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Disabled People

Volume 577: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014

1. What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. (903033)

3. What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. (903035)

6. What assessment he has made of the cumulative effect of the Government's policy programme on disabled people. (903039)

The Treasury regularly produces analysis of the cumulative impact of coalition changes, including welfare. However, even independent bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies do not feel that results can be broken down reliably for the disabled community.

In my Stockton North constituency, 860 disabled people have been referred to the Work programme, but only 60 have found employment as a result. Does the Minister agree that a 7% success rate is appalling? What will he do to ensure that Work programme contractors provide greater specialist support for disabled people to help them into work instead of abandoning them?

There was only one Government who abandoned disabled people on the Work programme and that was the previous Administration, and that is the truth. We will not allow that to happen. We will work very closely—[Interruption.] Opposition Front Benchers can try to shout me down, but it is the truth, and everyone knows it is the truth. Yesterday I was in Leeds where we talked to employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to give them the confidence to employ people with disabilities and long-term illnesses.

The Government finally seem to have woken up to the scale of the problems that Atos has in delivering the work capability assessment. Why then has it been awarded the personal independence payment contract when it is clear that it has such serious capacity problems?

We are doing something to address the Atos WCA contract that the previous Government brought in. We are working with it to get it out of that programme, because we are not happy with the quality. We will work with it and Capita in ensuring that PIP produces exactly what it needs to do.

A disabled constituent of mine, in common with many others, has been called in four times for assessment by Atos and had his entitlement docked. He has gone to appeal, had a successful result, and had it reinstated four times. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about setting a limit on the number of times that Atos can call in people for a reassessment in any given period? It is a total waste of public money as well as causing immense distress to constituents.

That is exactly what I have been looking at. In particular, I have been looking at tribunal cases, as we have a backlog of cases on the WCA, the policies before PIP and the disability living allowance. I am looking carefully at what is happening. Some can actually go for up to 10 years. That is what I intend to do for people who are desperately in need of the benefit, so that they are not called in as much as they are now.

Does the Minister agree that it is really important that everyone in this country can fulfil their potential and do really well in the workplace? To that end, what is being done to engage employers and help disabled people do really well in business?

As I have said, we have a programme going round the regions at the moment—it was started by the Prime Minister in London—to give employers the confidence to take on employees and to break the myth that it is more expensive and more difficult to employ disabled people or people with long-term illnesses. We all know that they will give more loyalty, dedication and commitment than anyone else in the work place.

I welcome the written statement from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), that discretionary housing payments can be made available for long-term or indefinite periods for disabled people. Will the Minister ensure that that applies across the board so that people do not have to keep being reassessed when there is no realistic prospect of them recovering?

That is exactly what I am looking at now, as I alluded to in my answer to the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). We want to ensure that when someone has gone to appeal and won at the tribunal, they are not called back in, because there is a suspicion that that is vindictive. We will ensure that that does not happen.

The introduction of personal independence payment requires applicants to complete a demanding form—I am sure that the Minister would call it rigorous—so what assistance is his Department providing to people who are blind or partially sighted in completing the paperwork?

PIP is replacing disability living allowance, less than 6% of the recipients of which ever had a face-to-face assessment. At the moment, around 90% to 95% of claimants are being called for a face-to-face assessment, which is much too high, and we will bring that down as much as possible. We are working with the relevant lobby groups, particularly the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to ensure that the information is available in a way that can be used across the board.

This morning I received a letter from my constituent Tracy, a distressed and house-bound disabled woman who put in a claim for PIP last August but is still waiting for a home visit. She has been told that she might have to wait another six months. It is yet another example of how disabled people are being failed. What is the Minister going to do about it?

People are waiting too long for PIP assessments, partly because of the number being called for face-to-face assessments—between 90% and 95%— which is much too high. The policy was for that to be about 70%, so I think that it could be reduced further. We are looking carefully at whether it is absolutely necessary for that number of people to be called for assessment. When a face-to-face assessment is not needed, PIP will be granted without it.