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Welfare Reform (People with Disabilities)

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2015

I beg to move,

That this House has considered welfare reform and people with disabilities.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Roger. It is poignant that this debate falls on the very day that the independent living fund closes. A further £1.2 billion is being cut from support for people with disabilities. Such cuts were a hallmark of the Tory-led coalition, and many are concerned that not only will this increase but the cuts will get worse under this Government. My purpose in calling this debate is to highlight where we are now and the effect on disabled people, but I also want to draw attention to the punitive and dehumanising culture that has been part of the delivery of these welfare reforms, which set the tone for the leadership within the Department for Work and Pensions and the Government’s wider tone on social security.

In the final days before next week’s Budget, I urge the Minister to listen to disabled people, their carers and the millions of compassionate people across the UK who are saying that enough is enough. Going back to the 2010 emergency Budget, we know that £500 million was cut within weeks of the general election. The following year the analysis by Demos on behalf of Scope assessed the cumulative impact of the Government’s so-called reforms, and estimated that, by 2018, £23.8 billion of support would have been taken from 3.7 million people with disabilities. Demos identified a total of 13 cuts, of which I shall mention the top few.

First, the indexation of social security payments was changed from the higher retail prices index to the lower consumer prices index, and there was also a 1% cap on the uprating of certain working-age benefits. That cut £9 billion from 3.7 million people. Secondly, people on incapacity benefit were reassessed, and we could have a whole separate debate on that—we had a number of debates in the previous Parliament on the work capability assessment. That cut £5.6 billion of support available to people with disabilities. Thirdly, there was the limiting of the time that disabled people in the work-related activity group are able to receive the employment and support allowance. Such people are now able to receive only two years of support, which is a further cut of £4.4 billion. Fourthly, and this is four of 13 cuts, disabled people in receipt of disability living allowance are being reassessed to determine whether they are eligible for the personal independence payment, which is another cut of £2.62 billion.

How have the Government managed that? How has there been buy-in from the public? How can such draconian cuts be acceptable? Part of the Government’s strategy has been the invidious spreading of a culture of blame and fear. In the 1980s we saw the unions being targeted; today the focus is on the poor and the vulnerable. The narrative associated with the so-called welfare reforms has been one of divide and rule, deliberately attempting to vilify people who receive social security as the new undeserving poor.

In the past year, across Tameside, Oldham and Manchester there has been a 230% increase in the number of people going to citizens advice bureaux for help after being sanctioned. One man in my constituency who is not computer-literate, is dyslexic and has a recognised learning difficulty was sanctioned for four weeks for not properly filling out a job search agreement. Does my hon. Friend agree that Ministers need urgently and closely to consider the impact of benefit sanctions across the whole of Greater Manchester?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the punitive sanctions regime. We have called for an independent inquiry into sanctions, following on from the Oakley review. Oakley himself said that his review was “insufficient,” which the Government still refuse to accept. Will the Minister respond to that?

The Government have spread a culture of pejorative language, such as “shirkers” and “scroungers”. They have intentionally attempted to demonise social security recipients, including disabled people. The innuendo that people with a disability or illness might be faking it or are feckless is, quite frankly, grotesque and belies the epidemiological data.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, “When you go to work in the morning and see the curtains of your neighbours pulled tight, you know there is somebody lying in there who can’t be bothered to get out of bed and go to work.” Somebody might actually be lying in there because they cannot get of bed owing to an incurable disease. Is it any wonder that some people tar everyone with the same brush? Was that not a deliberate ploy by the Chancellor?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I cannot remember whether it was during the Budget or the autumn statement, but it is absolutely shocking that the Chancellor used that language. Incapacity benefit and ESA are recognised as good population health indicators, so what is implied by words such as “shirkers” and “scroungers” is not supported by the evidence.

I am worried by the hon. Lady’s language. She is attempting to project the party of government as demonisers who are against people with disabilities, which is offensive to those of us who employ people with physical and mental disabilities. I ask her to look at the other side of the coin, which is the work that some of us have been doing on events such as Disability Confident to help get people back into work. What many people with disabilities in my constituency want is not more endless handouts but the respect of being encouraged and enabled to get jobs. Today some 320,000 more people with disabilities are in jobs than was the case a year ago.

I would not want to impugn the hon. Member’s reputation because I know he is an honourable gentleman, but, frankly, I refer back to the language that is being used. We can see a pattern and, again, the Government have to be responsible for that. I will come on to what the Government have done, or how little the Government have done collectively, to support people with disabilities into employment.

Unfortunately, the regular misuse of statistics is another way that the Government are trying to harden the public’s attitude. The facts are that, in an ageing population, the largest proportion of social security recipients are pensioners and not, as is often implied, the workshy. Again, fear and blame are not the Government’s sole preserve. We all need to be very careful of the language that we use and how it is perceived. As the Government prepare to cut £12 billion from the annual social security budget in next week’s Budget, there are real concerns that, in addition to potentially slashing tax credits for the working poor, they will cut further support for working-age people with disabilities.

A recent analysis of trends in disability benefit spending showed that, far from being generous, disability benefits are approximately 15% of average earnings. With the recent changes—the 1% uprating and the indexation to the consumer prices index—they will fall even further. The 2012 public spending on people with disability was just 1.3% of GDP. If we compare that with our European neighbours, we find that that is lower than Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

That figure has decreased since 2012, given the Government’s welfare spending cuts in 2013. Total social security spending in the UK in 2012, before the cuts, was only 15.5% of GDP. That spending supports our pensioners, the sick and disabled, people in low-paid work and people out of work. We are 17th out of 32 EU states. Again, I contrast that with the fact that the Government are trying to say how generous we are in terms of what we provide.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is an outrage that disabled people spend an average of £550 extra in connection with their disability, and that one in 10 disabled people spends more than £1,000 extra?

The hon. Lady mentioned percentage of GDP, which I might address later if I have a chance to catch Sir Roger’s eye. What does she think the percentage should be? We spend 0.7% on international development and 2% on defence. What does she think is the appropriate and right percentage of GDP to spend on disability?

I would not be so pushy as to state such figures at this stage in a Parliament. I am making a point about the mood music that the Chancellor in particular is stressing before the next Budget. I warn hon. Members that we are not over-generous; our spend is 1.3%, and we need to bear that in mind.

There are more than 12 million people in the UK living with a disability, impairment or limiting long-term condition, 7 million of whom are of working age. That is one in five of the population. Of those, 4 million working-age disabled are working already, and another 1.3 million can and want to work but are currently unemployed.

Does the hon. Lady agree with me that there are about 5,000 people with motor neurone disease, which is a rapidly progressive and fatal illness, and that not all of them can obtain a DS1500? That pushes things to the point where people think that they can or should work, when they are not physically capable of doing so. The Government must deal with that rapidly to ensure that all 5,000 people in the UK with MND are taken care of.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The work capability assessment’s insensitivity to mental health conditions, progressive conditions and fluctuating conditions makes it unfit for purpose at the moment, and there is a lot of evidence to support that.

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) raised an interesting point about MND sufferers. Has the hon. Lady also thought about people suffering from multiple sclerosis, a condition that often deteriorates over time? Some of my constituents with MS who have been assessed physically and moved from disability living allowance to personal independence payments are receiving an increased amount of money because their condition has worsened over time. It varies from condition to condition and situation to situation, does it not?

It does indeed, but the fact is that 600,000 fewer people will be eligible for PIP than currently receive DLA; those are the statistics. However, I will come to that.

The UK currently has a disability employment gap of 30%. The Oldham fairness commission, which I chaired, found that the local disability employment gap is 34%. As the vast majority of disabled people—90%—used to work, that is a waste of their skills, experience and talent. Attitudes, perceptions and judgments can often get in the way of identifying someone’s talent or skills—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

I indicate to Members now, to allow them a little preparation, that I intend to impose a five-minute limit on Back Bench speeches. Six hon. Members from various parties have indicated a desire to speak: if you can manage it in less than five minutes, it will help others. That will leave about five minutes each for Opposition Front-Bench speeches and for the Minister.

I was discussing the experiences of disabled people, 90% of whom have worked. For people with disabilities, the experience of an interview can be particularly discouraging.

People with disabilities should be able to access the same opportunities as everyone else, including being able to use their talent and skills to the best of their ability. No one should feel that they are unable to reach their potential or that their hopes and dreams do not matter. The Government have cut the support for disabled people that allows them to live as normal a life as possible, but they have failed to provide meaningful support to help disabled people into work and enable them to thrive, thereby protecting them from leaving the labour market prematurely.

Having just one disability employment adviser for 600 disabled people is quite shocking and reveals the Government’s priorities. Similarly, there is chaos, and inadequacies, in the specialist employment support service Access to Work, which last year supported just 35,000 disabled people into work and at work. That just does not cut it. What happened to the money de-invested from Remploy, which was meant to be reinvested in Access to Work?

The extra costs commission analysed the additional costs faced by disabled people and found that on average they spend an extra £550 per month on costs associated with their disability. By contrast, in 2015-16 the average award of personal independence payment or disability living allowance was £360 per month. On top of this, as I mentioned earlier, Scope has estimated that 600,000 fewer disabled people will be eligible for support. Couple this with the £3.5 billion cut to social care and it all adds up.

It comes as no surprise that people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty as non-disabled people: 80% of disability-related poverty is caused by extra costs. This has implications for disabled people’s families as well, because a third of all families living in poverty include one disabled family member.

George has a mild learning disability. He has suffered with a bad back since an accident a few years ago and can no longer do the heavy lifting work that he used to do when he worked in a warehouse. George works 12.5 hours a week as a cleaner in a local college, but wants to work more to earn working tax credit. He said:

“Hopefully I might be able to find another job or increase the hours with the job I’ve got. Next year I might have a word with my supervisor but everyone is short of cash at the moment so I’ll have to wait and see!”

For now, he relies on employment support allowance to top up his wages. He lives a modest life. He attends a local self-advocacy group, where he receives additional support when he needs it, and meets up with friends and family when he can. He certainly does not have cash to spare. Without ESA he could not afford to get out and about and would risk becoming very isolated. He has been in financial difficulty in the past, and it was only because of the support he got from the self-advocacy group that he managed to keep his own home—he was under threat of being made homeless. George is lucky. Unfortunately, thousands of people do not have the benefit of the support that he has.

I am sure it has not escaped your attention, Sir Roger, that more than 336,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Government to publish data on the number of people on incapacity benefit and ESA who have died since November 2011. This petition was started followed a ruling by the Information Commissioner on 30 April compelling the Government to publish these data in 35 days, including the number of those who died following being found fit for work.

Last week there was an amazing sequence of events. On Monday, the Secretary of State told me that he could not publish these data because they were not kept, and told me to stop scaremongering; on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that they would be published; and this was swiftly followed by the Government saying that they were appealing against the Information Commissioner’s ruling, stating that publishing these data would lead to “probable misinterpretations” and “was too emotive...and wasn’t in the public interest”. What an absolute shambles! I could not disagree more. This is definitely in the public interest. As a former public health academic, I am more than aware of the strict criteria for establishing causality, but there are no grounds for not publishing numbers of actual deaths as well as the Government-proposed standardised mortality ratios, including those who died within six weeks of being found fit for work. Will the Minister now confirm when these data will be published?

At the same time, following on from Select Committee on Work and Pensions inquiries into sanctions beyond Oakley, I should be grateful if the Minister confirmed when the Government will publish redacted information on the circumstances of the deaths of claimants who died while sanctioned, and what changes the DWP instigated in the light of reviews of these deaths. It is notable that, since the Government’s new sanctions regime, the rate of sanctioning of people on IB and ESA has doubled. Will the Minister also confirm whether the significant surge in suicide rates for both men and women since 2010—but particularly for working-age men—is being analysed by the DWP? I thank my former public health colleague Ben Barr for providing me with these data.

My final comments relate to next week’s Budget. There is much concern that the Government may once again target disabled people. Will the Minister pledge today that there will be no further erosion of support for disabled people, including taxation of universal disability benefit or restricting the Motability scheme, which enables over 56,000 to keep their job? He did not answer the questions I asked him during our previous exchange on the PIP process, so I should be grateful for a yes or no answer today.

Being disabled is not a lifestyle choice. I am proud of the principles underpinning our model of social welfare, where any one of us is afforded protection should we fall ill or become disabled, but it is at risk from this Government. I urge the Government not to take any further steps along their regressive path.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, which is timely as we look forward to the Budget. It allows us to consider welfare reform and people with disability without being drowned out by the common refrain and focus on how much money needs to be saved from the welfare budget. We can look seriously at what we mean by disability and how we can stand up properly for those who are vulnerable.

I want to make three points. First, we need to support and uphold the positive value of a generous safety net. We should be able to do that, be proud of it and stand up for it. We have to find a better way to discuss welfare. We should focus particularly on disability, so that we can properly protect vulnerable people. We need a positive approach.

I recognise that there need to be cuts in the overall welfare spend, not least because, as the Chancellor said, we have 1% of the world’s population, 4% of its GDP, and 7% of global welfare spend, so reform is needed. Although we are considering the subject through the prism of cuts, protection for people with disabilities should not be regarded as being at the end of the queue, after protection for pensioners and child benefits. Disability campaigners are concerned about what is happening. Disability should not be at the end of the public spending queue after the NHS, international development, which is protected, defence, which some of us think should be protected more, and education. Somewhat mischievously, I asked what percentage of GDP should be given to disability, but we should consider the real spending requirements before considering what is needed in terms of reform.

It is worth making some international comparisons. We should be proud that we spend £33.5 billion each year on benefits for the disabled, excluding social care. It is a small amount when shared among the many vulnerable people. We all have individual experiences, as I do in my surgeries, of people who are challenged by living on those benefits and dealing with some of the reforms. Nevertheless, as a proportion of GDP, the UK spend on benefits for the disabled is double that of the US, a fifth more than the European average and six times that of Japan. We can be proud of that record while realising that there are ways that we can do better within that budget.

We should uphold the principle of dignity—the dignity for disabled people of being independent, for those who can be live independently, and the dignity of working for those who are able to work, although not everyone can. It is also about dignity in terms of showing compassion, standing alongside them and being able to support them in the ups and downs. Some need that safety net temporarily, and some need it permanently.

My second point is on the importance of de-weaponising welfare. On the one hand, campaign groups say that the cuts will fall on the most vulnerable and the poor, and as much as I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth on securing the debate, we did hear that from her. On the other hand, the tabloids—do not just put this at the door of Ministers—say that it is all about the workshy and condemn them for exploiting the system. Everyone is in the mix. We need to get beyond that argument and look at what needs to be achieved for us to have an honest debate.

The facts are important and they need to be heard. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that between 2011 and 2014, spending on disability living allowance increased by £1.8 billion, spending on attendance allowance increased by £200 million, and spending on carer’s allowance increased by £400 million. The number of unemployed disabled people has fallen by more than 15% over the past year. That matters; it means that 230,000 more disabled people are in work, so it is not all scaremongering and doom and gloom.

There are challenges—the independent living fund was mentioned. It was scrapped, but the funds were not scrapped. Let us be honest about the situation: the £300 million was reduced to £262 million and the funds were devolved to local councils, where efficiency savings can be made by having everything under one roof. We have to see how those efficiencies are made, but the funds are there to help the same people as the ILF helped, and for the same reasons. We have to have an honest debate. We have to recognise that we need to be on the side of the vulnerable and the poor. Not all disabled people are poor—in fact, two thirds are not in low-income brackets. We need to recognise that, while understanding that they all might be vulnerable in the long term.

I am very much interested by what my hon. Friend has said and how he has tried to take the middle ground in the debate. We have heard a lot about the apparent failures of the Access to Work programme, yet disability employment is now at 3.1 million. The employment rate for disabled people rose by 2.5% in the year to September 2014. I hope my hon. Friend agrees that those are encouraging figures, but that more needs to be done.

That is right. There are some excellent Disability Confident events in our cities that help those figures, and we must support them.

I am calling for an honest debate. The IFS said that the number of DLA claimants is twice what it was in 1992. We cannot say that that increase is simply because of an increase in the number of disabled people; we have to look at why the number of claimants has doubled and seek to make reforms.

We should look at a new way of dealing with the whole welfare debate, and in particular at disability and the spend needed in that area. We should look not only at benefits, but at social care, which poses serious challenges for local authorities dealing with disabled people. We need integration. We are looking at personalised budgets, so we should look at their impact on social care, the cuts and challenges, as well as on the issue of disability benefits. Let us bring that together for all our constituents and work hard to give them the best deal.

As we approach the Budget, I want to be able to look disabled people square in the face and say, “Whatever is happening around the economy, we are wholly committed to being on your side and giving those disabled people who need it that independence for living and work.” We need to show compassion and that we are on their side all the way along.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this important debate. I know she feels strongly about the subject.

The Budget speech given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 18 March set out that there would be £12 billion of welfare cuts by 2017-18, yet since then there has been the general election campaign, numerous Prime Minister’s questions, Department of Work and Pensions questions and Treasury questions and we still have no definitive answers on where the cuts will fall. Indeed, on 22 June, the Minister was asked directly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) whether he would rule out cutting the benefits of any disabled person over this Parliament, but all the Minister gave in answer was:

“We are clear that we will protect the disabled and vulnerable.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 600.]

This area needs definitive answers. With the uncertainty, a number of possibilities are regularly mooted for the Chancellor’s next Budget, such as restrictions to carer’s allowance and to the contributory element of employment and support allowance, as well as taxing disability living allowance, personal independence payments and attendance allowance. All those things would have an enormous impact on the weekly incomes of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Since the election, I have had some of the most vulnerable people in our society—the disabled—coming to my constituency surgeries extremely worried about what may happen in this Parliament. That includes people with mental health problems and people who have been disabled since childhood.

The Minister shakes his head, but he is welcome to come to my surgeries and hear what is said to me, because that is where the firm evidence is. Take, for example, the specific worries of sufferers of long-term conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Those in receipt of long-term disability living allowance will soon be starting a reassessment, yet the mobility criterion has been reduced to 20 metres. Parkinson’s is a fluctuating condition, so they are extremely worried about losing the wheelchairs and scooters from which they may benefit, for example. Similarly, there are Parkinson’s sufferers in the work-related activity group. The nature of that group is about going back to work, but the condition is degenerative. Does the Minister not accept that the uncertainty created since the Chancellor’s Budget has been a source of worry and great anxiety to those in our society in receipt of benefits? I can only urge him to make representations to the Chancellor to at least come clean in the Budget on 8 July on precisely what will happen.

I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have had email upon email from my constituents saying that they are hugely worried about what will happen in the Chancellor’s Budget. They are people with disabilities, their carers and their families—people in the most difficult of circumstances who are suffering huge anxiety and are feeling stigmatised, too. They do not want to hear so much rhetoric about hard-working people; they may well be hard-working people or aspire to be. We also heard something about handouts. Again, I agree with the concerns expressed by hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) about terminology. These people deserve our support, and it is our job to provide it.

I agree with the hon. Lady. The Government’s language is deeply worrying. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) made a point about weaponising the welfare state, and I am afraid that language like “shirkers” does exactly that.

Above all, I hope that through this debate the Minister has heard a real strong voice from the most vulnerable people. Some years ago, Aneurin Bevan said of the plight of those who were out of work in the winter months:

“It would be a disaster and it would be a disservice to the House if the feelings of those men were not allowed to find an echo within these walls.”—[Official Report, 26 November 1931; Vol. 260, c. 632.]

The same can be said of disabled and vulnerable people in 2015. If nothing else, I hope that today their voice has found an echo within these walls.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing this important debate on a subject in which I take something of an interest.

I would like to reflect on the language that we use. This is an emotive and emotional subject for many people, so it is important that Members from all parties get the language right. I must say that I do not recognise some of the language being used to describe the Government. I certainly would not want to sit as part of a Government party that had those sorts of feelings and thoughts, and I really do not believe that we have. It is wrong to suggest that we in this party have that sort of thought, because we really do not. I do not recognise that at all.

I am very aware of the strictures of time, Sir Roger, but I want to say a few things. It seems to me that the holy grail is to help people with disabilities off welfare and into work. That would be a useful direction for this discussion to go in. It is vital that where people are able to work, they are given the opportunity to do so. The Government should support them along that road as much as possible. I am struck by the fact that today there are 320,000 more people with disabilities in jobs. That is extremely significant.

Of particular significance for me is those with mental health conditions who are getting back into work, because I have some relevant experience. I worked for five years as a manager in an office where we made particular provision to ensure that we could employ people with mental health conditions. A lot of it is to do with understanding the individual—there is no one-size-fits-all solution. By being understanding and putting into place some very personal provision, we were able to ensure that people felt that they were able to work for us and that they were not disabled by their disability, if I can put it like that. I am a big believer that it is vital to help people off welfare and into work where that is possible. I really want to explore that further, as will my hon. Friend the Minister, I am sure.

