Referencing other reform, Mr. Pursglove added that: “We are also improving the experience of assessments by testing matching people’s primary health condition to a “specialist assessor”.

“As one part of that test, our assessors will take part in training to specialise in the functional impacts of specific health conditions, so that they can better understand claimants’ needs.”

In order to explore ways of creating a “a personalised welfare system”, Mr Pursglove outlined that the DWP is testing too :

  • “employment and health discussions”, with a “focus on how we can help people overcome barriers to work”.
  • a claimant opt-in rather than opt-out approach to the recording of health and disability benefit assessments.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “Any measure that enables those with severe and lifelong conditions to bypass assessment and reassessment is welcome.

“However, it remains to be seen how strict the eligibility criteria will be and the size of any severe disability group is likely be small in size.

What is galling is that the very day after his speech, the DWP announced a work capability assessment consultation aimed at reducing many more of Disabled People eligible for the limited capability for work activity (LCWRA) group.

This includes the proposal to remove the safety net criteria of “substantial risk” to physical or mental health if found not to have a LCWRA.

Inevitably this will lead to many more Disabled people facing work conditionality, sanctions and a reduced rate of benefit.”

The Westminster Hall debate on disability benefit assessments at which the Minister spoke, is available from

See also our related news story DWP launches WCA changes consultation aimed at reducing the number of claimants in ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ group