Apologies. I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Motability car scheme.
I am glad to bring the motion before the House today, but in truth it would be much better if this topic did not require consideration at all. The origins of this stem back to the previous Parliament and the change from the disability living allowance to the personal independence payment in April 2013. At the time, some of the changes were dressed up as fairness and giving people more control, but there is no doubt that there were concerns that DLA self-assessment, the automatic qualification process and, sometimes, the fact that there was no follow-up could possibly be abused.
That was the thought process that definitely drove the Tory ideology, and that has overshadowed how best to manage the system to help people with disabilities. Throw in a projected £2.5 billion saving and the fact that an estimated 600,000 fewer people would end up on PIP compared with DLA and we can see that this was just another assault on the disadvantaged. For me, the key change in assessing enhanced mobility was the reduction in the distance of the walking assessment from 50 metres down to 20 metres. Imagine it: somebody can go into an assessment centre and sit down and possibly be at risk of already meeting the walking test.
The enhanced rate is critical. The Motability scheme allows those receiving the highest rate of DLA or PIP to lease a suitable adapted vehicle, powered wheelchair or mobility scooter, in return for their weekly award. The Motability scheme is particularly important for enabling disabled people to be independent and to manage their condition. It allows users to participate in social activities and do the things that many of us take for granted, such as being able to continue to care for their children.
If we look back at the history, the Motability scheme was founded in 1977. It started out with a single car and has grown into a scheme that operates on a completely UK-wide basis, with nearly 650,000 users at present, which includes 15,000 using electric scooters and wheelchairs. It is a massively respected scheme, it is a charitable body and it has been praised by the National Audit Office for providing good value for money.
The Motability scheme plays a vital role for many disabled people across the country. Restricting access to Motability vehicles for those who have relied on them will undoubtedly increase the isolation that many disabled people feel.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. As he develops his speech, will he reflect on the particularly bad impact that the loss of Motability vehicles has had on people living in rural areas, to the extent that when constituents are waiting for an appeal to a tribunal decision, they cannot get to the meetings because there is no alternative transport? There is no public transport and they do not have a vehicle any more.
That is a fine intervention, and I agree with the point the hon. Gentleman makes. I was not going to focus particularly on rural issues, but he is absolutely right. I live in a rural area and I know that, particularly in England and Wales, the cuts to public transport and dial-a-bus services have compounded the problem of people being unable to manage when they lose their Motability vehicle, so I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. My constituent, Claire Ross, is 15 years old. She lives in a rural area and has a brain tumour, meaning that she becomes tired easily. Her Motability vehicle was used to take her to school and to hospital appointments. A recent reassessment removed the component from Claire and now the vehicle sits, unable to be used, at her parents’ house. Does my hon. Friend share my concern for Claire now that the Motability component has been taken away from her, and does he agree that it is shameful of the Government not to respond to my numerous representations on her behalf?
I wholeheartedly agree, and I find it incredible that nobody has responded following my hon. Friend’s inquiries. I think most hon. Members here will have very similar examples from their constituencies, which highlights how unfair the measures are. I will come back to that, which is something the Government really need to take stock of. They should be working tirelessly to support the independence and inclusion of disabled people, using all means possible through Government channels.
An example of the concerns we have heard is highlighted in a briefing paper from Muscular Dystrophy UK. Trailblazers, which comes under the umbrella of that organisation, is a group of young disabled campaigners aiming to tackle the social issues affecting young disabled people, such as their access to higher education, employment, and social and leisure opportunities. These are young people who fully understand the difficulties they face in life. They are campaigning to raise awareness of this issue and to support others. They also know the possible consequences of the new PIP assessment.
One trailblazer commented:
“I suffer from muscular dystrophy and I am still able to walk, although it is difficult. I frequently push myself to live my life as much as I can, despite fatigue and anxiety that comes with it. I am absolutely terrified that one day, be it tomorrow or in a year, I will receive the letter that tells me I need to be reassessed for PIP. As someone who can stand and does not ‘look’ disabled at times, I believe I will have no chance of retaining my car.”
“If I don’t have my car, I simply would not go out.”
This is a young person who knows how independent they have become since being able to access a car through the Motability scheme. Imagine being aware of the life transformation that they went through and the absolute dread of being forced to return to the pre-car state.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for bringing this extremely important debate to the Chamber today. Does he agree that, given the impact on people’s mental health, including depression and anxiety—at some points, due to social exclusion—as well as the fact that people feel very isolated and the possible risk of suicide, we are at risk of creating an increased call on the NHS through co-morbid mental health problems, as well as physical disability in this case?
I recognise my hon. Friend’s expertise and agree with her point, which touches on what I was saying. In some cases, it is not even about the stress of losing the Motability vehicle; it is about the stress and panic about getting to that stage, so we are talking about an ongoing mental condition.
On the point about increased cost, I would like to make the Chamber aware of my constituent, Lorna George. She lost her higher rate mobility component of DLA when she transferred to PIP and, as a result, lost her vehicle. Because she is in full-time employment, she was entitled to the Access to Work scheme, which meant that she received £150 a week from the public purse to get to and from work, as a result of losing her DLA mobility component of £54 a week. How is that saving anybody money?
That was another fine intervention. These examples are what make it real for everybody, and I will touch on what I think is the madness of the financials later.
To be clear, we have heard some personal examples, but the statistics back up the concerns that I highlighted from the young person with muscular dystrophy. To date, of the 31,200 people on the Motability scheme via the higher rate DLA who have subsequently been reassessed for PIP, some 14,000 have lost the higher PIP mobility rate and, therefore, their car as well.
Going back to the stress and trauma of losing a car, we are lucky that Motability takes its duties seriously and goes above and beyond to support people in that position. It supports them with financial assistance—for example, through a transitional lump sum that might aid in the purchase of a car. Motability also provides advice packs for customers and advises on insurance, maintenance, adaptation services and even local transport options. We should be clear that Motability should not be filling in these gaps for people who are effectively left stranded.
It is no wonder that 91% of those who left the scheme were satisfied with the support that they had received from Motability. I commend the organisation, but that does not mask the fact that we are still only at the early stages of the PIP reassessment, with the reality that nearly one in two people lose their higher mobility access. I put this to the Minister: are we really to believe that almost half the people on enhanced DLA either exaggerated or fabricated their conditions to access Motability or, at best, suddenly no longer need that support?
In Scotland, 70,000 people are using the Motability scheme, so, using statistical analysis, we know that up to 31,500 people could lose out—I accept that some people beyond working age will not be reassessed. If we take that down to the level of my constituency, 1,500 people are using the Motability scheme at present, so up to 670 people are possibly at risk.
I will give the example of one of my constituents. Lynne Paton has written to me to say:
“I am due a new car in July. I haven’t been assessed for 2 years. I have the higher rate at present and I have”
“since my 2 strokes. I have been in the hospital 3 times lately with chest infections. I am now struggling to get up and down my stairs because of the difficulties trying to get a breath. I am now using my electric Scooter again because I now can’t walk very far because of my breathing. The car we have just now was picked because the scooter can go in the car. I don’t know if I will get assessed again in the near future but if we were to lose the car I wouldn’t be able to get out and about. Also John is due to retire so our income will drop and we won’t be able to buy a new car suitable…I hope you can fight for people like me who need their cars. I know you will do your best for disabled people”.
That should be a clear case. If Lynne goes to be reassessed, there should not be a problem, but we all know that there are problems. She could go through a wee bout of better health and suddenly be deemed not to meet the requirements for the higher mobility rate. I should also say that I know Lynne as a fantastic community volunteer, who understandably has had to scale back recently, but with what she has put into the community over the years, there is no way she should have this worry hanging over her head. I dread having to go back to her and say, “You know what? I raised this in a debate at Westminster, but as usual the Government didn’t listen.”
I have already touched on the fact that this is not about giving disabled people greater flexibility and control over their budgets and lifestyle choices; it is part of the austerity agenda. The original suggested saving of £2.5 billion by 2018 confirms that, but it is also worth noting that the Government were willing to give assessment contracts worth some half a billion pounds to be able to get those savings. That is not value for money, and by the way, it can be no coincidence that the previous Minister for the disabled was one of the few Tories who lost their seat last year.
When it comes to the overall PIP strategy, the money has been so well spent and the strategy so well managed that the timescales have been a disaster, with the High Court ruling in June 2015 that the delays were unacceptable and unlawful. At the same time, the Office for Budget Responsibility noted that
“costings associated with structural changes to the welfare system…are subject to even greater uncertainty.”
It highlighted that its previous “Welfare trends report” had
“noted that our latest forecasts suggested higher than expected success rates for new claims to PIP across the forecast, which had in effect reduced the savings originally expected for this reform”.
It is not achieving the savings that were anticipated and, worryingly, with 45% of people who have been reassessed losing access to the Motability scheme, we have to wonder what the real purpose of the original target was. Let us consider the irony of the Tories’ manifesto pledge to halve the disability employment gap and support disabled people. Perhaps it is just me, but I simply cannot connect the dots. How does the Conservative party strip the freedom that a Motability vehicle brings to a disabled person from them and still aim to break down the barriers to work?
The Multiple Sclerosis Society, for example, has said that the Motability scheme can have positive impacts in terms of employment for users and their families. It claims that use of a Motability vehicle has enabled many of its members to gain employment, enabling disabled people to have a much more rounded, independent life. The recent Mencap review, “Halving The Gap?”, proved that the Tory policies are driving disabled people away from work rather than into work. That is why access to Motability vehicles is so important.
On a more positive note, the disability charity Scope undertook a report to assess the economic impact of getting more disabled people into employment, which was published in April 2015. It found that the impact on the economy of a rise in the disability employment rate would be significant. Indeed, a 10 percentage point rise would result in a £12 billion gain for the Exchequer by 2030. When we hear Tories in the main Chamber announcing that unemployment in their constituency is down by 50%, we should compare and contrast those statistics with the benefits of small increases in the employment rate for disabled adults. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to express concern that a lack of access to the Motability scheme will prevent disabled people from getting to work. It is clear that the Government should focus on that, rather than on savings.
Not content with one failure, the Government also have a proposal to cut the employment and support allowance work-related activity group payment, taking £30 of benefit a week from those in need and taking sick people even further away from getting back into work.
We in the Scottish National party are committed to supporting disabled people, which means opposing the regressive and punitive measures deployed by the Tories, not just for those eligible for DLA or PIP, but for the disabled people who rely on ESA and have been subjected to the unfair and failing work capability assessments. The SNP in Scotland are doing all we can, within the resources and powers that we have, to help disabled people, who are disproportionately affected by welfare reform. New powers over disability benefits in the Scotland Bill will provide opportunities to develop different policies for Scotland. In the Scottish Government, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, Alex Neil, wants policies that are
“fairer and ensure people are treated with dignity and respect.”
We must remember that this comes against the backdrop of the UK trying to cut the Scottish budget through the fiscal framework agreement and the fact that, due to the Tory austerity agenda and ideological cuts, the Scottish Government are currently spending £104 million to mitigate the worst aspects of welfare reform.
It is my contention that the Government should think again. All of us here, as lawmakers, owe it to those we represent to protect the most disadvantaged. The SNP has already demonstrated our commitment in that regard and will do so again with new powers over disability benefits, but I repeat: I urge the UK Government to think again.
Order. The debate finishes at 5.30 pm. I will start to call the Front Benchers at eight minutes past 5, with five minutes for the SNP, five minutes for Labour, 10 minutes for the Minister and two minutes for Alan Brown to sum up at the end. There are six hon. Members standing. We have just less than 20 minutes. I am a bear of little brain, but I reckon that is three and a half minutes each, so I will impose that time limit, starting with Ben Howlett.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) on securing this debate on a subject that I care about a great deal. I should declare an interest, in that my mother has benefited from a Motability vehicle for more than 10 years.
I want to make it clear that I agree with the Government about ensuring that everyone who needs a Motability vehicle should have access to one. However, for decades, the system has not been reformed and it must be changed in a fair and cost-effective way if we are to ensure its future effectiveness. To ensure that the most vulnerable receive the support that they need, those who no longer have a medical condition need to be told that reform must occur to ensure the future viability of the system. That is only fair to people such as my mother who really depend on the Motability scheme.
Before I move on to my substantive points about improvements to data sharing between the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the NHS, I would like to seek assurances from my hon. Friend the Minister that the high volume of appeals that are currently being seen are constantly being reviewed. Although I understand that new systems take a while to embed, as we know from what happened when the previous Labour Government introduced the Atos system to handle work capability assessments, these things should be constantly reviewed.
Ever since I began to work alongside the NHS eight years ago, the UK has had a significant problem with data. Although I freely admit that it is not the most interesting subject in the world, it certainly is the most important when it comes to producing evidence-based policy. While I sadly do not have time to discuss the problems with evidence-based data collection and information governance, I want to focus for the last couple of minutes on the need for improved data sharing. All too often constituents come to my surgeries and ask why it is so complicated in today’s digital age to ensure that patient information is shared with the Department for Work and Pensions.
I will not give way because I have very limited time.
Sharing information would make a huge difference to all disabled people as well as people on the Motability scheme. It would save so much time and money if there were one joined-up system to enable a GP to identify a disability and to refer that person directly to a DWP contact in a joined-up and efficient way. Currently, it takes two sets of paperwork and a vast amount of time and communication, which can only be described as lacklustre at best. I completely back the Government in getting this sorted.
For too long, the most vulnerable have been let down. If there were a joined-up system, the GP could notify the DWP quite effectively if someone was no longer in need of a Motability vehicle. The efficiency savings that would be made could be driven into increasing support for those who desperately need it and would also help disabled people feel that the process is much more joined up when they probably need as smooth a process as possible to get through those tough experiences.
How can the Government achieve this? The Government have to identify weaknesses in the law that prevent data sharing between the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions. As the Government look to produce a Green Paper on the impact of welfare on health and wellbeing, it is important for the DWP to formalise discussions with the Department of Health and consider the benefits of direct and indirect data sharing. Although I appreciate the sensitivities around data protection, charities are screaming out for changes and we should be doing everything that we can to help facilitate that.
I specifically ask for the Minister to work with his counterpart in the Department of Health to look into the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to understand why there is a problem with data sharing. Under that Act, the law allows personal data to be shared between those offering care directly to patients, but it protects patients’ confidentiality when data about them are used for other purposes. While I agree that these secondary uses of data are essential if we are to run a safe, efficient and equitable health service, we should consider new legislation that will further enable swift and effective data sharing between the NHS and the DWP.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) on securing this important debate.
I want to tell hon. Members about Lisa, who I recently met in my constituency. After a stroke left Lisa paralysed on one side of her body, she was thrown a lifeline and received a Motability car. For the past 10 years, the specialist car has helped keep her independent and active, meaning that she was able to remain motivated, to fulfil her ambitions and to go to university to study graphic design. Now, after a decade of working hard to maintain her freedom despite the hand she was dealt and the severity of her condition, her car has been torn away from her by the Government. Why did the Government sever her vital lifeline? Because Lisa was two points short under the new disability benefit rules, which are seeing disability living allowance replaced by the personal independence payment. Although she was awarded the enhanced rate of the care component of PIP, she was awarded only the standard rate of the mobility component. When I visited her, Lisa had trouble even walking to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
We have heard anecdotally in the media, as well as in this Chamber, about other vulnerable people denied the enhanced rate of the mobility component under PIP—those affected by spina bifida, those who have had a leg amputated and those who struggle to walk a few metres. Whether those cases are the exception or the rule, it is unacceptable. If such people are not qualifying, it has to be accepted that either there is a problem with the criteria for the enhanced rate of the mobility component or the assessments are not being carried out appropriately.
Lisa’s mother described how it took almost eight hours to fill in the 40-page benefit claim, only to be told that Lisa was two points short. Lisa told me that she does not feel physically able or safe to use the bus. Despite having a decent support network and people who care about her, she worries that now she will be trapped at home.
The Government keep telling us that it is possible to appeal if one disagrees with their assessment. Well, I would appreciate some information from the Minister about the proportion of those appeals that are successful. I fear that for those undergoing that process, the appeals will all too often seem to be little more than kangaroo courts. Furthermore, the length of the appeals process is such that too many disabled people are forced to return their vehicles before the outcome of their appeal.
The Minister has assured us that the appeals process
“enables disputes to be addressed more quickly”—[Official Report, 2 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 712.]
However, in answer to a written question recently, he stated:
“The Department does not routinely collect information on the numbers of people who have had to return a Motability vehicle nor on whether they were successful on appeal.”
It appears that the Government really do not know about the impact of their policies, so let me tell them a little bit about what we know. In March last year, Motability told us that more than 100 disabled people every week are losing their Motability vehicles. We have now heard that, of those previously on the higher rate of DLA who have so far been reassessed for PIP, almost half—almost 14,000 people so far—have lost their car. Motability has estimated that if three out of every eight of their customers lose their eligibility for a Motability vehicle, the number forced to hand them back could reach 135,000. That estimate looks accurate, if not a little low. Figures show that 45% of those reassessed so far did not secure the enhanced rate of the mobility component under PIP.
It is fair to conclude that we are facing a hidden crisis. For Lisa and for all others across the country like her, I hope that the Minister will—to use a well-known, worn phrase—pause the policy and think again.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
Everybody in this room knows that the removal of the Motability vehicles will cause huge difficulties and distress for those who currently benefit from this scheme. With PIP replacing DLA, we know that the eligibility criteria will increase. It is estimated that the Government expect to save £2 billion. How much will this really cost? It will cost the taxpayer more than it will ever save. What will it cost in social isolation? There is a clear correlation between social isolation and loneliness and poor health. Even the Prime Minister has recognised that. What cost in terms of social justice? DWP figures suggest that the number who will lose out could be in the region of 428,000 people. Are we really to assume that all of those people do not really face challenges with their mobility?
Those currently in receipt of the higher rate mobility component of DLA face real and pressing challenges to their mobility every single day. Are these the people the Government wish to remove support from and on whose backs the Government wish to balance the books? We have all heard that those with disabilities must be given all the support they need to access the jobs market. I participated in a debate on that issue in this very room. How will removing the Motability vehicle scheme from those who rely upon it help people to access the jobs market more readily and easily?