The Government have introduced a number of pilot projects, which are to be welcomed. For too many people with disabilities, it is simply too difficult to get into a job. In addition, an episode of mental ill health can set people back disproportionately compared with people who have physical health ailments. Until now, the system has not recognised that sufficiently. The Government are now introducing a number of evidence-based pilot projects to try to see how people are being assisted and how we can help them more. I would be interested to hear more from the Minister on that, because it is really important.

The Disability Confident events have been mentioned already. They have been hugely constructive. I am looking to organise one in my North Devon constituency, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members will be looking to do the same in their constituencies. The events do what they say on the tin: people with a disability need to be given the confidence to get off welfare and back into the world of work. That is vital.

I believe that the Minister and the Government will be doing good work in this area. I cannot second-guess—any more than the Minister can, I suspect—what our right hon. Friend the Chancellor is going to say in the Budget statement a week from now. Nevertheless, from my conversations with the Minister, I know that he and the Government are absolutely committed to doing their best.

I bring my comments full circle by saying that we really need to be careful about the tenor of the debate and the language used on all sides. I look forward to hearing in positive terms from the Minister about the welfare reforms and how they will help disabled people, particularly those with mental health conditions, to get off welfare and back into work. That is our holy grail.

I draw attention to the interest that I declared in a previous debate. I would rather not repeat it.

We have talked a lot about language. Language is critical, because we are talking about a spectrum of capability and disability. Sometimes, it is all too easy to lump the disabled all together. Part of the problem is that that has happened, largely in this place, but also in the media and, sometimes, in the mind of the public. That is dangerous. We in this place are responsible for ensuring that the public are given a wider and clearer understanding of what we are talking about. We have failed in that. It is time that we stopped, looked at our language, and were clearer.

There is no doubt that there has been some language of “shirkers” and “scroungers”, but there has also been a failure to recognise that some of the people who undergo assessments are terminally ill. They have been assessed by their GPs and consultants as having life-ending conditions. They are the people about whom I want to talk. They should not have to face accusations of being shirkers. They should not face onerous assessments and a requirement that they justify their access and right to benefits.

These are people whose lives are able to continue only because of the carers who care for them with deep love and affection. They are people for whom the assessment process brings huge fear, not only of not getting the benefit, but of not being able to stand up and describe what their life is like—of not being able to say, “I deal with incontinence every day. I can’t swallow. I can’t speak. In fact, I can’t even articulate to you how bad my life is.” We need to recognise that too many people in this country endure that on a daily basis.

I remember, when my husband was passported on to personal independence payment, having to talk, on the telephone, about what his life was like. I have to say, that is not easy. We should not place people in that position. A few days later, I received a letter that said, “If you don’t hear from us by this date, please come back to us.” I did not hear, so I went back to them, and they said “You don’t need to ring us. You don’t need to talk to us.” I had got myself into a state before I rang, and I am somebody who has dealt with disability all their professional life. I had made 20 or 30 phone calls before I got through, and to be told, “Oh, we don’t know why we send those letters out. We don’t need to talk to you; it’s under process,” is insulting.

Let me mention briefly the DS1500. It is an extremely painful thing for someone to receive, because it basically tells them, “This life is about to end”—potentially in six months. I have dealt with people with terminal cancer who have refused a DS1500 because they do not want to be told that. They do not want to know it, and yet it is a huge passport for people to other benefits. We have to look at the DS1500, because many GPs are loth to discuss giving a DS1500 to someone who is terminally ill. We cannot allow that to continue.

We have to look at how we ensure that people who have life-ending illnesses are dealt with compassionately and with dignity, and we are not doing that now. We need to ensure that their carers are enabled to carry on in a way that makes them feel trusted and respected by the state, not like a scrounger or someone who is not dealing with the worst horrors that life can bring. We must always remember that disability benefit fraud is at 0.5%. Let us keep that in mind.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) because we have run out of time for non-Front-Bench speeches. I am placing your presence on the record, but you may seek to intervene in one of the winding-up speeches.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in this debate, Sir Roger. I thank the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for making a necessary and pertinent examination of what is happening in the welfare state, with particular regard to disabilities. As the SNP spokesperson on disability, this is a matter of great importance to me.

