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Personal Independence Payment

Volume 539: debated on Monday 23 January 2012

2. What steps he took to consult disabled people and representative organisations on the development of the personal independence payment. (90838)

We have consulted disabled people and their representative organisations at all stages of the development of the personal independence payment. That included a formal consultation in December 2010 and our response which was published in April 2011; an informal consultation on the draft assessment criteria in May 2011; and a 15-week formal consultation on the revised assessment criteria, which started on 16 January this year.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Agate house in my constituency, a Leonard Cheshire home in Ampthill, looks after some of the most severely disabled residents. Some are born disabled and many have degenerative illnesses that mean that they will need greater levels of care in future. They will never need less care than they do today or be less disabled, yet they all have to go through the ignominy and bureaucratic process of an assessment of their allowance once a year. Will the Minister examine that matter? It seems an incredible waste of money, a bureaucracy, a waste of civil servants’ time and an embarrassment to residents. Could we change that?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and say to her that we absolutely share the objective of ensuring that the people with the severest challenges in living independently in our society do not receive undue assessments. At the moment there is no in-built reassessment under disability living allowance. She put her question in the present tense—I am not sure whether she was referring to other things for which people are assessed. I reassure her that under PIP, we do not intend to have fixed annual reassessments. They will be made based on individuals’ personal circumstances.

In their report “Responsible Reform”, disabled people and carers analysed the responses to the Government’s consultation and raised many issues about the replacement of disability living allowance. Carers UK has also expressed deep concern about the impact on carers of cuts to disability benefits, yet today we learn that 5,000 carer households will be hit by the mean reduction of £87 a week as a result of the benefits cap. Will the Minister now publish an assessment of the impact on carers of all the Government’s cuts?

To give the House total clarity I should say that the report that the hon. Lady references was highly selective. It examined only about 10% of the responses that we received on the DLA and PIP consultation.

I will answer the hon. Lady’s question about carers directly as she, like me, wants to ensure that carers get the support that they need. We have already made it clear that carers will be eligible for carer’s allowance as a result of the person for whom they are caring being in receipt of either level of PIP.

Many disabled people are deeply unhappy about the performance of Atos Origin in administering the work capability assessment. As a result, they are scared about the introduction of the new PIP assessment. What discussions has the Minister had with disability organisations about who will carry out the new assessments, and what reassurance has she been able to give them that the mistakes made with the work capability assessment will not be repeated with PIP?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the new personal independence payment assessment will be separate from the WCA, and that any contracts that are in place for Atos are not at all connected with the new assessment that we need for PIP. In fact, a formal competition document is going out today to start the commercial process. To reassure her about the involvement of disabled people, I say that we already have an implementation development group, which involves disabled people closely at every step of the way.

Just for balance, I should like to put on record my thanks to those who gave us the Spartacus report, which was a challenging document and took apart some of the Government’s points.

The Dilnot report recommended that universal disability benefits for people of all ages should continue as now. However, under the new PIP the Government are scrapping low-rate care. Some 500,000 people, and probably more, could face escalating unmet needs that will result in pressure on council care services. What specific discussions has the Minister, as lead for the Office for Disability Issues, had on the changes with her colleagues in the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and what action has she taken as a result of any conversations?

The right hon. Lady will know that we have been having very close conversations with both the devolved authorities and the Department of Health, and she is right that we have to consider the changes that are happening in the round. She should also be mindful of the fact that the changes that we are making under the PIP will remove something that we inherited from the previous Government—£600 million a year going out in overpayments to people whose conditions have changed and who no longer need the same level of support.