I beg to move,
That this House believes that the Government should publish, by October 2013, a cumulative impact assessment of the changes made by the Government that affect disabled people.
Five of my right hon. Friends and I have tabled the words of today’s motion, but the words in our argument were inspired by others and are supported by tens of thousands of people up and down this country.
This afternoon, I pay tribute to Pat Onions and her fellow campaigners, to the authors of the WOW petition and to the thousands of people up and down the country who have supported their campaign and will follow this debate closely. They want to send a message to the Government—the message that we have incorporated in our motion. Today we ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to support us and make sure that the message is heard, not just in the Department for Work and Pensions but in Her Majesty’s Treasury, as clearly as possible.
The Opposition believe that how the Government have systematically ignored and tried to disguise and bury the impact of their reforms on disabled people is a national scandal. Reform that should have been approached with care and finesse has been approached with all the finesse of a bull in a china shop. When people have cried about the combined pain of the changes, the Government’s response has been that of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Frankly, we demand better of Her Majesty’s Government.
My right hon. Friend is making his position clear with great power and pugnaciousness. Is it not already clear that the chaos around the work capability assessment and the implementation of the personal independence payment is widespread? In the House last year, I cited dozens of cases of disabled people from my constituency who had awful experiences of revolving assessments. Is it not appalling that so many people are going through that process when almost a third of people are winning their appeals at tribunals?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I shall come back to his point slightly later.
The Opposition believe in reform of the benefits system and of support and care for disabled people, but we also believe in one thing more—that fewer, not more, disabled people should live in poverty in this country. During our time in office, we drove down the number of disabled people living in poverty from 40% to about a quarter. That was not an accident; it was because of the most ambitious series of reforms to help disabled people that we have ever seen.
There was the appointment of the first ever Minister for Disabled People, the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. There were great programmes such as Supporting People, the new deal for disabled people, new strategies for disabled children and Valuing People, and, crucially, there was the Equality Act 2010. Poverty in disabled households fell under Labour and now that progress has gone into reverse.
There is a fundamental difference in how the reforms have been heralded in the media, too. When we were in government and we put those reforms through, we did so in a careful and considered way, whereas because of how the current reforms are being pushed through, the media are characterising people in certain ways. A constituent who is on disability benefit for severe mental health problems came to my office the other day with his head in his hands saying, “I know I’m scum. That’s what I read every day. That’s the way I feel I’m treated.”
The whole House will have heard my hon. Friend’s powerful story. I am afraid that too often in the past three years we have had not the politics of national unity, but the politics of dividing lines—dividing lines after dividing lines. When has this country ever achieved great things when we have sought to divide one from another? We have only ever achieved great things in this country when we have pulled together, but I am afraid that that is not the policy of reform we see from this Government.
Today we have one third of disabled citizens in our country living in poverty. That proportion has increased every single year this coalition Government have been in power. That is a disgrace, and it is only surpassed by the Government’s attempts to make it worse.
Today I want to set out the great pressures that now confront disabled people and ask, in the words of our motion, that the Government, for the first time, put together
“a cumulative impact assessment of the changes”,
because the Secretary of State has an important duty to fulfil later this year. He has a duty before the autumn statement to set before the Chancellor of the Exchequer the combined concerted impact of the changes he is prosecuting on disabled people. These changes are big and they are well known. They affect the roof over people’s heads, the cash they receive, the care they enjoy, the help for their children and the help for their carers, and, of course, the systems that are currently failing to give disabled people the chance to lift themselves out of poverty by actually going to work.
Let me start with an issue that I know will be much in the news today: the hated bedroom tax. Two thirds of people hit by this tax are disabled. We know that council housing in this country is allocated according to need, and very often disabled people are given accommodation that is suited to their need. They may have a room that is available for a carer or for equipment, but the accommodation they were given was allocated according to need. Now disabled people face a tax on that spare room. Disabled people now face the distress of debt, being torn from their neighbours, and cut off from help very often if they are on disability living allowance. This is a cruel and unusual punishment meted out to the most vulnerable in our society, and this Government should drop it, and drop it now.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government knew when they first introduced this tax that it would have this disproportionate and devastating effect on disabled people? Originally they had hoped to exempt them from the tax, but when they worked out how many would be affected, they simply buried their principles in the interests of expediency.
That evidence is now becoming well known, and we have had more evidence circulated by great organisations, such as Carers UK today, about the impact this tax is now having on some of the most vulnerable people in our community, including hundreds in the Minister’s constituency.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
In a moment. Perhaps when the Minister intervenes he can justify what Carers UK found:
“Three quarters (75%) of carers having to pay the ‘bedroom tax’ are being forced to cut back on essential spending on food, electricity and heating.”
Will the Minister justify that to the House?
It ill behoves the Minister to play word games this afternoon on a policy that is affecting hundreds of people and their carers in his own constituency. What is he saying to carers in his constituency who are having to cut back on food, electricity and heating?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
In a moment. What is the Minister going to say to councils up and down the country surveyed by Channel 4 for tonight’s broadcast showing that one third of councils are having to deny help to disabled people because the provision of the discretionary housing payment fund is, frankly, insufficient? What is he going to say to those councils and what is he going to say to those disabled people in his own constituency?
I will give way to the Secretary of State in a moment, but first I want him to respond to this scenario. His own figures show that 660,000 people will be hit by this hated tax. He said when he came to the House that this would save £490 million. Let us assume that 50% of the people who move go into the private rented sector. That is going to cost his Department an extra £25 a week each. Let us assume the rest get another form of social housing. Every single move costs a registered social landlord £850. Then there is the cost of arrears, which RSLs say will double. Then there is £160 million-worth of discretionary housing payment on top. The truth is that if 40% of people move, this could well cost our country £580 million, which is £100 million more than the Secretary of State promised to save. What is his analysis of that? Does he now admit this will cost more than it saves?
The right hon. Gentleman’s leader said categorically, in terms, that Labour would not reverse the spare room subsidy. [Interruption.] Yes, he has, in an interview. Now, however, the Leader of the Opposition’s spokesman is standing at the Dispatch Box saying Labour will reverse this. That is a commitment to spend £1 billion over two years, rolling out further down the road. That is a spending commitment.
The Secretary of State has just refused to deny that this iniquitous policy is going to cost £100 million more than it saves. If he wants to refute that, why is he refusing to give our noble Friends in the other place the detailed model his Department used in order to assess this and come to the conclusion it was going to save £490 million? If he wants to have an argument about whether this does indeed cost more than it saves, he should provide that detailed analysis and those figures.
My right hon. Friend is making a crucial point about the cost of the bedroom tax, and I can provide him with some figures from Cardiff council. Since 1 April there are now 1,176 people in arrears and the council estimates that 900 of them have never been in arrears before. That is going to cost it £175,000 in additional costs, and its arrears bill has risen to £1.2 million, so the idea that this is going to save money is complete fantasy.
What is interesting about the Secretary of State’s response is that he cannot defend his Department’s failure, and he cannot defend his own failure of leadership in not giving us a cumulative impact assessment of these cuts because he fears what that will show. He fears it will show that this bedroom tax will cost more than it saves—and it is just one of a number of changes now coming together to hit disabled people, and hit them hard.
Does my right hon. Friend agree on these two points? First, this dreadful tax is going to cost more than it saves. It is hitting 2,600 households in my constituency, and City West Housing is expecting arrears of at least £1 million this year. Even worse than that is the effect on choice and dignity: week in and week out, I am now seeing cases in which disabled people have to explain why they cannot sleep in the same bedroom as their carers. They are being assessed on the point of “Why can you not sleep in the same bedroom?” Last week I had a letter about some constituents which stated, “We see no reason why you cannot sleep in the same bedroom.” Case studies that Carers UK has provided to Members today, however, explain why for people with disabilities there is very often a really good reason why the carer cannot sleep in the same room or the same bed as the person they are caring for.
Absolutely, and that is why the Secretary of State must produce the impact assessment. All of us are now meeting people who are under such pressure that they are creating more cost elsewhere in the system. I will probably remember for ever the man I met recently in Redcar. The great Anna Turley introduced us, and this is what was said: “Yes, he has a spare room, and do you know what he puts in it? He puts equipment to help him with renal failure.” Now, because he is having to move, that opportunity for home care is disappearing, and the NHS is saying to him “We’re going to have to take you to and from hospital in an ambulance every single day.” That is not a cost saving for the NHS. That is a new cost. It is a straight cost jump from a failure of policy from this Government.
I just wish to get this clear, so that there is no uncertainty: it is now the policy of a future Labour Government to reverse the bedroom tax. I, like the Secretary of State, was under the impression that the Leader of the Opposition had said that that was not the case. So will the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) provide clarification? Will the Labour party, if elected, abolish the bedroom tax?
Order. We must proceed, on both sides, according to established rules of debate, which include taking interventions or choosing not to do so. A Member cannot intervene, however strongly he or she feels, if the person who has the Floor declines to give way.
I will give way to the Secretary of State in a moment, because I have a number of other points I want him to answer. The whole House would wish that he, and not the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), was answering the debate, because it is his failure of leadership at the Department for Work and Pensions that means that disabled people in this country are in such trouble today.
Let me deal with the cash commitments that we need to move on to. The Secretary of State needs to listen to this, because he cannot pursue this agenda of denial right the way through this afternoon; the power of hon. Members’ contributions demands to be listened to. Let us just consider contributory employment and support allowance, a benefit that people have paid into for years. The Conservative party and, in particular, the Secretary of State, have never believed in the principle of contributory benefits. By the end of this Parliament, such benefits will be no more than a rounding error; 280,000 former workers will by 2014 have completely lost their entitlement to support worth £100 a week—thank heavens we won an exemption for cancer patients. The truth is that those with mental health conditions and stroke sufferers will be very hard hit by this change.
Let us then consider the idea that disability living allowance should be abolished and replaced by the personal independence payment. We believe that reform is important, and we welcome the Secretary of State’s more sensible roll-out plan, but surely it is wrong to take away someone’s DLA without even a passing glance at whether the removal of that benefit will push someone out of work, push them into the NHS or cause a carer to have to give up a job. We are talking about important safeguards that should have been written into the reform of DLA. And we now have the lunacy of a Government forced to consult on issues such as the 20-metre rule after—not before—they introduce the regulations, because they could not organise things properly. It is an utter shambles.
We welcome the idea of strong social care. I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) for the work that she has done and the way in which she has influenced the definition of well-being in the Care Bill, which is passing through the other place. DWP Ministers must know that one third of social care users are disabled adults, and we must avoid changes that take that system backwards rather than forwards.
There will be other changes that affect carers and children. Carers UK tells us that 3 million carers have had to give up work; one in five carers have seen their work badly affected by caring; and four out of 10 fall into debt. Yet, according to the Government’s own figures, botched reform to DLA could see another 10,000 carers lose support. Parents of disabled children will suffer, too. Parents of 100,000 disabled children will suffer from plans for universal credit. I understand from the Secretary of State’s performance before the Select Committee this morning that universal credit is now, after half a billion pounds-worth of spending, going to appear in the grand total of 10 jobcentres from October, which is about 1% of jobcentres. That is a tremendous success for the Secretary of State, topped only by his success in giving us a Work programme that is worse than doing nothing.
Families with disabled children currently receive an extra £54 per week from child tax credit, but that will be reduced by half when universal credit is introduced, which means a loss of about £1,400 a year for a family with a disabled child—or £22,000 over the course of a lifetime. The Prime Minister has told the House that
“we are not cutting benefits for disabled children.”—[Official Report, 14 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 793.]
I think Channel 4 FactCheck got it right when it said that
“the dial points pretty firmly to fiction on this one”.
The tragedy is that so many disabled people want to work, want to get themselves out of poverty, and the Government will not help. A single person on disability benefits will be under the poverty line by about £600 a year. Even three hours’ work a week lifts a disabled person above the poverty line, and 30 hours’ work a week lifts them above the poverty line by about £5,000 a year. At the moment the situation is so chaotic that someone going along to a work capability assessment is eight times more likely to end up in a tribunal than in a job. As for the Work programme, words simply fail me. It took some doing, but the Government did it: they have produced a Work programme that is three times worse than doing nothing—and that is on their own figures.
Last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer found the money to hand out a very nice tax cut—a very large tax cut—to some of Britain’s richest citizens. So this year we want to know: what is the Secretary of State going to ask the Chancellor for on behalf of disabled people? We think we should help him get the pitch right. The only way he can get that down accurately is by bringing forward a cumulative impact assessment of the changes now hitting disabled people. How else will he know what to ask for? How many people are losing their homes? How many are losing their DLA? How many are losing their homes, their DLA and their ESA? How many will lose carer’s allowance on top? And how many more disabled people will fall into poverty as a result of these sweeping changes over the next couple of years? Surely the Secretary of State cannot justify proceeding with these reforms blind. Surely he cannot go into negotiations with the Chancellor later in the year, before the autumn statement, oblivious to what is actually going on.
My right hon. Friend may be aware of the work that Mind has done and the fact that about 40% of people applying for ESA are doing so because of a mental health problem. Work capability assessments are just not working, as we have all seen in our constituencies, and they need reforming.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course the employment rate among people with a mental health condition is the lowest of all; it is a disgrace and it needs to change. At the moment, however, we do not have a system that actually assesses people’s needs at the same time as we assess what benefits they should be entitled to. There is a complete disconnection at the heart of the system. The point we want to make to the Secretary of State gently this afternoon is that he presides over one of the great Departments of state; about 100,000 civil servants work for him. If this country can organise an Olympic games, help put rockets into space and organise complex armed conflict abroad, he ought to be able to work out a cumulative impact assessment of the changes affecting disabled people.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Fareham, who has been forced to answer this debate, has, curiously enough, told the House the following:
“The Government regularly produces analysis of the cumulative impact of all coalition changes…The publication of cumulative impacts is a coalition initiative”.—[Official Report, 5 July 2013; Vol. 565, c. 862W.]
Labour Members welcome that. So can we please have a cumulative impact assessment of the changes hitting disabled people?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, historically, the Government party has always been against the welfare state? Successive Conservative Governments have tried to weaken the welfare state by making statements that are not really helpful to those who need it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that, and, worst of all, what he describes comes with a nasty and divisive politics to boot.
If the Secretary of State needs any help with this job of producing cumulative impact assessments, plenty is on hand, as luck would have it. Let me read out the list of people who have half done the job for him: Demos, in its “Destination Unknown” pamphlet; Inclusion Scotland; the Campaign For a Fair Society; the Children’s Commissioner; Contact A Family; and The Hardest Hit. All those organisations have been able to produce cumulative impact assessments, and I am sure that if the Secretary of State asked them nicely, they would lend him a hand.
We believe that there must be vital reform in social security in the future, but that there must be a different way of organising reform. Someone in our country registers with the DWP as disabled every three minutes. The morality of this debate is very simple: disability is an issue that could affect any of us and is therefore something that affects us all. We should be learning from reform such as that pioneered by the Australian Labor party through comprehensive disability insurance, where one personal plan sets out a plan of action for benefits, back-to-work support, social care and help from the national health service and where one partnership comes together to deliver it.
I do not know how often the Secretary of State speaks to his opposite number in the Department of Health, but his right hon. Friend is taking through the other place a Care Bill that creates a definition of well-being that includes the idea that someone should be able to go to work and to get training and an education. The DWP is then missing from the rest of the Bill. The local authority and the NHS are obliged to talk to each other, but where is the DWP? Why is it not coming together with local councils and the NHS to deliver change? We should create a “tell us once” approach to collecting information and, crucially, we should transform back-to-work support by giving people the right to take that support in the form of a personal budget. I know the Secretary of State is still evaluating the “right to control” pilots in Barnsley and elsewhere and we look forward to his bringing forward the conclusions from that work.
I am pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman announce his intention to abolish the spare room subsidy. He also praised to the skies the Australian insurance model that has just been introduced. Is he therefore committing to the payroll tax increases funding that model in Australia? Have we just heard yet another spending commitment?
When Lord Freud gave evidence to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and was questioned about the mental health impacts on people going through the reforms and the impact they were having on individual lives, he appeared to suggest that few conversations had been had with organisations such as the Samaritans and Mind. That is deeply concerning; does my right hon. Friend agree? A constituent came to me the other week and handed me a letter that said at the end, “I’d rather kill myself and then they will have one less mouth to feed.” That is the daily experience of the people who come to our surgeries.
That is the tragedy about which we are all hearing in our constituencies. I am sure that the Minister has heard the same thing from his constituents, because we know that some 890 people could lose their disability living allowance in his constituency. If people are in work and lose their DLA, they will lose some of their advantages in the tax credit system. If they are also hit by the uprating legislation and the bedroom tax and also lose their transitional support under universal credit, it will not be long before they are £5,000 a year worse off. How can we in this country, one of the richest nations on earth, justify giving a huge tax cut to millionaires and then saying to 890 people in the Minister’s constituency that if they want to go to work they might be £5,000 a year worse off? How on earth can the Minister justify that to the House?
The Government are putting some our most vulnerable people in the middle of a labyrinth and, frankly, if we are to succeed as a nation in the future we cannot go on like this. We must draw on every ounce of talent that is available to us in these islands. That is the only way we will become a nation that is firing on all cylinders. Today, we offer the Secretary of State no more than a humble step on the road—something that will help him in his negotiations with the Chancellor before the autumn statement. I hope that it is something he will be able to support. No one will be able to understand why he has set his face against it if he votes against it and leads his troops to vote against it this afternoon. I hope he accepts it and, if he does not, I hope this House will force him to.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“welcomes the Government’s leadership in furthering the rights of disabled people; recognises the UK as a world leader in disability rights; notes that approximately £50 billion a year is spent on services for disabled people, including adult social services and including an investment of £3.8 billion in health and social care services in England to deliver more joined-up services to disabled people; further notes the £350 million allocated by the Government for programmes and support for disabled people to move into and stay in work; and acknowledges the Government’s collective determination to build upon the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and create a legacy which shines a light on the abilities and achievements of disabled people.”.
I thank the Opposition for choosing this subject to discuss today, not least because it gives me an opportunity to remind the House of this Government’s actions to support disabled people and improve people’s lives. We are absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and enabling those who face the greatest barriers to play a full role in society.
The UK is a world leader in rights for disabled people and spends more on disability than Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. We are proud of that history and the Government are spending about £50 billion a year on disabled people and the services that support them, but spending money is not enough. We need to spend that money wisely, and I will set out the reforms we are undertaking to ensure that that happens.
Some of the biggest barriers for disabled people are caused not by money but by prejudice and we have done far more to tackle the prejudices that continue, moving forward society’s understanding and knowledge of disability and disabled people. Our ambition is to enable disabled people to achieve their aspirations and play a full role in society. Our approach has been developed with disabled people and the organisations that represent them because it is important to help with what happens in their lives. The strategy we have developed is set out in the document “Fulfilling Potential—Making it Happen”. It sets out nearly 200 actions across government to ensure that disabled people can realise their aspirations.
I am pleased to say that under this Government disabled people are seeing improved outcomes and reduced inequalities compared with non-disabled people since 2009-10. Figures published last week show improvements for disabled people in educational achievements, the employment rate and the proportion in relative poverty. They also show how inequalities compared with non-disabled people have reduced for GCSE results, for the employment rate, for income poverty for families in which someone is disabled, and in choice and control.
I note that the hon. Gentleman expresses sympathy and states that the Government have done a lot for disabled people. We have received a great deal of information from various charities saying that the cumulative impact of all the cuts will affect disabled people more than able-bodied people. The purpose of today’s motion is to ask the Government to carry out an independent evaluation of the fact that the changes will affect disabled people more. What is wrong with the Government carrying out that assessment?
The hon. Lady’s intervention was long enough, so I ask her to let me finish making my point. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) called on the Treasury to implement this measure; he, of course, was a Treasury Minister in the dying days of the previous Government. Did they do anything about this? No, they did not. It is a bit rich for Labour, having been in government for 13 years, to come forward at this point to call for a cumulative impact assessment. They never did it when they were in government, and they know that they could not do it now either.
Over the past three years, we have maintained financial support for disabled people despite the fiscal pressures, we have refined benefits to support disabled people and help them into work, we are reforming the care system so it better meets the needs of disabled people and the elderly, and we are using the magnificent success of the Paralympics to transform lives.
Our record on spending on disabled people compares well internationally. We continue to spend almost double the OECD average as a percentage of GDP—2.4% compared with about 1.3%. Of the 34 OECD countries, only Norway and Iceland spend more. In the last spending review, published last month, we demonstrated that even in hard economic times when so many budgets have been subject to significant cuts, the Government continue to make the needs of disabled people a priority and to protect funding for disabled people.
As we know that delivering better, joined-up services for the disabled and the elderly shortens hospital stays or, even better, keeps people out of hospital and in their own homes, we are creating a £3.8 billion single budget for health and social care services in England so that people can work together more closely in local areas, based on a plan agreed between the NHS and local authorities. That shared pot includes an additional £2 billion from the NHS and builds on the existing contribution of about £1 billion in 2014-15. To enable the programme to start, we are investing an extra £200 million in 2014-15 to get this work under way. I believe that that working together will benefit both the disabled and the elderly.
Does the Minister not see that the problem is that £2.8 billion has already gone out of social care? The hundreds of millions of pounds of funding that has been moved across is being used as a sticking plaster to prop up existing care packages, and nine out of 10 local authorities are now only meeting substantial care needs. The situation with social care is deteriorating by the week and it is causing issues in the NHS, such as the recent A and E crisis.
But reform is needed, too, to make sure that we spend money carefully. We need to think about how we deliver services. That is why joining up care and health in a single budget is vital if we are to tackle problems on the ground, enable local authorities and the health service to work together, and really make progress.
The Minister is being characteristically generous in giving way. If he believes what he has just said, will he explain why the duty to co-operate in the Care Bill does not extend to the Department for Work and Pensions? Will he table Government amendments to the Bill to ensure that those duties to co-operate bite on local authorities, the NHS and his Department?
We already co-operate in those areas. We work closely with local authorities and the Department of Health. We do not need a duty of care to enable us to take that approach; we can do that very well at the moment.
We all know that the cost of care is a huge concern for the elderly and for disabled people, and that is why the spending round provides £335 million to local authorities in 2015-16 to prepare for the delivery of the capped costs system from April 2016 and a universal offer of deferred payment agreements from April 2015. That investment begins a programme of reforms to social care funding in England which will mean that no one faces unlimited care costs or is forced to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for residential care.
We want disabled children to have the best possible start in life. The pupil premium is increasing in real terms. That will disproportionately benefit disabled children and young people, and the Government will continue to reform services for those with special educational needs.
It is hard for people to feel included in society if they are excluded from getting around. Railway funding makes provision for the industry to invest up to £100 million from 2014 to 2019 in measures to provide easier access for older and disabled passengers and those with small children. That list of the priorities announced in the spending review demonstrates that any cumulative impact assessment is about not just one area of Government policy, because there is a whole range of ways in which we are taking measures to help disabled people to improve their lives.
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that funding formulas are in place to ensure that the money is allocated. There is an obligation on local authorities not only to make a contribution towards tackling the deficit that we inherited from the previous Government, but to look innovatively at how they deliver services and ensure that we get value for money.
I point out that the previous Government did not conduct a cumulative impact assessment because we were not making so many sweeping changes all at once. However, I want to ask the Minister about his comments on disabled children. Does he accept that the welcome exemption that the Government introduced to allow adults with disabilities an extra room under the bedroom tax for an overnight carer does not apply to children? If he accepts that it does not, will he explain why it does not?
The previous Government were asked to supply cumulative impact assessments. [Interruption.] Well, that was the point that the hon. Lady wanted to make. However, that Government recognised that those assessments were too complex and difficult to carry out. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill is smiling; he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and he has to recognise that the previous Government failed to do that.
I think that the Minister would sort of accept that we were not introducing some of the biggest cuts to disabled people’s services or benefits for a generation, so the premium on a cumulative impact assessment was not quite as great then as it is now. He said to the House on 5 July that cumulative impact assessments were “a coalition initiative”, and I assume that they are an initiative of which he is proud. If he is so proud of them, why does he not equip himself with one before the Secretary of State goes to see the Chancellor, as he no doubt will, so that he can argue on behalf of disabled people before the autumn statement?
I do not want to spoil the excitement that is felt about the later parts of my speech—you are right to pull a wry face, Mr Speaker—but the challenge when one is trying to carry out a cumulative impact assessment that covers a wide range of policy areas for a defined group, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, as he was in the Treasury and in government, is that resources and information are not there to enable people to do it. That is the problem that the last Government faced, and we face the same challenge. Unlike that Government, we have produced a cumulative impact assessment at major fiscal events, but that cannot be disaggregated to the sort of level that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to. He knows that, because he has been through that process.
Bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies have said that giving that level of detail is impossible and have stepped away from doing so. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has got into trouble on spending plans; he tried to dig himself out of a hole earlier and did not manage to do it, and there is a bit of chaff for him, but let us be very clear: this was a challenge when he was in government, and it remains a challenge.