We have had some good speeches today, and I particularly welcome the conversation about the narrative that we spin around disability. The general election was particularly bruising, and for disabled people to hear parties talk not about being the party of people with disabilities, but about hard-working people, with the inference that people who are not in work are not hard-working and do not aspire to be, damages the debate. Today in the Chamber, my SNP colleagues are debating the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill, in particular welfare and disabilities. Many of the amendments in our name are aimed at ensuring that the Scotland Bill delivers more devolution and does not devolve further austerity and shackle the Scottish Parliament to further Tory attacks on the welfare state. They are the result of extensive consultation with civic Scotland and work done in partnership with other organisations.

Just this morning, 12 of Scotland’s leading third sector organisations published a letter in The Herald, timed to coincide with today’s debate and ahead of the emergency Budget next week, expressing grave concerns about the severe detrimental impact of the Government’s austerity measures on low and middle-income families. In particular, they highlight the threat to tax credits and other support that would fall within universal credit and say to us, here in this House, that as, we begin the process of defining the shape of Scotland’s social security system, we need to

“understand how high the stakes are”.

It is incumbent on every one of us—not just those from Scotland—to listen to those voices. The groups that have put their heads above the parapet on this matter are some of Scotland’s largest and most influential civil society organisations, including Citizens Advice Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland, the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, the Church of Scotland, Inclusion Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland, Oxfam Scotland, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Trussell Trust. These organisations bear on their shoulders much of the burden of mopping up some of the worst effects of austerity on the most vulnerable in our society.

The UK Government’s programme of welfare reform has had a devastating impact on too many people across the country. In Scotland, the Scottish Government estimate that UK Government welfare cuts have reduced welfare funding in Scotland by almost £2.5 billion in 2015-16 alone. That estimate comes before the additional planned welfare cuts of perhaps £12 billion across the UK, which can only have a further devastating impact on communities across Scotland and the UK. Where will those cuts be made? How much more can be cut?

What is absolutely clear is that people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by welfare reform, which fits in perfectly with a pattern whereby the UK Government’s cuts programme hits the most vulnerable in our society hardest, punishing them for the reckless damage done to the economy by the few at the top. Further planned cuts can only cause greater and sustained damage, driving yet more households into poverty and desperation. The roll-out of the personal independence payment has been riddled with delays and errors, which have caused a great deal of distress and hardship for people with disabilities. BBC News reports that 78,700 people are currently waiting to hear whether they can claim PIP, 3,200 of whom have waited more than a year to have their claims processed and 22,800 have waited more than 20 weeks. In June 2015, a High Court judge ruled in favour of two PIP claimants who had had their applications delayed by around nine months, to the detriment of their health and financial security.

Is the hon. Lady as concerned as I am by the Motor Neurone Disease Association finding that, accompanied with the move to PIP and universal credit, people with MND are now expected to attend face-to-face assessments, despite clear medical evidence that such assessments have a severe impact on their condition?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and echo his concerns. I would add that other people with systemic and advanced disabilities have to attend test centres that are well out of their geographic reach. The Scottish—

The Scottish Government have repeatedly called for a halt to the PIP roll-out, which has been an extremely messy, damaging and stressful process for claimants. Last week, I tabled a question to ask the Minister what review was being done of those with mental ill health who had been denied PIP on the basis of tests with a physical aspect. The answer was that the Government are not currently reviewing the matter, which is no comfort to constituents of mine who have come to me in abject despair having been denied PIP and become embroiled in the messy, uncertain and lengthy appeals process.

Disabled people are already at risk of being in lower-income households, and the UK Government’s cuts are making things worse. Currently, half of all people living in households with a disabled adult are in the bottom 40% in terms of income.

Some 20% of individuals in households containing a disabled adult were in relative poverty. For households with no disabled adult, the figure was 14%.

In conclusion, I urge the Minister to halt the move to PIP and to implement an urgent review of the assessment at test centres and the unconscionable delays in the assessment and appeals systems. I also urge him to listen to disability organisations in civic society ahead of next week’s Budget.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on securing the debate and on making an excellent and well-informed speech. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) and for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who spoke powerfully from her personal experience and demonstrated the sensitivity and difficulty of this issue for many people.

Government Members have been telling us that the key thing is to get people with disabilities back to work, but the Government’s schemes have unfortunately not succeeded. The Work programme has failed, with fewer than one in 10 disabled people getting into work. Work Choice has not worked well. Access to Work has been cut. The number of disability employment advisers has been cut. Those things are not going as Members across the House would like. We must acknowledge the fact that, in any society at any time, some people will always be dependent on such benefits.