Disabled members of our community who are able to work want to do so. Again, even the Prime Minister has recognised that. However, they must be supported into employment. Research has shown that a rise in the employment of disabled people would give significant economic benefit to the whole UK, but this is not just an economic argument and nor should it be. It is an argument, ultimately, about social justice. If we do not address the barriers to employment that exist for disabled people—and they do exist and are very real—we are simply turning our back on whole swathes of people in our communities, the contributions they can make, the skills they have, and the fulfilment that work can offer them.
Many disabled people already work and changing the criteria for the Motability scheme could actually lock disabled people currently in work out of the jobs market. Furthermore, it could slam the door of the jobs market in the face of those who currently qualify for the scheme and are actively looking for work. This cannot be the outcome the Government seek. Surely they must be alive to those dangers?
With PIP replacing DLA, eligibility will change, with the reduction of employment and support allowance by £30 a week for those in the work-related activity group. We now also have the widely discredited work capability assessments. There is a danger that this Government are rapidly showing themselves to be no friend of those who need support due to illness or disability. I urge the Minister to stand up for people who are disabled and to reflect not on how much money it will save the taxpayers, but on how much it will ultimately cost.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) on securing the debate. I am here today to raise the issue of my constituent Cathy Walsh, though her case is representative of many others. She suffers from severe generalised dystonia, a condition that results in uncontrolled spasms, affecting her limbs and speech. She has been disabled since birth and has tremendous difficulty moving unaided. With a seriously disabling disability, she has been on disability living allowance for 23 years. On Friday 18 December, Ms Walsh was notified that her application for the advanced-rate mobility component of PIP had been turned down, and she was distraught—her car, which had been invaluable in allowing her to lead an independent life, would be taken from her. That life-changing decision was based on one assessment conducted over an hour. It took the Atos consultant longer to write the report than it took to undertake the assessment. Ms Walsh’s neurological consultant has
“strong reservations about the value of this assessment.”
I agree. Atos said that Ms Walsh was able to walk between 50 and 200 metres, but her consultant has
“no idea how ATOS’ assessment could have been made, it is clearly incorrect… At best she can walk up to 20 metres and on a bad day significantly less.”
On those terms, it is obvious that Ms Walsh has a very strong case to qualify for the higher-rate mobility allowance. Instead, she has had to go down the extremely stressful route of a mandatory reconsideration and an appeal to a tribunal, which is making her condition worse. Her independence has been severely curtailed, at least until the tribunal decision is known, which could be months away.
Ms Walsh will have to rely on others even to help her cash the £2,000 transitional support cheque from Motability, as she cannot get to the bank on her own. That raises another issue: why cannot this money be transferred directly into her account? Even when the £2,000 has been deposited, Ms Walsh will be in a state of financial limbo. If she wins her appeal but decides to keep the money, she would not be able to return to the Motability scheme for six months.
Let us assume that Ms Walsh wins her case and wants to return to the scheme as quickly as possible, which she is keen to do. She would then have to return most of the £2,000. I do not disagree with that in principle. However, if the tribunal drags on for several months, Ms Walsh will inevitably need to use some, if not all, of the transitional payment to pay for other forms of assistance and transport. She would then be in debt while having to go through the process of reapplying for the scheme when her car should never have been taken from her in the first place. The Government say that what we have now is a “fairer assessment process.” Well, it does not feel fair to Ms Walsh. She is deeply distressed. I do not think it is fair; her friends do not think it is fair; and, more to the point, her consultant, who understands her condition as well as anyone, thinks it is very unfair. If her treatment is typical of the way in which thousands of other cases have been dealt with, the process has not been fair to them, either. The Government must be willing to conduct a thorough review of the process, which is not fit for purpose in its current state. I look forward to hearing how the Minister intends to resolve these issues.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for securing this important debate. I represent the neighbouring constituency of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, which is not only a beautiful part of the world but is populated by many inspiring and talented people, such as Kayleigh Haggo.
Kayleigh is an exceptional young lady who, through hard work and dedication, has achieved much for someone only 17 years of age. She holds 13 world records and four national age group records and has a real chance of representing Britain in Tokyo in 2020. She was a Commonwealth games baton bearer in 2014, and she won three gold medals at the European Paralympic youth games.
Members are probably wondering what that has to do with today’s topic. Well, Kayleigh has a form of cerebral palsy that affects her balance and motor skills, and she is largely wheelchair-bound, which makes her achievements all the more incredible. Although she is still at school, she keeps up a strict training regime that is only possible because of the mobility car—driven by her mum—that she receives as part of her disability living allowance. The car has allowed her to become one of the country’s most promising young disabled athletes, and it is only through her tough training that she is able to walk as far as 20 metres.