Let me move on to employment. We all know that work brings self-esteem and dignity. It enables people, whether disabled or able-bodied, to look after themselves and their families. Nearly half of disabled people are in work. Only one in 10 working-age disabled people have never worked, and for those aged over 25 it is only one in 20. If we want to make a sustainable difference, we must do all that we can to help more disabled people who can work to get into mainstream employment and stay there. The spending review allocated £330 million to programmes and support for disabled people or those with a long-term health condition, so that they can move into and stay in work.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being generous in taking interventions. Over the summer, will he get his Department to publish, as an example, the number of people who used to work in the Remploy factory in Stoke-on-Trent who have gone into work in the wider environment, and the number who are now unemployed and likely to be unemployed for the rest of their working life? That facility, to use the Minister’s exact words, provided work experience—not some segregated nonsense, but work experience that people enjoyed. I spoke to the people there time and again, and they really enjoyed working there. Will he publish those figures over the summer?
I shall give the hon. Gentleman some homework for the summer recess. If he goes back to Thursday’s Hansard and the statement that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), made about stage 2 for Remploy factories, he will see that it sets out in detail the work that we have done to get people back into employment, and it gives the aggregate figures. The success in getting people into work after the closure of Remploy factories has outpaced what normally happens with redundancies. What we have seen demonstrates the important support given to get people into work.
This Government remain convinced of the need to maximise the opportunities available to disabled people to enable them to realise their employment aspirations. The principal objectives of our disability employment strategy are to increase the employment rate for disabled people, and to maximise the opportunity for disabled people to realise their employment aspirations and thus achieve greater economic independence. We will publish our strategy later this year. We need to make sure that money is targeted more effectively, to ensure that support continues to be available to those who need it most, that there is a lasting impact and that interventions provide a fair deal for the taxpayer.
What we need to do is make sure that we get more people into work, regardless of their disability, and we must help them into employment. We are particularly supporting those who were Remploy employees to get into work, as well as broader groups. That is our focus; that is exactly what the Government are trying to do. That is why we accepted the recommendation from disability expert Liz Sayce that we should focus support on individuals through services such as Access to Work, rather than through institutions such as Remploy, so that more disabled people can work in mainstream employment.
Next week we will see the first ever disability employment conference, a flagship event funded by Government and business. This will involve more than 600 people in London and five regional locations via video link, with many more watching online. The conference is a unique opportunity for businesses and Government to come together to identify the challenges that others are facing and provide innovative solutions to tap into this underemployed pool of talent and reap the benefits that this can bring. But next week’s conference is just the beginning. Over the next two years we will continue to work with business to bring about a new disability-confident perspective on employment and improve the employment outcomes for disabled people.
I have no doubt that people want to work, but some are held back by a complex and unwieldy benefit system with weak or even non-existent incentives to work. Our plans for welfare reform will transform the benefits landscape. We have designed a new system with work as its focus—a coherent approach which ensures that people will be better off in work than on benefits. I firmly believe that the vast majority of people want to work and gain greater independence, but we also know that many disabled people who want to work fear the risk of losing their benefits and feel that that is too great a risk of getting into work. By simplifying the benefits system and making sure that work pays, universal credit will remove the financial risks of taking the first steps back into employment, and increase the incentives for working, even for a few hours a week.
Let me deal with some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made. Universal credit will provide unconditional support to those disabled people who are not expected to do any work. There will be no cash losers in the roll-out of universal credit. People will see their level of benefit protected when they switch over if their circumstances remain the same. Indeed, the average change in income for disabled people under universal credit is an increase of £8 a month.
Universal credit will provide support for carers and improve their opportunities to maintain links with the world of work. Many families will benefit from help with child care costs, especially people who work under 16 hours a week, who will get help for the first time. Households with one or more disabled adults will be able to keep up to £647 a month of their earnings before seeing a reduction in their universal credit. It will also offer a more flexible system for people whose ability to work fluctuates. Universal credit will encourage more disabled people to see work as financially viable, increasing their dignity and self-esteem.
What about new claimants? How does the Minister respond to evidence provided by Citizens Advice, which shows that 230,000 severely disabled people who live alone with a young carer could be worse off, 100,000 disabled children could lose up to £28 a week, and up to 116,000 disabled people who work would be at risk of losing around £40 a week?
As I said, the cash benefits for people on transition are protected. We hear the figures published by Citizens Advice but we do not understand where they come from. They are not borne out by our understanding. Let me move on to talk about disability living allowance.
I want to move on. I have been very generous in giving way to the right hon. Gentleman, as he acknowledged.
We all know that some disabled people face extra costs as a result of the impact of their disability. The main source of financial support, disability living allowance, has not been fundamentally reformed since 1992. Our welfare reforms presented an opportunity to start afresh, keeping the best elements of DLA that people value, but bringing the benefit up to date to make it fit for the 21st century. The personal independence payment—PIP—is easy to understand and administer. It is financially sustainable and more objective. It will be better targeted on those in most need. Throughout the whole development, we have consulted widely with disabled people and have used their views to inform policy design. We have continued to listen and consult, ensuring that these reforms continue to be shaped by the views of disabled people themselves. In other words, reform is not static and this Government are committed to listening and acting where change is required.
Instead of simply cutting money from everyone, we chose the more difficult but principled option of modernising the benefit and focusing support where it is most needed. PIP will be awarded on the basis of a fair, consistent and objective assessment which will enable us to target support on those who face the greatest barriers to independent living. More than one fifth of PIP recipients will get both of the highest rates, worth £134.40 each week, compared with only 16% on DLA. That demonstrates that we are focusing support on those in most need.
Does the Minister accept the figure in the Demos and Scope study which indicates that 3,000 households could be affected by six individual welfare changes and lose as much as £4,500 a year? Does not that cumulative effect on living standards create the need for a cumulative assessment of what welfare reform is doing?
The hon. Gentleman illustrates in that question the impossibility of the task suggested in the motion. He has focused on one area. He has not taken into account tax changes, changes in fuel duty, the additional money that we are spending on improving access, the pupil premium or the changes that we are making to social care. To do an assessment properly—to look at that level of detail—as the motion suggests, involves looking across the whole of Government in a way that no Government have done before. It is the complexity of the issue that defeats specialist bodies trying to assess the full impact.
We did hear two bits of policy from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill. He backtracked on the spare room subsidy but he also talked about care. We are constantly looking at ways of joining up and simplifying care. We have made fundamental reforms to improve systems and bring spending under control. The Care Bill goes much further than ever before in giving disabled people real control. We are taking practical and far-reaching steps—for example, extending personal budgets for health and care, introducing a new duty on local authorities to co-operate, and introducing education, health and care plans for our children and young people. We will bring forward proposals in the autumn to improve employment support for disabled people.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about a new single personal budget, but as usual there is no detail. He said nothing about how it will be funded—a point proved by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard)—nothing about whether it will be means-tested, and nothing about whether local and national systems will be integrated. Will the right hon. Gentleman abolish PIP, for example? He told us nothing about how such an assessment would work, and nothing about the data-sharing issues that clearly arise. It is very clear that that is yet another kite flown by him with no information, no detail, no substance—again, three years in opposition completely wasted, with no fresh ideas.
We are clear that this Government always inform their decisions with equality analysis of policy changes, as required by the Equality Act 2010. All major welfare reform changes have been accompanied by a published equality impact assessment and these are updated if impacts change. I reiterate that a cumulative impact assessment would be so complex and subject to so many variables that it would be meaningless, helping neither individuals nor policy makers, and it would soon be incorrect and out of date. This may be something that the right hon. Gentleman wants to push, but it has not been done by any Government.
The Treasury does publish a broad-brush cumulative analysis of all tax, benefit and public service reforms at every fiscal event. This is a coalition initiative and something that the previous Government did not do. It is by its nature broad-brush, aimed at checking the broad distributional impacts of Government policy. It is not possible to do a meaningful breakdown for the disabled population. That is exactly why the previous Government did not do it. That is why I encourage my hon. Friends to vote against the motion. They know that it cannot be delivered. I urge them to support the amendment, which sets out what the coalition Government have done in office. We have acted to build a modern system of financial support for disabled people, acted to strengthen employment support and acted to provide better care for disabled people. We are delivering real reform for disabled people.
Order. I now have to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the motion relating to the draft Alternative Investment Fund Managers Regulations, the Ayes were 273 and the Noes were 27, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
I notify the House that several right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, as a consequence of which I have imposed, with immediate effect, a seven-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions. As with all time limits in these circumstances, it is subject to review, depending on levels of interest and rates of progress.
I congratulate my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench on the motion and on rightly acknowledging the campaign outwith this place to bring the cumulative impact assessment to our attention.
I will begin with a non-partisan point: I believe that all of us in this House, whichever side we sit on, do our best to stand up for our constituents. Many of those who come to see us are the most disadvantaged, which is why it is right to point out that Members on both sides have been approached by constituents who are concerned about the impact of recent changes in Government policy—and not just the intended consequences, but sometimes the unintended consequences. That is why a cumulative impact assessment is so vital.
Many of the people who come to see me in my surgeries or whom I interact with in my constituency are disabled, have been injured at work or, through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to work, and what they want is to live as independently as possible, which requires a level of support. For some of them, the impact of certain changes in Government policy might be difficult but will not necessarily make an overall difference. The cumulative impact of those changes, however, can often make a very significant difference in the way they live their lives. That is why it is important to have a full and complete assessment. I hope that the Government, despite the contribution we have just heard from the Minister, will embrace that, not just because it is a coalition initiative but because it is fundamentally important when they are making such a significant change to the way in which support for disabled people works in the UK.
In the time available, I would like to talk about the work capability assessment, which I have done on a number of occasions over the past two and a half years. I must say that the Minister’s predecessor, the current Lord Chancellor, was someone I could engage with. I would not always agree with him, but he would at least listen. I went to see him on a number of occasions. That attitude contrasts sharply with what we have seen more recently. I make that point because I am afraid that that attitude underlies the importance of having this type of cumulative assessment.
I have asked a number of parliamentary questions about the work capability assessment. The Minister, who is now listening, will recall that I have asked written questions that his Department has answered, but lately it has decided that it will not answer them. It has decided that, as a result of a change in the resources available to it, it will not answer those questions because they were requested in a slightly different form. Those questions were asked in exactly the same way, but the Minister refused to answer them. He will be aware, because there have been at least two debates on this, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) sought to meet him, along with me and other campaigners, but he has refused to do so.
To be clear, what I have said—I have written to the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) about this—is that if We Are Spartacus, the group he wants to bring, comes up with some positive suggestions on how we can improve the WCA, I will meet it.
If the Minister will not see my right hon. Friend, how can he know of the level of constructive engagement that the group is offering? The judgment he made at the start of that exchange was precisely that he would refuse to see it because he did not want to engage with it. I will leave the matter to my right hon. Friend, who I am sure will wish to speak about it. That is the point I am trying to make in relation to a number of consistent examples. I hope the Minister will reflect on it today and over the summer.
The National Audit Office commented last summer on the DWP’s failure to apply the penalties or service credits within the WCA in relation to Atos Healthcare’s underperformance and failure to seek adequate financial redress. It was almost as if it just did not want to apply them, because that would indicate that there was a problem in the system.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely important speech. I am sure that his experience will be the same as mine: when constituents come to see me, time and again they mention Atos. That is the only word I seem to hear some days because of the nightmare that that company is and the problems it causes to my constituents.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; he makes an important point. It is partly about Atos Healthcare, which has delivered the contract appallingly, but it is also about the deficiencies in the contract, which this Government, particularly—it gives me no pleasure to say this—since the current Minister has been in place, seemingly refuse to deal with.
Dr Greg Wood is a doctor who was employed by Atos until he left its employ at the start of May this year. In the middle of May, he made a series of serious and very specific allegations about his experience as a doctor working at an Atos centre and the way in which the work capability assessment was carried out. For the record, he suggests not that we should get rid of the assessment, or even that it gets cases wrong at either end of the scale, but that people in the middle are being caught because of the flawed way in which the system is designed and implemented. He said that
“claimants are often not being assessed in an even handed way… HCPs are not free to make independent recommendations, important evidence is frequently missing or never sought in the first place, medical knowledge is twisted and points are often wrongly withheld through the use of an erroneously high standard of proof”.
He said that if Atos assessors
“show deviation from the official line the HCP is instructed to change the report”
“In about a quarter of assessments important documentary evidence is missing but the assessments go ahead regardless.”