I was disappointed that the Minister thought that he could somehow set the debate up well by stating previously that PIP claimants are only waiting four weeks. I have gone through my constituency case load and I can tell him that people are waiting much longer not only for their PIP assessments, but for the money. For example, Mr C attended a medical assessment for PIP in April, but he has not received any correspondence about whether it was successful. He has been awarded ESA, which has been backdated, but it takes 13 weeks for him to get the money. I do not know what he is supposed to live on in the meantime. Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

The most important issue that I want the Minister to address is where the £12 billion in cuts are going to come from. Will he now rule out cuts to PIP, cuts to attendance allowance, cuts to carer’s allowance, cuts to industrial injuries disablement benefit and cuts to ESA? Will he further rule out taxation of PIP? As the Royal National Institute of Blind People has said, it is absurd to tax a benefit designed to cover the costs of disability. I hope the Minister will rule those things out.

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Sir Roger. I have a limited amount of time, but I will do my best to address as many of the points made as I can—I do not have a set speech. If I run out of time, we will send further information.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) on calling the debate. She is a long-standing campaigner in this area, and that does shape what we do. She covered many things, but she can always come and see me face to face to run through some of them—my door is open and she has a huge amount of experience. I picked up the point about language. That is not something that I recognise as a Minister, but if there are examples that the hon. Lady wishes to bring to my attention, she should please do so.

I have only four minutes in which to respond, so that is what I have to do.

On the disability employment gap, in the past 12 months, an extra 238,000 people got into work, which is 650 a day, an increase of 2.4%, which is the biggest in the past decade. We are committed to halving the disability employment gap—it is about a further 1 million. That is a key priority.

Scope’s Extra Costs Commission report was fantastic. I have already met with Scope’s chief executive to look at different ways to support it—for example, this morning I was at the Inclusive Technology Prize competition. Clever people are coming up with ways to improve access in people’s everyday lives to the sorts of things—

Honestly, I would like to, but I cannot.

The amount of money spent on disabilities actually increased by £2 billion over the last Parliament, and DLA and PIP are uprated in line with inflation. Access to Work was also mentioned in the debate, and numbers increased to 35,500 last year, which is up 4,000. It is demand-led. We are always looking to promote that, which is where the Disability Confident campaign comes in, in particular by highlighting Access to Work to small businesses, which provide 45% of private sector jobs and are not always aware of things. I know from meeting the Federation of Small Businesses that that is felt to be important.

I hear the concerns about sanctions, which were expressed by more than one Member. They are a last resort and we are looking continually at how they are operating. Even the Oakley review stated that sanctions were

“a key element of the mutual obligation that underpins both the effectiveness and fairness of the social security system”,

and we accepted 17 of its recommendations to improve the process. I am happy to provide details on those 17 points.

I know that the hon. Lady wishes to come in, but time is tight.

On the point about George, universal credit will help, in that different disabilities can have different impacts from week to week. That would therefore allow somebody to maintain a certain income, and where they work extra, they have an income on that. We will be publishing them the mortality stats—I know the hon. Lady is keen to see them soon; we would all like to see them as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) kindly made her points in a debate two weeks ago and has agreed to meet with me on Thursday, with Parkinson’s UK and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. I am grateful for that. It will be an opportunity to discuss all the points made today. With regards to terminally ill people, we are processing things within six days and 99% are being awarded. I understand the points made about the DS1500 form. GPs are not comfortable doing it. We are talking to the Department of Health about that, so we can expand on that from the meeting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) again took a reasoned and proactive approach. A lot of stakeholders echo the words that were used—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady should not panic; I am coming to that.

I understand what the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) was saying about the frustration, but I am afraid that this happens with every single Budget, whoever the Government are. There is always uncertainty before the Budget. I am no different to anyone else present—we are not the Chancellor. What I do know, however, is what underpins his reform. We will continue to support disabled and vulnerable people. We are providing a strong welfare net for those in need and we will always ensure that work pays. The hon. Gentleman is a strong voice and I would be keen to continue to work with him, in particular on issues arising from surgeries or personal experience.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) and I have shared experience of employing people with mental health conditions. The Government have spent £42 million on a series of pilots that provide group work, telephone support and face-to-face individual support. In the Budget earlier this year, we put in for direct purchase of support, to bring it about much quicker. Through the Access to Work scheme, that can provide help for people within work, and there is a 92% success rate.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).