Last July, Kayleigh was moved from disability living allowance on to PIP and was informed that she was no longer considered disabled enough. Without her mobility allowance, she would not be able to benefit from her participation in sport. It took a 10,000-signature petition and intense media interest before the Department for Work and Pensions was forced to reverse its decision on Kayleigh’s entitlement to a mobility car. Yes, she can walk 20 metres, but she cannot walk 50 metres. Yes, she has the mental capacity to plan and follow a journey, but she does not have the physical capacity to undertake that journey—she is physically unable to navigate public transport. The withdrawal of her mobility car would have seen Kayleigh’s Paralympic dreams in tatters. It would also have destroyed her dreams of going to university and her hopes of a meaningful career. Where is the benefit to the state of withdrawing that support and leaving people such as Kayleigh confined to their homes, with resultant impacts on their health, their employment prospects and their ability to contribute to the community?
From the outset, the Government made it clear that the aim of PIP was to make savings. Of those previously on higher-rate DLA, more than 30,000 have been reassessed for PIP, and of those 50% have kept their car. PIP should ensure a level of independence for disabled people, and Kayleigh is just one example of many constituents who have contacted me after having their mobility car removed and their independence shattered. I am proud to represent people such as Kayleigh, and the Government should be ashamed of what they are doing to people just like her.
I thank the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for securing this debate and for giving me the opportunity to have a quick “round the office” look at some of the anomalies affecting people as they transfer to PIP and its higher-rate mobility component.
I have already spoken about Ms George, who was in work and lost her higher-rate mobility payment only now to receive £150 a week from the Access to Work programme—tripling the amount of money paid to help her mobility, yet causing greater problems for her 13-year-old daughter, who is her main carer and now has to do even more tasks for her mother.
Looking at Ms George’s case for this debate allowed me to follow on to the case of Mr Abrahams, who is also in full-time employment. He suffers from spina bifida and cannot walk more than 20 yards. He had a specially adapted car with hand controls, which is about to be removed on Tuesday, so it would be great if the Minister could help us while Mr Abrahams’ appeal is being considered, as he lost his mandatory reconsideration. We are going to get him to apply to the Access to Work programme, so he will probably cost the Government a lot more money than if he had just retained his higher-rate mobility payment.
Patrina Ross suffered a stroke in 2014 and was awarded the lower-rate care component and higher-rate mobility component of DLA. When she was reassessed for PIP, the rates were swapped, so she got higher-rate care and lower-rate mobility. Her car was taken away, but she was paid £25 a week more. She does not want more money; she wants the adapted car.
Daisy Tadros was shifted from DLA to PIP without being informed. The first she knew of the transfer was when she got a letter from Motability saying that her car was going to be taken away. There had been no assessment of her case, yet there is a date for the removal of her car. We discovered that the Atos database does not work with the DWP database, so when Motability was trying to find out the status of Ms Tadros’ claim for PIP, the DWP could not tell Motability her status because the DWP does not have a system that works with Atos’s system. The only way the DWP, Motability and Atos could talk to one another was through the involvement of Ross in my office. He spoke to each of them so that they could co-ordinate and consult each other. The hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) spoke about swapping information and access to information, which is clearly a problem within the system. The Minister might find that lots of people who are entitled to PIP but who are not getting it because of administrative error will have their car taken away without their ever getting as far as Atos or a decision.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for securing this important debate. Time does not allow me to reflect on all the speeches, but I thank everyone who has spoken so passionately about the casework they have come across showing that people have been disadvantaged by the changes. I hope the Minister has listened and will respond to what has been said this afternoon.
Restricting access to mobility vehicles will increase the institutionalisation and isolation of disabled people, when we should be focusing on promoting their integration and inclusion in communities. The Scottish National party is extremely concerned that taking transport away from disabled people will make it extremely difficult for them to travel to and from work. The Government have pledged to halve disability unemployment, but their policies for disabled people fundamentally fly in the face of that aim. The Motability scheme provided independence for disabled people and helped them to live as normal a life as possible. As has been said, almost 14,000 disabled people’s specialist cars have already been taken away from them following reassessment. According to Motability’s 2014-15 annual report, 70,000 people in Scotland use the service. If the current level of loss continues, 31,500 people in Scotland will no longer be able to access this vital scheme, which should shame us all.