He said that training of new HCPs creates an environment where they
“expect that they will see in the course of their work score too few points to qualify for ESA. This is often the de facto starting hypothesis, with the effect that the claimant usually faces an uphill struggle before the assessment has even begun.”
He said that HCPs often “begrudgingly” score claimants and that an attitude is drilled into them
“which leans towards finding reasons not to award points”.
Those are very serious and specific allegations that I would have expected the Government to take seriously, given the warm words we frequently hear from the Minister and the Secretary of State, who has now left his place, about improving this process and constantly being vigilant about making it better for people.
I wrote to the Prime Minister on the same day asking him to investigate the allegations. He passed the correspondence to the Secretary of State, who wrote back to me on 22 June. I got back a one-page letter—I have it here—that made absolutely no reference to any of the specific allegations. It did not say that there was a problem; it was just a standard response. The Government wanted to brush it under the carpet. That attitude belies the problems that exist.
On the same day, the Secretary of State’s private office e-mailed me, by mistake, a copy of a letter to another Member of Parliament—a Government Member—raising an individual’s case to which there was a much more systematic and detailed response. That is perhaps because the initial letter came from me, or from a Labour Member. I very much hope not, because they were very serious allegations that the Government decided to ignore completely.
This is not just about the frustrations of seeking information from the Government, although I admit that I do get frustrated about that. It is not just about the waste and inefficiency in a programme that is costing £110 million a year for the Atos contract, and now up to £70 million this year in the appeals process to correct the mistakes. It is not just about an attitude, although I say again that I have found the Minister to be dismissive, evasive and sometimes partisan in our engagement on this issue. It is also about the experience of real people in every single part of this country who often have to adjust their life circumstances due to events completely beyond their control due to illness, accident or incident. It is about people who will have seen a system that is not working properly because the Government rolled out the migration from incapacity benefit without taking into account the lessons identified in the pilot projects, with the consequences that we have seen since. Most of all, it is about decency, compassion and helping people, not hounding people. The system is wrong and it needs to change.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate—a debate that the Labour party has been running away from for far too long. For all its praise of Pat’s petition, which was placed on 1 November 2011, it took until 6 February 2013 for the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), to have the courage even to meet them. When he met them, what did their website say? It said that he had promised them an Opposition day debate as soon as possible, before the Budget. The Budget and the spending review have been and gone, and now what do we see? It is a press release from the shadow Secretary of State claiming that he has dragged Ministers to the Chamber, but it is he and his Front Benchers who have been dragged to this Chamber by Pat’s petition, We are Spartacus and other extremist disability groups that do not speak for the overall majority.
Let me explain to Labour Front Benchers why I might have sympathy with their reluctance. The cumulative impact assessment is a very narrow tool by which to judge the contribution of the disabled community in this country, their potential and what they can achieve. I think that it borders on the offensive and would suggest that Labour look a little more widely.
Just last week the Minister for the disabled, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), published the final set of documents of the “Fulfilling Potential” report. I urge those who want a proper cumulative impact assessment to look at the technical annexe, which is a far more challenging set of indicators than a cumulative impact assessment would provide and a far more nuanced, reasoned view of what being disabled means in Great Britain today.
Labour’s empty rhetoric and its sole focus on benefits as a measure of the quality of life of disabled people do a disservice to the wider disabled community. We often hear Labour Members talk of their desire for welfare reform. When we drill down to what they mean, as we have tried to today, it is very clear that they want more money for more people. The do not understand the nature of reform.
Let me quote what one of our eminent Paralympians, Jonnie Peacock, who won so many medals last year, said on 8 September 2012:
“I did not think I should be taking DLA from people who should be getting it. There are people who should not be on it and are getting it, and there are people who should be getting it and are receiving nothing. The testing could be more secure and then they could award the benefits to the right people.”
I cite that because it is clearly not a pro-Government press release, but a middle-of-the-road assessment that the vast bulk of disabled people share about what is occurring in this country.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. What I will acknowledge is that we are going through a period of profound and challenging change. We as a Government are seeking to edge towards greater recognition of the social model of disability, and that means not paying attention to the labels that too many want to hang around the necks of disabled people.
The personal independence payment, for example, looks at how individuals cope with their own conditions and disabilities. It does not say, “Tick box x for condition y and you will get these benefits.”
I think that the hon. Lady misunderstands the actual point of PIP; it is to look at how people cope with their conditions. They are given ample opportunity to submit evidence and we help them to do that in my constituency surgeries. I hope that Labour Members do so, too, rather than store up a treasure trove of Atos scare stories that make people more scared of attending an Atos appointment than they were before.
I have given way enough times and the shadow Secretary of State has had his opportunity. If those on the Opposition Front Benches paid more attention to the “Fulfilling Potential” report, they might be a little chilled by what they read. Page 34 states clearly:
“Young people’s aspirations can decline in response to their growing understanding of the world”.
Listening to Opposition Members, I am sure that young people’s aspirations will decline because of the negative messages they are getting. The report states:
“By the age of 26 disabled people are less confident”
about entering into the world. I think we should be celebrating the fact that this Government are taking steps on a broad range of measures—not merely disability benefits—that the previous Government never had the courage to take.
For example, consider a young person who wishes to go to university. Under the Labour Government they were scared to do so because they could not guarantee that their care package would be made portable. With this Government’s Care Bill, we are doing just that. How can we put a price on aspiration? How can we quantify hope? What do I say to disabled people using an organisation in my constituency that has just introduced a “Safe Journey” card they can show on trams to ensure that it pulls away more slowly and they do not get flung to the ground? How are such things incorporated into the precious cumulative impact assessment? So much that can be done for the disabled community will never appear in any impact assessment, but it can be reflected in what we are doing with the “Fulfilling Potential” initiative.
I begin to despair at so much of what I hear from the Opposition Benches and it makes me truly angry. I pay tribute to the previous Government for their work to try to improve awareness of disability hate crime. However, I react with fury to the reaction of so many Opposition Members when the reporting of incidents of disability hate crime increases because of work done by this Government, and the previous Government, to create an atmosphere in which people are more confident to report such crime. We are told that an increase in the reporting of hate crime is evidence of the Government’s war on the disabled. I find that disgusting. It is personally abhorrent that people should campaign in a partisan way on the backs of those in the most vulnerable section of our society, to make a partisan point. That does nothing.
The contribution of disabled people to this country goes far wider than the amount they receive in benefits. I recognise, however, that we cannot talk of aspiration or fulfilling potential if we do not have a stable system of state support. We are trying to ensure that the right people get the right amount of money to match their needs, abilities and aspirations to work, live their lives and fulfil their ambitions, not match the labels hung around their necks by the Labour party.
I have great respect for the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), and although I do not agree with everything he said, like my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), he brought some reality to a debate that so far—I am referring to contributions from the Government Benches—does not seem to relate to the world in which I live, the people I meet, or the families I represent.
The Minister read out what seemed to be a civil service briefing, but disabled people watching that are too accustomed to being asked to fill in large forms and all sorts of bureaucracy to be impressed by such an approach. We did not hear from Government Members of organisations such as Save the Children, Mencap, Radar, Enable and so on, which have proof of the cuts the Government are making, and particularly the disproportionate impact of those cuts on disabled people.
Let us return—it is right to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker—to the bedroom tax. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), who has now left the Chamber, basically defended what the Government are proposing, as did the Prime Minister right from the beginning. The Minister did not say, however, that the Government have since done two U-turns.
What is the policy of the Labour Front Benchers? Their position regarding the bedroom tax seems to be all over the place. We have heard that the Leader of the Opposition has said that Labour would not repeal it, yet in this debate the Labour Front Benchers have suggested that they would.
There was a time when I was on the Front Bench and I might have been happy to respond to that point. I am satisfied that the Labour party will present to the British people at the election a manifesto that they will endorse. I will fight and fight again, whatever Government are in power, to ensure that this monstrosity of legislation does not remain on the statute book.
Let us examine what the bedroom tax means to ordinary people in our constituencies. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) said, two thirds of those affected by the bedroom tax have a disability. That is absolutely outrageous. How can the Government have seriously considered putting in place such a proposal? According to an estimate by the National Housing Federation, 2,128 households will be affected in my constituency, and according to the Government’s own estimates 1,419 of them—along with 83,000 in Scotland and more than 400,000 throughout the country—are occupied by someone with a disability.
The Government claim that they are putting the housing market in a more appealing position. However, when we look at statistics—indeed, before we even do so—we know that there are simply not enough houses with the right facilities to which to remove disabled people if they have an extra bedroom. I have thought during the debate about several disabled people in my constituency and others I have met throughout the country. Two or three years ago, a young woman in my constituency was dying of variant CJD. She needed her bedroom, and she also needed another bedroom to accommodate the equipment that she desperately needed, including her supply of oxygen. How can we allow the Government to remove disabled people to smaller houses, when we know that those houses are simply not there?
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Has he encountered in his surgeries a family like I have in mine? They are a disabled couple in their 50s who need to move out of an upstairs flat because it is not accessible. They are being denied homes that would be accessible for them, such as those that already have a stairlift, because of the bedroom tax. The tax means that people have to move, and it restricts future choice too.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Even if there were sufficient accommodation for this huge change to take place, the trauma that people with disabilities, and in many cases their carers, will be asked to go through is simply unacceptable.
Each of the people I have described stands to lose a minimum of £401 a year. At a time of rising fuel costs and rising prices in the shops, that £401 can be the difference between having electricity or not, having a warm home or not, or having three meals a day or not. The bedroom tax is creating fear and despair among the most vulnerable in my constituency and the country.
Again, that is a good point. I think of a constituent whose case I raised with the Prime Minister. I visited her the day after our exchange. Her house has been adapted because she is in a wheelchair, which she has to use upstairs as well as downstairs, so she needed a lift. That lift was provided in one of the rooms of her house. Are we to believe that it would help society for that woman to move to a smaller house, which would also have to be adapted? Where is the sanity of that, far less the decency?
They are not. If the hon. Gentleman reads the regulations, the two U-turns to which I referred to do not include heavily adapted homes, but we will continue to fight for that.
Briefly on local government, we are told that the Government have increased funding for discretionary housing payments through local authority funds and that that will be enough, but we have seen a 338% increase in people applying for discretionary housing payments. Local authorities—I say this as a former president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—simply cannot find the money. The Government cannot keep cutting, cutting and cutting again and then say the responsibility lies with local authorities when every single pressure has been put on them.
Personal independence payments are replacing disability living allowance. They will be paid at a different rate and the Government estimate that 600,000 fewer people will be eligible, all because the Government wish to reduce costs by 20%. Balancing the books, as they see it, is being done on the backs of disabled people, and that cannot be right.
On the Work programme, we have been told that the Government want to get people with disabilities into work. That is an admirable objective, and one that I have supported for a very long time, but the Government must know that there are simply not enough jobs available, not only for people with disabilities but for others on benefits too.
In 1986, I had the privilege of introducing what I hoped was a progressive Act relating to disability. I think of the people who supported it: Jack Ashley, Alf Morris and others on both sides of the House. It went through under a Thatcher Government. I say to Government Members to read what the Whips have told them to say and read what the civil servants have prepared, but to think and think again about how this policy affects ordinary people who are already disadvantaged, and, in all morality, to reject what the Government are seeking to do.
I am grateful to be called in this debate.
I can assure the House that the Whips have not told me anything about what to say; they have not given me any guidance. What I am going to say comes from my experience as a constituency MP of having to deal with a number of cases that relate to Government policy.
On the so-called bedroom tax—the spare room subsidy—the Government are doing absolutely the right thing. If we consider that about a third of social housing tenants have spare rooms, and that about 1.8 million households remain on the social housing waiting list, we see that there is an imbalance. I saw this last year in a constituency surgery—a 58-year-old lady lived in a house with four bedrooms. She objected, as was her right, to the bedroom subsidy, yet at the same time—I am not divulging any confidences—her daughter and her daughter’s partner and their baby were living in a bedsit in the borough in my constituency. Clearly, there was a mis-match. It did not make sense for the lady to be living in a four-bedroom house at the taxpayers’ expense, while her daughter and granddaughter were living in a bedsit.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking about disabled people. Approximately one in four disabled people in Scotland in social housing will be liable to pay the bedroom tax, but need that spare room as a direct result of their disability. Does he think that is fair?
I was mindful that we were talking about disability, but I wanted, at the beginning of my speech, to say that the Government were doing the right thing with the spare room subsidy.
When the disability living allowance was introduced in 1992, the number of recipients was one third of what it is today; the number of people has tripled in 20 years. That does not reflect the changing work environment in Great Britain.
