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Welfare Reform (Disabled People)

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 28 June 2012

2. What assessment she has made of the cumulative effect of welfare reform legislation on disabled people. (114068)

5. What assessment she has made of the cumulative effect of welfare reform legislation on disabled people. (114072)

The Government consult fully with stakeholders on the impact of policy changes and produce robust equality impact assessments, as required by the Equality Act 2010 and its predecessor, the Equality Act 2006.

I am sure the Minister will be aware of Scope’s recently published report, which labels the Government’s impact assessments as wholly inappropriate when applied to one reform at a time. Does she accept that, unless the impact of welfare reform is considered cumulatively, the human cost of her Government’s austerity measures will be completely overlooked?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but she knows that neither the Institute for Fiscal Studies nor the Treasury have a methodology to assess such impacts in the way she describes, but I remind her that we have impact assessments and equality assessments for every policy in order to ensure that all the changes that we make benefit the people whom we are trying to support.

The Government’s Welfare Reform Act 2012 will force families to make children with disabilities share a bedroom with their siblings, regardless of the difficulties and disruption that that may cause. Will the Minister prevail upon colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to look again at the issue before the 2012 Act is fully implemented, to show some compassion and to let disabled children have a bedroom of their own, where necessary, instead of wasting Government money pursuing a case in the Supreme Court on the issue?

The hon. Lady is right to make sure that we have the right provision to support families in our communities, particularly those with disabled people, and that is why we have made sure that local budgets and funding are available to local authorities so that they can make such discretionary payments. Every family situation is different, and we need to take those differences into account.

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether a care component will be built into universal credit, whether it will be subject to work conditionality, whether carer’s allowance will be assessed within universal credit, and whether households in receipt of disability living allowance and personal independence payment will be subject to the benefits cap?

My hon. Friend got a lot of detail into that question, and he will know that we have looked at the issue very carefully. Disability living allowance will not be included in the benefit cap, and importantly we intend to raise the equivalent in universal credit of employment and support allowance from £32.25 today to about £77 in future, ensuring that it includes more support for those who cannot go to work.

9. When disabled people are wrongly found fit for work, it causes a great deal of distress, and of course it is costly to have unnecessary appeals. So the falling rate of successful work capability assessment appeals is welcome and shows some improvement, but three out of 10 being wrongly found fit for work is still too high a figure. What more can the Government do to improve the process, particularly in terms of applying sanctions to Atos when it gets an assessment wrong, so that we can get more decisions right first time? (114076)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to want to drive through more good decision making in that process, and we are doing so across the board by working with Atos to make sure that it adheres to the contracts we have with it, and through the changes that we are making as a result of the Harrington reports, but importantly mandatory reconsideration, which begins in April 2013 for all decisions on benefits, will ensure that more decisions are right first time.

The Government say that their welfare reforms are intended to enable more disabled people to get into work, but a case has been raised with us about a young man who is a wheelchair user, had been desperate to work, found a job but had to turn it down because he would have needed to move and could not find affordable adapted housing. Why are the Government delaying the reasonable adjustment provisions that would help such people to work?

The hon. Lady will know that we have a broad range of support available for people such as the gentleman she refers to through the access to work scheme, for which we are increasing funding by about £15 million over the spending review period, and through local housing payments, such as the one I referred to in a previous answer, in order to ensure that local authorities have the flexibility to support such individuals, so that they can get into work and stay in work.

Will my hon. Friend commend the work of disabled people’s user-led organisations, particularly the Outlook centre in Long Eaton in my constituency, which I visited last week? The parent of a service user told me that they were doing a passport renewal form for their daughter and were not happy about having to complete the children’s section of the form for her because, although she is 40 years old, she has learning difficulties. They felt that this was inappropriate. Will my hon. Friend kindly look into the matter?

We can of course look into the detail of the point that my hon. Friend raises. She is absolutely right also to highlight the very valuable work of user-led organisations such as the Outlook centre, which can provide bespoke support for families who are dealing with benefit claims or other issues to do with their loved ones’ lives. That is why we have launched a significant programme to try to expand and support more user-led organisations up and down the country in doing similar work in all our communities.