We know that we are facing these challenges because of the Tory obsession with reforming welfare. People are losing their Motability vehicles because the eligibility criteria in PIP assessments are different from the eligibility criteria for DLA, as many hon. Members have said. The Government should listen to those who have pointed out the consequences of the changes. For example, the MS Society has condemned them, stating that the Motability scheme plays a vital role for many people with multiple sclerosis. They conducted a survey of MS sufferers and found that the Motability scheme was particularly important to sufferers, enabling them to manage their condition and live more independently, which is something that we should all support. It also helped users participate in family and social activities.
Let us look at a typical case of someone who is being reassessed. Mrs C has been in receipt of DLA since 2014, after being hospitalised for five months, and she still has serious health problems. She got her Motability car in October 2014. As DLA is being phased out, she was asked to claim PIP instead. She did so, and received a decision letter dated 1 January 2016, which told her that her entitlement to DLA would end on 26 January. It also told her that, although she qualified for the daily living component at the enhanced rate, she scored only eight points for the mobility component, four less than the number required for the enhanced rate. Because her award does not include the enhanced rate mobility component, she will no longer be eligible for a Motability car. The letter told her that she had until 1 February to ask for a reconsideration of the decision.
She submitted a letter asking for reconsideration on 20 January, and on following up, she was told that it could take up to nine weeks—until 21 March—for a decision to be made. She had been told that she needed to return the car by 16 February: that is, nearly five weeks before she was likely to know the result of the reconsideration. Mrs C did not know how she was supposed to bridge that five-week gap and was unable to make any proper plans to meet her transport needs beyond 16 February. Should she buy a wee cheap car for just a few weeks? Did she need to find the money to replace her Motability car? Can the rules be changed so that Motability vehicles remain with the claimant pending their appeal? That would be the right thing for the Government to do.
The SNP in Scotland is doing all that we can to help disabled people, who are disproportionately affected by welfare reform. New powers over disability benefits in the Scotland Bill will provide opportunities to develop different policies for Scotland that are fairer and ensure that people are treated with the dignity and respect that are lacking from this Government.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) on securing this important debate, and I welcome to his place the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People. We have heard passionate speeches from many Members here about the devastating impact of the changes to mobility criteria on the lives of many people who are already struggling with everyday tasks. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to this debate.
The purpose of Motability is to help those who would otherwise be unable to afford full mobility. As many hon. Members have outlined, the recent change from the disability living allowance to the personal independence payment for people of working age has had various damaging effects on those with disabilities.
Is my hon. Friend aware of any action taken by the Government to ensure that the most vulnerable people with disabilities are protected from being isolated in their communities if they lose their eligibility for mobility service under the changes from DLA to PIP? I do not know of any, and neither do many disability organisations, including Muscular Dystrophy UK.
Many Members have also raised that concern. I hope that the Minister will respond to it when he sums up.
Many speakers in this debate have given examples involving their constituents and told us of the devastating impact on their needs and self-esteem. Significant numbers of people who currently benefit from the higher rate DLA mobility component will fail to qualify for the enhanced rate mobility component in PIP. That is a deliberate outcome; it is what the Government said up front that they wanted to do. They wanted to cut those benefits. It is not based on need; it is based on making cuts and financial savings.
Many people have had the adapted vehicles that are vital to their lives and livelihoods withdrawn as a result. I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) for raising the need for joined-up services, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who told us the story of Lisa’s experience and the impact of the cuts on her life. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) spoke passionately about the responsibilities of society and community, and the cuts to the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) spoke of her concerns about the quality of the PIP assessment and the conflict with medical experts who know the person’s needs. It is simply not fit for purpose. The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Corri Wilson) discussed Kayleigh’s experience and how only 50% of people get to keep the car after being assessed for PIP, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) discussed the devastating impact of the removal of the cars before an appeal has been heard.
The reality is that £24 billion in support will be removed from nearly 4 million disabled people by 2018. The policy will hinder disabled people, not help them. It is about removing support, not providing it, for people to live and work independently. The Extra Costs Commission has shown that disabled people face an average of £550 in extra living costs a month as a result of their disability, which is the main reason why disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. PIP is meant to help with those extra costs. The Government’s determination to maintain such a flawed rule is a direct assault on independent living for many, and it greatly hinders opportunities for those with disabilities to contribute to society.
Any one of us is likely at some time to be affected by disability, either directly or in caring for a disabled friend or relative. I know; my son is registered disabled. I urge the Government to rethink this policy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown); he is clearly passionate about this important subject and gave a well thought-out and well delivered speech. I also pay tribute to all the other Members who contributed, particularly those who raised concerns on behalf of their constituents, showing that they will always champion the people they represent.
I will pick up on a few of the questions raised before going into my speech, which will cover the rest of them. There are a few points that are slightly away from the subject of Motability. First, we are committed to halving the disability employment gap. We all welcome the fact that, in the last 12 months, 152,000 more disabled people were in work, and the number is 292,000 over the last two years. There is still a long way to go, but we are making considerable progress in that area.