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that since 1992 the lives of disabled people have been transformed? In 1992, the expectation was that most disabled people would live in residential care as they got older, but now people are living in the community. Furthermore, the working-age increase has not been as dramatic as Ministers would like us to believe.
I accept that society has changed since 1992, but there has been a marked increase in costs. We cannot pretend, like Labour, that there is not an issue. As the shadow Secretary of State said, we need to have reform; the problem is that too many Opposition Members do not understand what that reform entails. To me, reform means directing funds to the people who are most vulnerable and who most need it.
I am happy to have taken that intervention. The projected figure of £13 billion is more in real terms than the figure in 2009-10 provided by the previous Government. That means not just more money, as my hon. Friend suggests, but more money directed at the people who need it the most. We are trying to reform the system, and we will succeed in doing so. We are taking an adult and mature view of the public finances and trying to direct scarce resources to people who most need them.
It is all very well for Opposition Members to howl, holler and cry about cuts—that is what one expects them to do; they are doing their job—but Government Members have to take a mature and responsible approach to the public finances and introduce meaningful reform that we can afford and which can best help the most vulnerable.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain the economics of the situation to the 10,000 carers who expect to lose their carer’s allowance and who have probably already given up work to care? If they stop caring, there will be no saving in moving from DLA to PIPs and in all those people losing their DLA, because if their carers stop caring for them, they will end up in much more expensive state care homes.
I am happy to have taken that intervention, but I must say that Opposition Members have totally ignored this issue of reform. We cannot continue on the basis that nothing has happened, that there are limitless resources and that we can simply give more money to more people; that is completely unacceptable. It is clear from any engagement with the electorate or any look at the polls or surveys of public opinion that the public have had enough. That is one of the problems with Labour’s political strategy. On welfare reform, it is completely incredible.
I fear that that will be the last intervention that I take. In the first instance, it is not about trying to cut how much money people get; its purpose is to direct the funds, recognising the expenditure constraints. The Opposition, in their robotic insistence on very simple, clear messages that are completely false and not based on any sense of reality, have forgotten about that. Considering that the DLA budget has gone up £10 billion in real terms—that is more than the Home Office budget or what we receive from capital gains tax and inheritance tax—it is vital that we are more sensible and intelligent in how we apply those funds.
It is perfectly clear to me that the PIP reform will be much more intelligently applied than the DLA, the costs of which spiralled, as I have suggested. We had a self-regulatory system, whereby people could essentially say that they were eligible for the benefit.
I am not taking any more interventions. I have been perfectly generous enough and time is short.
I am afraid this is not something that Labour Members are taking seriously. They are not taking reform seriously and are wilfully in denial about the scale of the fiscal mess that they made. It is disappointing that any constructive attempt by those of us on the Conservative Benches to reform our welfare system and introduce a measure of added fairness and greater efficiency—in terms of targeting people who need the money—is met by the same old stale cries and hollering from the Opposition. This is not a constructive debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) suggested, in a powerful and compelling speech, that the whole tone of the debate was demeaning to people who are vulnerable. The language is very much that of people who are victims and of trying to apply more money or thinking that money is the solution to everything, but there is a much wider range of criteria against which the issue can be discussed.
Lastly, I want to say something about the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who represents Labour on this issue. He was the man who wrote that there was no money. It is important that the House is reminded of that. That is the general context in which this debate has to take place. A Government who are trying to reform are doing the right thing.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). However, I have a sense of “Groundhog Day”, because the last time I rose to speak in a debate on this issue, he and his hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) were again the two poor souls who had been forced to stand up and try to defend the Government’s position. I am grateful for their contributions, although the other reason I have a sense of “Groundhog Day” is that I remember the same accusations being thrown around about extremist disability groups. Let us be clear who we are talking about.
The hon. Gentleman should first allow me to spell this out for him, then I will be happy to take his intervention. Does he include in his definition of “extremist disability groups” Citizens Advice, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Margaret Blackwood, Leonard Cheshire, Capability Scotland, Scope and many others that have today supported the call made by Opposition Members? Although I express my gratitude to my right hon. Friends on our Front Bench for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue, the praise should really go to those organisations, which have continued to champion the cause of people with disabilities. I hope the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys will now make it clear whether he thinks those organisations are “extremist”.
I will deal with the question from the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys first.
That wide range of views includes people who think that adults and children with disabilities and special needs should be shut away from society and protected, and those who think the complete opposite—that they should be fully integrated into society. There can also be a degree of tokenism, and we sometimes hear terms such as “real inclusion”, “rehabilitation” and “normalisation” being used. I do not agree with the stand that those people take. I note that the hon. Gentleman, in asking his question, did not answer my question to him.
No, I have given the hon. Gentleman one opportunity to answer it. He had seven minutes in which to put the record straight, but he did not do so. I am going to make some progress now.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions does not like it when the human cost of the changes he is making are brought to his attention. We saw just how angry he can get when Owen Jones presented him with some case studies on “Question Time”. That is what this debate is about. I found it incredibly moving when my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) asked her question of the Prime Minister today and described someone calling her office who was feeling suicidal because of the impact of the changes. I am not for one minute suggesting that Ministers are wilfully causing that kind of suffering and harm, and, at times, I defend them in that regard. However, I get very angry e-mails using language that is inappropriate, even when attacking the Government, and the Government are going to have to acknowledge at some point that there is a very different feeling out there of the kind that we have never seen before. We are hearing that from Welfare Rights, from Citizens Advice and from the people who contact us and come to our surgeries. I would never have believed that, as a Member of Parliament, I would have to put in place procedures for my staff to deal with a constituent whom they believe to be at risk of taking their own life. At some point the Government are going to have to respond to that, not with anger but by taking seriously the impact of these changes on people with mental health problems.
I hope that the Minister will talk today about mental health champions, which were introduced as a result of the review, and that she will tell us what impact they are having. How is she monitoring them? I think that we have two for the whole of Scotland. Is there evidence that they are making a difference?
Is not the whole point of this debate to point out that we need the necessary information in order to see the impact of the benefit changes. Did she see the recent comments from Scope, which indicated that as a result of the changes to employment and support allowance and to the disability living allowance, some 26,000 people could lose between £17,000 and £23,000 over five years? Do not those people deserve the relevant information, and do not we all deserve a cumulative impact assessment?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a valuable contribution to the debate.
I freely admit that I want this Government gone; that is my agenda. It is not a narrow political agenda that has brought all those organisations and disabled people to the House today to make their views heard. They are saying that, as the Government press on with the changes, they need the relevant information. Councils, medical services, social workers and disability organisations also need that information so that they can respond and support people adequately through this process.
Our position on that has been stated time and again. If we were in government today, we would axe the bedroom tax. Of course our manifesto has not been written at this time, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the people who have e-mailed me that I will be pressing the Labour party to make a commitment to axe the bedroom tax. I want to see such a commitment in our manifesto, because it is a grossly unfair tax on people who are often very vulnerable.
I am sorry. Fond as I am of my hon. Friend, I really want to make a bit of progress.
The Government must expect anger in reaction to what they are doing. Let us not forget where this whole process started. We had a proposition to take away the mobility component of DLA from people in residential care. I think that a lot of people who voted for this Government thought it would be a Government who understood the rights of people with disabilities. That was proved absolutely not to be the case—no more so than when the Prime Minister stood at that Dispatch Box and compared someone living in a residential care setting with someone in a hospital. That completely missed the difference between a medical model and a social model of care. The reality is that this Government have been one step behind people with disabilities and the organisations that represent them at every step in the process. That is why they should expect only anger from people out there.
I want to talk a little more about the bedroom tax and the false claim from Government Members—I am sure the Minister will support me in this—that the Government have exempted from the regulations and removed from the impact of the bedroom tax people with disabilities who have adapted their homes. That is not the case. As I understand it, that is the case only when support is also offered. The Minister will no doubt be aware that in Scotland, we are undergoing a change in the way people with disabilities are empowered to buy their own care through direct payments. This means that many people, whom I hope she would have included in the exemptions from the tax, will no longer be exempted, because they are being empowered to buy their care and not receive it from the provider who owns the property in which they live. That seems to me to be an unfair imposition.
Finally, I ask the Minister to respond to the court ruling on the Gorry case, where a child with a severe disability was sharing a room with a sibling. The court ruled that it was discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010 to compel the child to share a room, given the extent of his disability. Will the Government act on this, and most of all, will they give the organisation that is going to have to support people through this incredibly difficult process the information it needs? They should support this motion. Let us see the true extent of this problem so that these people can be supported.
Just a few hours ago, I was delighted and hugely proud to be with my constituent, Nathan Popple, as he received the award from Whizz-Kidz as this year’s Whizz-Kidz campaigner of the year. Nathan has shown incredible courage, determination and dedication, not just in organising this campaign but in speaking up on behalf of disabled people of all ages in Leeds. I am proud, too, to work with Whizz-Kidz and its inspirational ambassadors to ensure that the voice of disabled people of all ages, but particularly young disabled people who have so much potential, is heard.
There is, of course, a partisan element to today’s debate, but we all need to remember that what we all seek to try to do—we know that all Governments succeed in part and fail in part to achieve this—is to give all disabled people the opportunity to live, to work and to do the sorts of things that we all take for granted. We want all people, including people with disabilities, to be able to take those things for granted by providing them with the support that they need.
The hon. Gentleman was right and honest in what he said in his introduction. The facts in my constituency—and, I suspect, in many others—are that people are being turned down for employment support allowance and disability living allowance in greater numbers than ever before. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) mentioned “Groundhog Day”, but it is not “Groundhog Day” when it comes to the statistics, which show greater numbers of people affected. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the system needs to be reviewed so that those who need the benefits most are not restricted from receiving them?
I say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, the experience of all right hon. and hon. Members is crucial; each and every one of us should be bringing constituents’ cases not only to this House, but to Ministers. That is part of how we learn.
Secondly, all Governments must be prepared to do full impact assessments of policies before they are implemented, as has been done, and then to review them constantly. I do not want the message to be sent out that the Government are afraid of doing that. We need a constant and ongoing review, and I hope we get that message. I have made that point specifically about the under-occupancy penalty, to give that policy its honest and factual name.
We have to accept that there were many flaws in the system inherited by the Government. Although undoubtedly well intentioned and in some ways positive, the Welfare Reform Act 2007 had flaws and did not always do the kind of things that we would all want it to do. It was right that it was reviewed.
The question that we should ask, and I hope we will all ask today, is not about whether reform was needed, because it very clearly was, but about whether the reforms are the right ones. We should be asking that question continually, and not from a partisan perspective on either side. Are the reforms working and delivering for disabled people? If and where they are not working, we should look into that. I have no problem in saying that and urging Ministers to review the situation on an ongoing basis.
In the course of the debates about the Welfare Reform Bill, people predicted that a number of specific issues would be difficult. For example, there was an amendment suggesting that adapted properties should be exempted from the bedroom tax. Does the hon. Gentleman now regret that his party did not support those changes?
I pay tribute to the work of the Work and Pensions Committee, of which I was proud to be a member in the last Parliament. It has a vital role to play and I look forward to its ongoing reports, which should be part of the review of these policies.
The hon. Lady knows, having listened to me in debates on more than one occasion, that I personally felt unable to support the under-occupancy penalty precisely because there were not the sort of exemptions that I believed should be included. I thank Ministers for listening to at least some of my points and introducing further exemptions before the policy was introduced, but I would like more exemptions and I will continue to press for them.
During our last debate on the subject, I stood in this exact place—the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) was probably very near where she is now—and said that the Government must and should commit to a review on the specific policy. We did get that commitment. There must be a review, which should be done not only through the Department for Work and Pensions but in conjunction with councils up and down the country, so that we get an open and honest assessment of how the policy is affecting disabled people.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous. People living in a house specifically adapted for them have to pay the bedroom tax and therefore often have to apply for a discretionary housing payment. In most cases, they will get that payment into the future, which suggests that the payment should not be discretionary but automatic. Could the hon. Gentleman use that fact in his argument with Ministers about why those living in specifically adapted houses should be exempt?
It is always a pleasure to hear from the hon. Lady and it was a pleasure to serve with her on the Work and Pensions Committee in the last Parliament, before she was Chair.
The hon. Lady knows that I have said that we should be discussing cases in which rooms deemed to be spare have not been spare. Some of those issues were dealt with in respect of the equipment needed and so on, and I was pleased with that. However, I feel that if discretionary payments are needed again and again and categories are established, those categories should warrant an exemption. I will continue to make that case and to push for a review.
In the limited time that I have left, I should look at some of the other issues covered in this broad debate, which the House should revisit regularly. It should discuss the issue at least twice a year because the situation is in a state of flux, which has been brought about, in part, by the economic situation and the need to look at the overall welfare budget, which all parties, including the Labour party, very clearly said needs to be reformed. We should also do so, however, to check on the positive reforms and make sure that these policies are indeed doing what we collectively want them to do. The Opposition were clear that DLA needed reform; indeed, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who opened the debate for the Opposition, said that.
To respond to a point made earlier, it is very important that the wrong messages are not given out today, because the reality is that overall spending on personal independent payments and DLA will be higher in real terms in every year up to 2015-16 than spending was on DLA to 2009-10. This is not about seeking to reduce the welfare budget, therefore; instead it is about directing it at people who need it, and looking in particular at what people can do and genuinely empowering them, rather than judging people on what they cannot do.
Does that mean PIP will be absolutely perfect in a way that DLA was not? Of course not, and we all have to accept that every single change to any benefit will have implications and consequences, and it is right that we should look at them, but simply to use this debate as an opportunity to bash the Government on policy fails to achieve what I hope is the Opposition Front-Bench team’s intention: to say we must be looking on an ongoing basis at the impact of these policies.
I want to hear from Ministers today that they are not in any way afraid of having a review and that there must be a constant review of all policies in this area. My position on the motion is that I believe we should have a proper assessment, but that we should have one next year. That is my position simply because the big change from DLA to PIP is being introduced this year. I do believe we should have a review, however, and I hope we hear that from the Minister, too, so we do not send out the false message that we do not want a review.
I am grateful to my Front-Bench colleagues for choosing to debate this cause, which I brought to the House’s attention in a Westminster Hall debate at the end of last year, on 18 December, when I urged the Minister for disabled people, the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), to conduct a cumulative impact assessment on the real-term effects of welfare reform on the most vulnerable people in our society. I am sure she will remember that very well-attended debate.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have repeatedly lectured us about the need for fairness and said that we are all in this together. However, it is clear that it is not the richest, most powerful and most able in our society who will pay the costs of this Government’s cold calculation and uncaring disregard. Instead, it will be the least able, the most vulnerable and the least powerful—the disabled—who will pay the price.
We call for a cumulative impact assessment because a range of cuts and changes is taking place at the same time, and we need to assess their cumulative effect. I am sure Members have read, or at least heard of, the report “The Tipping Point” by the Hardest Hit campaign, which concluded:
“Many disabled people feel that they are living on the edge, and that the loss of even a small amount of income could tip their already complex lives into greater dependence and insecurity.”
That has been brought into stark relief by campaigns outside this House by organisations such as the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, Mind and Carers UK, and the WOW petition and Pat’s petition. They have brought this to our attention, although I think Members already knew about it because in our surgeries we and our caseworkers are dealing with it in person, on the telephones and via e-mail on a daily basis.
“The Tipping Point” study discovered that disabled people and their families are struggling to make ends meet and feel increasingly nervous about the future, and because of that the Government need to act urgently to arrest disabled people’s slide into entrenched isolation and poverty. Members have heard of Pat’s petition, which had been signed by 62,500 people at the last count that I saw. It called on the Government to:
“Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families”.
I ask the Government not only to listen, but to act.
Let us look at the elements of welfare reform that are having an impact on disabled people, and their carers and families. The introduction of the universal credit will result in 2 million households seeing a drop in their income, with disabled people being among those worst affected. The DWP’s own equality impact assessment from November 2011 predicted that disabled households would lose £37 a week, compared with a figure for non-disabled households of only £26 a week.
Another major change is the introduction of the personal independence payment. Last year, in a Westminster Hall debate, the Minister with responsibility for disability matters said that 160,000 claimants would get a reduced award and 170,000 would get no award—that was before a single individual assessment had taken place, so it was a very mean prediction. That announcement concerned me greatly, given that the Minister already had figures on those who would get a reduced award and those who would receive no support before any assessments had taken place. Surely that suggests that the Minister is capping the number of those on PIP, rather than basing that benefit on individual need.
The issue of contribution-based employment and support allowance is affecting many of my constituents. The time limit of 365 days—one year—on those in the work-related activity group, and its retrospective implantation, is forcing many disabled people on to jobseeker’s allowance, given that there is no magic tree spouting jobs these days in places such as north-east England. As I am sure the Minister is aware, unemployment there is going up, not down, yet we seem to be expecting more people with disabilities, or profound disabilities, to get into the world of work, where jobs are already scarce.
Let me give an example from my constituency. It concerns a lady suffering from bronchial pulmonary dysplasia, who was too ill for a heart and lung transplant and who had been on steroids for 37 years. She had brittle bones—osteoporosis—kidney failure and was unable to walk. She regularly had fractures, she had osteoarthritis and she was diabetic. She was initially placed in the work-related activity group and told she would need to find work. As I am sure hon. Members have already fathomed out, she was housebound and bedridden. Thankfully, intervention from my office and other support groups showed that the DWP had clearly made a mistake and it was forced to retract that initial assessment.
I do not wish to talk extensively about the bedroom tax, but so many people who face it do not have spare rooms. These rooms are used to store specialist equipment or are for a family carer, often a spouse or a partner, to sleep in; if those rooms were not available, they would not get that much-needed sleep. We need to remember that those carers save the Government about £100 billion a year, because they take on the role of caring for those disabled people almost exclusively.
Before I move on, I need to talk briefly about Atos, its shocking assessments and the assessment process. I would need all day to discuss that, but I shall just say that the citizens advice bureau in Gateshead has undertaken 1,400 appeals on behalf of people, 1,200 of which have been successful.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just the welfare reform assessments that are affecting the people with disabilities, but the legal aid changes, which meant that people can no longer appeal against these welfare benefit decisions with help from the CAB?
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention, as she describes exactly why we need this cumulative impact assessment. So many different strands to this debate are having an impact on disabled people, and their carers and families.
Before I finish my contribution, I want to refer to a website, calumslist.org, which shows how many suicidal deaths have been directly attributed to welfare reform by a coroner’s court. The total so far is 33. When we had the debate in Westminster Hall in December the figure was 24, so that cost is going up by the month. We need to ensure that the assessment criteria take proper account of the full range of barriers faced by people with disabilities and health conditions, making the assessment and reassessment processes as simple, transparent and proportionate as possible and ensuring that robust evaluation and monitoring processes are in place. We need to bring all the strands together—the bedroom tax, housing, the welfare reform and the changes to legal aid. All those things will have an impact on people’s capacity to deal with the real changes occurring in their lives day by day. I ask all Members to support the motion.
Research published in March by the think-tank Demos and by the disability charity Scope, which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) mentioned earlier, revealed that by 2017-18, 3.7 million disabled people will collectively lose £28 billion as a result of the Government’s cumulative benefit changes. If Scope and Demos can do a cumulative impact assessment, why cannot the Government? That is a staggering expropriation from arguably the most deprived and disadvantaged section of the entire population and it is perhaps worth rehearsing quickly the range of the cumulative impact: the incapacity benefit reassessment; the reassessment of the personal independence payments; the overall cap; the universal credit; the time limitation of employment support allowance; the change to local housing allowance; the bedroom tax; the abolition of the independent living fund; the 1% cap on benefit uprating; the localisation of and 10% cut in council tax benefit; and the 1% cap on various benefits and tax credits. That is the range of it.
The study found that 123,000 disabled people faced three benefit cuts that will lose them an income of £18,000 in the five years to 2018. A group of nearly 5,000 disabled people will suffer a combination of six benefit cuts, losing a total of £23,000 each over five years. That works out as £88 per week per person, which for people on the breadline is absolutely huge.
The gratuitous harshness of the Government’s treatment of disabled people comes out mostly in the initial attack on and forthcoming abolition of the independent living fund. The ILF gave new life, engagement, mobility and participation to severely disabled people. Two years ago, the Government closed the fund to any new claims and now they will devolve it to local authorities. Let me ask the Minister some questions—and I expect a reply. Will that be ring-fenced when it goes to local authorities? Will it be the same level of expenditure, with no reduction in public spending of the kind that the Government slipped in when they made the switch from DLA to PIP or in the devolution of the council tax benefit?
Then we have Atos and the work capability assessments. Frankly, the ESA system is simply not working. A Citizens Advice study found that nearly half the Atos reports included inaccuracies that were so serious that they would have affected the decisions made and 70% of them included incorrect factual recordings of the history given. Reviews have found considerable variability in decision making, and there is a 42% success rate at appeal; the rate is much higher when the individual disabled person is represented. There is a very low employment rate among claimants 12 to 18 months after the decision.
The inherent problems that remain with the ESA are legion. The descriptors do not capture a person’s state of health in a way that reflects their ability to work, while medical evidence from those who have detailed, accurate and relevant knowledge is ignored. The assessors lack the time, ability and medical knowledge to understand an individual’s condition and how it relates to work and the assessment is irrelevant to work because no attempt is made to discover what work an individual is supposed to be capable of doing.
As so many disabled persons who have been through the process have said, the worst aspect of the employment and support allowance assessment is fear and insecurity. There is the belief that a test has been created for people to fail, no matter how sick they are; the stress that makes ill-health worse; and the stress and uncertainty of repeated assessments, which are like a sword of Damocles hanging over people perpetually.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) referred to Calum’s List. I thought 30 people had died; he says it is now 33. In nine cases, the family believe that stress triggered the death, and in 20 the person took their own life. Who is responsible for this bleak, unforgiving trail of misery? Behind Atos stands the Department for Work and Pensions, with its guidelines, regulations and descriptors, which underpin the Atos work; its targets—which are, of course, denied—for return-to-work decisions; and the sanctions to make sure that the assessors produce results.
One of the things that I find regrettable about this debate and previous debates that I have taken part in is that Government Members feel as though they are engaged in some sort of academic exercise; they are talking about statistics, rather than the impacts on real people.
I have certainly felt that. The Minister made an extraordinarily complacent and bland statement; he read out a speech that he was given by a civil servant as though he was seeing it for the first time. [Interruption.] I am referring not to the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), but the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban); we will judge the Under-Secretary in a moment. The speeches from those on the Government Benches have been extraordinarily disappointing, but I want to keep to the subject of the debate.
Behind the DWP stands the Treasury and the Chancellor, who have parcelled out targets for huge expenditure cuts, as we all know, without any prior investigation whatever of the extreme variability in human disability, let alone the wide differentials in job opportunities across the country. This is not an exercise in genuine social policy, but a preconceived shoehorning of the sensitivities of disability into the Chancellor’s unremitting cuts agenda.
If the Under-Secretary wishes me to be a little more positive, I will be, gladly. It is not at all difficult to see what needs to be done. We should make much more use of evidence and the claimant’s own doctor; significantly increase the time available for an assessment; improve assessors’ questioning technique, and preferably transfer that whole function back to the national health service; provide the claimant with a copy of the medical report and an opportunity to discuss inaccuracies with the decision maker; and, above all, greatly improve the descriptors.
I am sorry, but not surprised, that the Minister who spoke earlier has fled the Chamber; it is a pity. As he knows well—the Under-Secretary also knows; I spoke to her about this yesterday—for five months, I have been asking the Minister to meet a representative delegation to discuss these matters. I had to give the Minister a prior commitment—he seemed to need it for self-protection—that it would be a constructive engagement. It will be; we want to work with the Government to make things better, because we care about disabled people far more than we do about attacking the Government, although they deserve that we should. Given that the issue involves 1.5 million seriously disabled people, the reluctance of the Minister responsible, and his procrastination for so long a period as five months, is utterly scandalous. In the Under-Secretary’s reply to the debate, to which I shall listen very carefully, I expect her to tell us exactly when the Minister will meet us.
It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher). I fully support what he said.
I support the motion for a cumulative impact assessment by October 2013, and, like my right hon. Friend, I too speak in particular on behalf of my constituents. I am increasingly in contact with constituents who are struggling and bearing the brunt of the welfare reforms. In addition, other people have contacted me through various social media. As others have said, the effects are beyond a scale that has ever been experienced and unfortunately I believe that they will increase.
We already know from the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis of the Budget that the 40% of poorest households in the country will be worse off as a result of Budget cuts. Within that group the sick and the disabled are even more vulnerable. We have heard that analysis undertaken on behalf of Scope estimated that the six separate social security cuts, including changes to disability living allowance, employment support allowance, the bedroom tax, and the 1% cap on social security measures and the independent living fund will affect 3.7 million people by 2018. In total they will lose £28.3 billion.
From that analysis we know that more than 26,000 people will have the triple whammy of losing ESA and DLA and having their ESA capped at 1%, losing between £17,000 and £23,000. That is in the context of a flatlining economy. Many disabled people do work and many more want to work, but it is impossible in the current economic climate, with an employment rate that is now lower than in 2008. On top of that there is the spiralling cost of living, with energy prices rising by 11% last year and food prices by 29% since 2009.
Councils’ allocation of funding has been pared to the bone, with the average budget being cut by 28%. In my own council area nearly 50% of the budget has been cut, with another £50 million to find by 2015. As social care represents 25% of the council’s budget, the further impact that the cuts will have on this most vulnerable group is frightening.
I attended a meeting with disabled people, their families and carers in Oldham recently, along with my right hon. Friend. Their fear for the future was palpable. They were terrified, particularly parents with adult disabled children, who did not know what would happen to their children and what they could expect. Their fear was born out of their experience in the past and what had been before. We have seen changes in opportunities for disabled people to live more normal lives. They feel that their situation is going backwards.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has stated that
“we conclude that there is a risk of retrogression of the UK’s obligations under Article 19”—
which enshrines the right to independent living for disabled people—
“as a result of the cumulative impact of spending cuts and reforms.”
The Committee called on the Government
“to improve its capacity to conduct equality impact assessments, in particular to go beyond piecemeal analysis of each measure by assessing the proposed provisions as a whole, including their cumulative impact on individuals and groups, from an equality perspective”.
As has been said, if Demos can do that on behalf of Scope, why on earth cannot the Government do it? It is disgraceful.
We have heard about some of the issues relating to the work capability assessment. There was a case in my constituency of somebody having a heart attack while he was in the middle of going through a WCA. He was told by the nurse conducting the WCA that he had to go to hospital, and then he received a letter telling him that he had been sanctioned. What on earth is going on? This is not the behaviour of a civilised Government.
I want to put on the record that this is about Government choices. The choices that the Government make are underpinned by their ideology. They are demonising people who are receiving benefits, creating antipathy and resentment in people who are not receiving benefits, creating an “us and them” culture through this antipathy to social security recipients, and then quietly dismantling our welfare system.
As I have said before, and as I will carry on saying, I am proud of the welfare system we developed. It was born out of the second world war, when we really were all in it together. I want to retain that model, with its principles of inclusion, support and security for all, protecting any one of us should we fall on hard times or become disabled. It ensures that we have the basics and dignity in our lives.
Fortunately, the British public are starting to see through what the Government are doing. As British social attitudes surveys consistently show, they want a fairer and more equal society, not a divided one. Trend analysis that I have undertaken in conjunction with sociologists from Oxford university shows that, rather than losing support for social security, the British people are a good barometer of what is right and just. When the myths about what the Government are doing are exposed, most people do not want a further downgrading of social security.
Instead of demonising the poor and the disabled, we need to get the economy moving and tackle the massive private sector debt of our financial institutions, which is 400% of GDP and rising. That is the real issue, not sovereign debt, as the Government like to say, and it is getting worse. We should not be giving tax breaks to the wealthiest in society—£3 billion to over 300,000 people earning more than £150,000 a year—at the expense of the most vulnerable. I think that says it all.
I support the Opposition motion. I was sad to hear some of the comments from the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), because no Opposition Members have tried to patronise or insult disabled people. The fact is that we recognise that financial equality for everyone must be preserved, and we know that disabled people will be fundamentally more affected by the proposed changes than others.
Therefore, the fact that we are requesting something very simple—an assessment of the cumulative impact of these right-wing changes on disabled people—is nothing unusual. In fact, as a responsible Opposition who stand up for people, that is exactly what we should be asking for. It was not very helpful when the Minister, in response to my intervention, effectively said, “Well, the previous Government never carried out an assessment, so why should we?” That is just not good enough. They are the Government and they have brought in far-reaching changes, so the assessment should be carried out.
I also know from the Remploy factory in my constituency, which I visited when it was still open, and from speaking to many disabled people, some of whom are my constituents, that they want to work and to fulfil their potential. However, all the changes that are being made will have an impact on them, and we want to protect them.
I want to talk briefly about some of the proposed changes and why we think they will have more of an impact on the disabled. In the spending review in June this year, the Chancellor announced that for the first time ever there will be a cap on the UK’s welfare spending through changes to the annual managed expenditure. That means that if demand for disability benefit rises in future, there is a substantial risk that disabled people will lose vital financial lifelines. The impact will be that they will be left more exposed to trade-offs within the cap. If the need for housing benefit rises sharply one year, there is a risk that disability benefit will be a lower spending priority.
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 introduced a number of measures, one of which was a new single benefit—universal credit—to replace six income-based benefits and tax credits for people of working age. Around 2 million households will see their income drop when universal credit is introduced, and disabled people will be particularly affected. While the average household will be worse off by £26, the average disabled household will be worse off by £37.
Furthermore, the halving of support for disabled children from £57 a week to £28 a week could see a reduction in income for families with disabled children of up to £1,366 a year—more than £20,000 over the course of a childhood. It is estimated that this change will affect about 100,000 disabled children. The removal of the £58 a week severe disability premium will have a profound impact, affecting 230,000 disabled adults and potentially costing them more than £3,000 a year.
The introduction of the personal independence payment, which is to be rolled out following the abolition of disability living allowance, means that over the next five years as many as 600,000 disabled people will lose £2.62 billion of support. The reforms mean that a disabled person could lose between £20.55 and £131.50 a week in support for the costs of living at home, such as preparing a cooked meal, or the costs of getting out and about aided by a wheelchair.
Another change that is being introduced is the contributions-based employment and support allowance, which is to be subjected to a 365-day limit. It applies to disabled people in the work-related activity group who are assessed as not being able to work immediately but who could, with help and support, return to the labour market in future. This will affect some 700,000 people by the year 2015-16, and of those 40% will lose their ESA completely. This change could force disabled people back into work when they are not ready for it—and, let us face it, there are not many jobs out there in any event—and push them into disposing of any assets they have, with their partners perhaps having to cut back on their working hours. The effects of these changes are likely to be compounded by the Government’s recent decision, set out in the autumn statement, to increase the value of this benefit by only 1% instead of 2.2%, which is the current level of inflation.
Much has been said about the bedroom tax, which reduces housing benefit for a social housing tenant whose accommodation is deemed to be larger than they need and will fall disproportionately on households with a disabled person. The DWP estimates that 670,000 people are under-occupying accommodation in the social rented sector, and of those, two thirds are disabled.
There is also the benefits uprating. Although the Government have confirmed that PIP, ESA for the support group and disability-related tax credits will rise in line with inflation, ESA for the work-related activity group, housing benefit and working tax credit are set to rise by only 1% for three years. Given the cumulative impact of all these reforms, the Government must surely carry out an assessment.
We have heard some excellent speeches outlining the cumulative impact that the Government’s policies will have on disabled people. Many Members’ concerns relate directly to decisions taken by this Government, but many such decisions will be taken by the Scottish Government, by the Welsh Government, or by local authorities, who are also having their funding cut. It is an incredibly complex issue given all the various factors that are leading to disabled people having their living standards cut.
In the area that I represent, of course, we have a devolved Administration—the Scottish Government—and they have carried out work on these issues. A committee has been set up in the Scottish Parliament to look at welfare reform in Scotland. It estimates that in my area, North Ayrshire, £51 million will be taken out of the economy in 2015 by the various changes that have already been put through this Parliament. In the two years leading up to the general election there will probably be a range of further attacks that will have further impacts on the area I represent. The figure of £51 million relates not just to those who are disabled, but to those who will be affected by the various changes in different ways.
The incredibly powerful emotions under discussion are being generated by campaigns outside this place. They have not been cobbled together by special advisers in a back room; they are being led by disabled people themselves, nationally and through various organisations. Some of those organisations have been criticised in this debate, but, to be frank, some hon. Members have spoken ill because they do not appreciate how difficult it is for disabled people to organise themselves to campaign on these issues or how many obstacles they face in getting involved in the political process. The campaigns have involved not only national organisations but many local organisations. In my constituency, for example, the Three Towns carers organisation, which supports carers, campaigns on many of these issues and brings their impact to the attention of politicians.
Whenever I hold events in my constituency on issues such as the bedroom tax and welfare changes, I am visited increasingly often by carers who care for people with disabilities who cannot look after themselves. On hearing their stories, I have absolutely no doubt that it makes no economic or social sense to target this group of people. Often they live in accommodation that has already received a great deal of state investment. Often they live in social housing properties on which a large amount of money has been spent to adapt them to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Putting such people in a situation whereby they may not be able to continue to live in their property makes no sense whatsoever, even on economic grounds.
I was exceptionally pleased to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) on the abolition of the independent living fund. The people who come to see me who care for people with some of the worst forms of disability have a massive fear of the threat to take away the ILF money that enables them to live independently.
The reality is that not all parts of the country will be affected equally. The changes will have a greater effect on certain parts, including deprived areas where people do not live as long as those in wealthier areas. The cumulative impact of an industrial past on such areas means that far more people there are reliant on the benefits under discussion and that, statistically, more of them suffer from illnesses and disabilities than people elsewhere. Members of those communities therefore have less resilience to be able to deal with these kinds of cuts.
My hon. Friend is speaking passionately and eloquently. Does she share my concern about the apparent inconsistencies in the application of discretionary housing payments? For some families it appears to be another layer of means-testing, rather than an assessment of their needs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who represents a neighbouring constituency and whose constituents face similar issues to my own. We heard earlier that the discretionary fund is completely unable to deal with the scale of the problem. I think it was suggested that one in 10 people will be able to get proper compensation from the funds available. There may well be discrepancies throughout the country; geographically, different parts of the country will face different situations.
We know from various studies in Scotland that £1 billion is expected to be taken out of the pockets of those who currently receive disability benefits. Citizens Advice has said that across the UK up to half a million disabled people will lose out, just because of the change to universal credit. As we move towards those changes and the personal independence payment, a cumulative range of impacts will disproportionately affect those with disabilities.
Neither party in the coalition Government has any mandate for such an attack on working people or for targeting those with disabilities. I believe the British people have the right to know the truth, and we should not rely on charities and independent organisations to give us information. We know that the Government do not like impact assessments—we have seen in other areas of policy that they are completely unwilling to provide such assessments regarding what will happen to women or people from ethnic backgrounds. Today we must make it clear that we expect the Government to tell the truth about the impact of their policies on disabled people. If we do that, we will get the support of the British public.
To justify many of their benefit changes the Government have had to construct a narrative that the system required a complete overhaul. I suspect we shall hear that from the Minister when she responds to the debate, so I shall pre-empt it with a narrative about the disability living allowance.
The DLA is old-fashioned and too reliant on physical disabilities. The Minister is fond of saying that the new system will be better for those with learning difficulties, mental health problems and so on, but if overall numbers are to be reduced—nobody has suggested they will not be—and more people with mental health problems are included, who will be excluded? We need to know that.
It has been argued that DLA is too easy to obtain, but more than half of all claims are refused when first applied for. Part of the idea that DLA is too easy to get was set out to the House again by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). He claimed that most people get DLA by filling in a form, which is all they have to do, but that is simply not the case. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions from 2010 state that 16% of decisions are made without “additional” information, other than the form, but that does not mean that medical information is not provided because people send it with the form. Some 36% of decisions are made on the basis of further non-medical information—remember that there may already be medical information—such as phoning the claimant to get more information or speaking to a carer, and 48% of decisions are made on the basis of further medical information or assessment. Worryingly, in a press release from as recently as June this year, the DWP again repeated that more than half of claims are made without any medical information. It is not helpful to keep repeating things that are not accurate.
The other accusation about DLA was that claims are never looked at again, and the June press release stated that 71% of current recipients “get” indefinite rewards. The tense is important because if we read “get”, we presume that something is still ongoing. In fact, in 2010, 77% of new claims were for fixed periods, and 23% were indefinite. The figure in the press release goes back to 1992, when many more indefinite claims were granted. Things have already changed. If we start making policy on the basis of false premises, and create a straw man—as the Government constantly do to justify what they are doing—the chances are that we will get things wrong.
One group of people who are very badly affected by these changes are those in the 45 to 65 age group. If they fall ill, they lose income from their job. For many couples, that means a halving of their income, and of course they will have higher costs for such things as heating. Many lose employment and support allowance after a year if they are in the work-related activity group, often because they have a partner’s earnings, even if that partner works only part time; savings towards their retirement, which they will now have to use up before they ever get to retirement age; or an early retirement pension. Given the forthcoming increase in pension age, people will be in that limbo for a lot longer. The people who have tried to help themselves are being hit particularly hard.
The same group may be among those who do not receive the personal independence payment. Some 66% of those on the lowest rate of DLA are aged over 45, so they are likely to be the most affected. That is also the age at which illness and disability are most likely to occur. If they are tenants, they are also likely to be affected by the bedroom tax. Those are important issues for that group.
Ministers constantly tell us, “Well, we’re not doing a cumulative impact assessment because the previous Government did not do one.” However, it is this Government who boast about carrying out a comprehensive and revolutionary reshaping of the welfare system. If they do not do a cumulative impact assessment when they are doing that, when would they? It is important that that is carried out properly so that we can see what is going on and make the necessary adjustments rather than simply say it will be all right on the night.
First, I thank all the Members who have contributed to today’s Opposition day debate. I particularly thank my colleagues who have spoken. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) highlighted yet again some of the difficulties related to the work capability assessment and Atos, as he consistently has for many months. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), a former shadow spokesperson on disability issues. He bears the scars of trying to get the first Disability Discrimination Act through the House in the teeth of many years of consistent opposition from the then Government. He stands well regarded among many disabled people for the challenges that he took up on their behalf.
I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) and for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) and my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore).
I have highlighted my right hon. and hon. Friends’ contributions, and once again we have seen a certain level of inactivity and disregard among Government Members for debates on disability issues. Three Members have spoken from the Government Benches, and I will come to their comments, but those of us who have attended these debates over the past year or so will recognise that today’s poor turnout and low number of contributions from Government Members is not unusual. That is either because of inactivity, or because they just could not care, or—maybe I will be generous—because they are so embarrassed that they cannot come and defend their own Government’s policies in this Chamber or Westminster Hall.
The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), will know that this is not the first time that Members have asked for a cumulative impact assessment on how Government changes are affecting disabled people. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, who unfortunately is not in his place at the moment, secured a debate on the matter in December.
We have found out one or two interesting facts today. We now have a Minister of State, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), who refuses to meet Members of Parliament unless he has set down the conditions beforehand. Frankly, that is pretty unheard of. I have never come across a Minister who wants the terms of reference—the “positive arguments”, as he put it—before he engages in a discussion. Surely a Minister who is advocating a policy should be prepared to discuss it with Members and representatives of their constituents in private conversation. [Interruption.] No, I say to the Minister that if he wants to be seen as a good, listening Minister, he needs to change his style and start to meet Members of Parliament.
We have heard from colleagues from all over the country. The debate was prompted by—
I will not be sidetracked.
We have seen the number of people who signed Pat’s petition and the WOW petition. The Government’s response to the WOW petition—that they are limited in what cumulative analysis they are able to undertake because of the complexity of the modelling required—is revealing. There are organisations with limited resources that can put together a reasonable cumulative impact assessment. The Minister of State and the Under-Secretary with responsibility for the disabled have a range of experts they can bring to the fore to put together a cumulative impact assessment. Frankly, some of the excuses we have heard today give us an indication of why they do not want to do that.
I hope I am wrong, but the Under-Secretary will no doubt give us two justifications: that Labour did not undertake an assessment; and that it is impossible to do it. The previous Labour Government did not do it because they did not—no previous Government have—put together such a torrent of changes that will impact on the lives of disabled people. [Interruption.] If the Minister of State is so clear that they are positive changes, why is he running away from a cumulative impact assessment? He undermined the Government case on the impossibility of doing an assessment when he answered my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). He said that cumulative impacts are a coalition initiative. Where is the initiative? If he is parading on 4 July that it is a coalition initiative, what has happened to it between 4 July and 9 July? Where has it gone? It has disappeared into the ether like some of his words this afternoon.
What we have heard today is the torrent of change, from the bedroom tax that will not provide an extra bedroom to accommodate equipment a disabled child might need, the families of disabled children who will be £1,300 per year less well off than they were under the old system, to the changes in ESA and the abolition of DLA, with no recognition that even those who are not “the most severely disabled”—the words the Minister will always use—still have additional costs because of their disability.
The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) said that he was angry. I was sorely disappointed by his contribution, because he attempted to paint the people who want to talk about a cumulative impact assessment as extremists. I hope he is not saying that Disability Rights UK, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Mind, Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Carers UK among others, including tens of thousands of people who signed Pat’s petition, are extremists.
With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman attempted to put everybody who has asked for a cumulative impact assessment into an extremist box. If he wants to debate exclusive and mainstream education, I suggest we have a debate on that. There are differing opinions, but disagreeing with him does not make someone an extremist. [Interruption.] I make an exception for the Secretary of State; there’s an extremist, on certain issues, if ever there was one! I ask him, is the Children’s Commissioner, who released a report only last month, an extremist? She said that
“families with disabled children are hit harder by the cuts under all disability definitions”.
It is not extremists saying this; it is not even just Opposition Members—a whole swathe of people are saying it.
This is not just about welfare benefits, and on that I almost agree with the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys: this is not about putting disabled people into a benefits box. I agree that the social model is the right model for disability, but we cannot have a social model if people do not know whether they can have a spare bedroom for their wheelchair or if they do not have enough food on the table because money is being taken from them. [Interruption.] I do not know if the Secretary of State is contributing to the debate or just chuntering from the Front Bench. The DWP press office did not do Ministers any credit when it said:
“There’s a lot of alarmist stories about our welfare reforms but the truth is this Government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people”.
It might look like that from the top of Caxton house, but it does not feel like it in the real world, as some of the testimonies we have heard today verify.
This country has signed up to and ratified the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which I was delighted my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth raised. Is the Minister truly confident that such an onslaught against disabled people is consistent with our responsibilities under the convention, particularly article 19?
I wish to make a genuine offer to the Government that does not ask for anything more than we would expect from any Government: a true and accurate assessment of what their policies mean for the people they govern. We are not asking for coalition Members to vote against any major policy—although I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) say he had strong reservations about certain aspects of the policy—and we are not even asking the Minister or her colleagues to overturn any decisions they have made; we are asking why, if Ministers and coalition Members are so confident that their policies across benefits, social care, access to legal aid and independent living are right, the Government do not do what they should have done months ago and make use of the fantastic policy and analytical capacity in the DWP and the civil service. If it does nothing else, it might help the Prime Minister, who gave a wrong answer this afternoon over the impact of the overnight exemption from the bedroom tax on the families of disabled children. It might help him to understand his own policies.
I welcome this opportunity to put fact where there has been confusion and information where there has been misinformation from the Opposition; to explain the context of the welfare reforms, the vision and the collaborative work done with disabled people and their organisations; to reply to the points, one by one, that I have heard today; and to explain why the cumulative impact assessment is neither possible nor the correct approach, because doing one would provide inaccurate information—something, surely, that no one in the House would want to support.
To be clear, the Government’s overarching ambition is to enable disabled people to fulfil their ambition to be full and equal members of society. That is what we aim to do, so I am pleased to inform the House that, despite what we have heard today, under this Government, disabled people are already experiencing improved outcomes and reduced inequalities as against non-disabled people. Data published last week show that since 2009-10 disabled people have seen improved achievements at degree and GCSE levels and improved employment rates, and there is a reduced proportion of disabled people in relative income poverty. Inequality has also been reduced in a number of areas. The gap in outcomes compared with non-disabled people has narrowed for GCSE achievements, employment rates, income poverty for families with someone who is disabled, and in reported choice and control over people’s lives—something I would have thought the House would welcome.
One thing I am sure we can all agree on is the complexity of disability and the very different life experiences that everyone lives through, so let me talk about the range of people we are dealing with: from people like Stephen Hawking, who has a brain the size of the planet but is very physically disabled, to people who are mentally severely disabled but physically very able, and everybody else in between—from fluctuating to sensory to cognitive. We have to support each one of those. We have to find individual, tailor-made support for each of those people and provide it in an holistic approach, and that is what we are doing, bringing together social care, health, education and all the benefits. What I will say, before—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I have been left with limited time and have many answers to give, I will not be giving way to the right hon. Gentleman, but I will raise some of his points. I would like to point out—he overlooked this—that we spend £50 billion a year on support and benefits for disabled people. That is a fifth higher than the average in Europe, double the rate in America spends and six times that in Japan.
The right hon. Gentleman made an unusual speech today, talking about his new single personal budget. As per normal, we heard no details whatever. How would it be funded? Would it be means-tested? Would he abolish PIP? The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) was asked whether he would reverse the spare rooms subsidy—something he said he would not be doing—but obviously the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) thinks he is above his own leader. He is changing his policy on the hoof.
I have said that I will not be giving way to the right hon. Gentleman, because he spoke rubbish for hours. We will go to—[Interruption.] Crikey! Temper, temper!
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) asked various questions about the work capability assessment and Atos. I really do not get how Labour Members can forget that they introduced it in 2008 or that they gave the contract to Atos until 2015.
I have got nearly two hours of questions to answer, so I will keep going.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) talked about the Remploy figures in Stoke. I can tell him that 110 people left the factory and that 82 engaged with the extra support we were giving. Of those, 30 are now in work and 36 are on Work Choice.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) talked about housing and the spare room subsidy. It is quite incredible that people are not looking at the complexities, at how social housing was not built, but collapsed under the previous Government—we are now building it—or at how the stock is used properly. One thing nobody talked about is the fact that among those on the waiting lists—the 1.8 million—are children who are disabled. There are people on those lists who are disabled. We are looking after those people too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) talked about—
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you could provide me with some guidance. The Minister is obviously choosing not to give way to those on the Opposition Front Bench, but is it appropriate or courteous for her to refuse to give way when she is referring to a point that I have raised in the debate?
My time appears to have been squeezed, but I am giving the House the facts and the reality of the situation. I have very little time to do that.
When the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) talked about a cumulative impact assessment, and about the “Destination Unknown” report, did he know—perhaps he did not—that the report was based on just six households and that it ran to over 100 pages? The people who have talked about cumulative impact assessments today do not realise that they are not based on the complexities of the issue or that the benefits will not have been rolled out until 2017. We cannot stop part-way. It is a dynamic benefit, so none of that is possible.
The Opposition do not seem to understand that, as we cannot do a cumulative impact assessment in the way that they suggest, we have to look at the vision and at what we are trying to create and ask how we are going to get it right. There are key things that we do with that. We have slowed down the process hugely to ensure that we monitor it and look at the progression and at the roll-out, and should anything along the way not be in line with our overall vision, we would stop and alter it. We have done that throughout. That is what we do when we cannot do a cumulative impact assessment. I do not give out misinformation; we get it right. We will also have independent reviews in 2014 to ensure that we are getting it right. Many of the changes, particularly those involving PIP and DLA, will not involve looking at those on indefinite awards until October 2015, after all the analysis has been done.
I am amazed that the Opposition ruggedly pursue something, knowing that they could not do it. As the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) said, Labour never did this. There was a reason for that, but we have found a way round it, which is to analyse the process as we go along. We are implementing very small roll-outs in order to get this right.
I smiled when I heard Citizens Advice being quoted frequently today. Is that the same Citizens Advice that hired Polly Billington, a Labour adviser, in November 2012? She will be head of its campaigns and communications, and is a former senior adviser to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North. Is that why we have to have those definitive quotes all the time? I find it so. Maybe that is why the Opposition are now smiling.
I also want to refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who spoke passionately about everyone fulfilling their potential. That is key to what we are doing. Our latest document, called “Making it Happen” came out on 2 July, and it was produced in collaboration with disabled people and their organisations. This is about supporting them and finding out what their needs, their aspirations, their desires are, and finding out what they want to do and how they want to be portrayed. They have the same dreams as every one of us—yes, they want a job; yes, they want to get married; and yes, they want a family life—and we are supporting them in that.
That is what universal credit is all about. It is about helping people to get into work, to do as little or as much as they can do. It is about giving them extra support, and about tailored allowances. It is also about a tapered relief, which is something that the Labour Government never introduced. Under them, the system was very statist, with people being told, “You must do 16 hours”, and a 98% tax rate sometimes being applied. We are not doing that.
It is taking a long time to get this right, but it is the right thing to do and I am very proud indeed of what we are doing—
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
The Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House welcomes the Government’s leadership in furthering the rights of disabled people; recognises the UK as a world leader in disability rights; notes that approximately £50 billion a year is spent on services for disabled people, including adult social services and including an investment of £3.8 billion in health and social care services in England to deliver more joined-up services to disabled people; further notes the £350 million allocated by the Government for programmes and support for disabled people to move into and stay in work; and acknowledges the Government’s collective determination to build upon the London 2012 Paralympic Games, and create a legacy which shines a light on the abilities and achievements of disabled people.