Numerous speakers mentioned a 50-metre rule becoming a 20-metre rule. There never was a 50-metre rule. It is not that if someone can walk 20 metres and 1 cm, they get no benefit, but if they can walk only 19 metres, then they get the full benefit; it is about moving safely to an acceptable standard repeatedly and in a reasonable time period. The rule is a bit of an urban myth, and I wanted to flag that up.
I will make some progress, and then we will see how much time is left.
On the wider issue of the money that we spend on disability support, we are increasing it year on year, all the way to 2020, compared with 2010. It is about £50 billion a year. We are also spending 14.6% more on supporting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions than those out of work for more than two years who are trying to find work.
The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) mentioned a specific case involving three Departments. I have never heard of that before, which suggests that it is an isolated case. We will talk further on that and try to get to the bottom of it. Also, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) said that a decision was reversed on the back of a petition. That had no bearing on the reversal. I will discuss how the appeals process works later, but a petition would have no bearing on it. A decision is either right or it is wrong, and it will go through appeal. Individuals do not need to secure a petition. They may feel that it is an important part of their campaign, but it does not influence how things are done.
Motability is a fantastic scheme that was founded in 1977, following the introduction of mobility allowance in 1976. The scheme was founded by Lord Sterling, who I have had the great pleasure of meeting on a number of occasions, and the late Lord Goodman, with cross-party support that still continues today. Before Motability, there was the invalid carriage, which was a small, blue, motorised trike. It had a poor safety record and was unable to carry passengers, so it was of no use for the most severely disabled, who needed carers to drive them, or for those with children. As well as being unsociable, it was—frankly—awful-looking.
Today the Motability scheme helps about 600,000 people and they can choose from 2,600 vehicles. It comes as a “worry-free” package, with insurance and repairs included, and its average cost is more than 40% less than that of the equivalent commercial lease. I have had the pleasure of handing the keys to a Motability vehicle to one of my constituents, so, like many Members who have spoken today, I have seen what a difference the scheme makes to people’s everyday lives.
Most Motability users qualify through enhanced-rate personal independence payment mobility or higher-rate disability living allowance. A small number of people qualify through the armed forces independence payment and the war pensioners’ mobility supplement schemes, which are run by the Ministry of Defence.
DLA was inconsistent, subjective and out of step with the needs of a 21st century welfare system. The reality was that more than 70% of people on DLA had received a lifetime award, yet the conditions of one in three people on DLA significantly changed every year. Because people were on lifetime awards, time and time again those people who might not have been on the highest rate and whose conditions had worsened were not being reassessed, and so were missing out on benefits. It is no surprise that under PIP the percentage of those people who qualify for the highest rate of benefit is about 22.5%, whereas under DLA the figure was only 16%. Therefore, it is wrong to try to convey the impression that DLA was the utopian benefit; there was widespread support for its reform.
There are still things that need to be done and those things are part of our ongoing work. PIP is designed to determine awards consistently and objectively, with most people having a face-to-face consultation with an independent health professional to help them to build their case. Members should remember that the assessors are not awarding benefit; that is done by us in the Department and we set the rules and the levels of benefit. The assessors are there to help people to build their cases. So, rather than being presented under DLA with a complex 50-page self-assessment form, which many people could not do justice to, PIP is there. I have sat through PIP assessments and I have seen how the assessors help to support people, particularly when individuals have a mental health condition or a learning disability and therefore need to be guided through the process, to ensure that their case is as strong as possible.
The Government are committed to delivering PIP in a safe and secure way. Full roll-out of PIP started in July in a controlled way, allowing us to test and improve the service before scaling it up. From October, and in line with previously published plans, we began the full national roll-out of PIP. I look at the statistics twice a week. We control PIP and it has been in a settled state for about nine months now, which is widely reflected among all the stakeholder groups that I engage with. That process and the claimant journey will continue to improve. We continue to work with stakeholder groups and claimants, looking at ways to improve communication and the process. Nevertheless, it is widely recognised that the process is now in a settled state. Claims are now taking an average of 11 weeks from start to finish, which is much quicker than we anticipated when we produced PIP. As of October 2015, 611,000 are receiving PIP and new applicants to Motability are now split 50:50 between PIP and DLA.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) talked about mental health. Unlike DLA, PIP considers the impact of someone’s condition on them and not just what condition they have, and it treats all impairment types equally. So, 21% of PIP claimants with a mental health condition get an enhanced rate of mobility, compared with just 10% of such DLA claimants, and 68% of PIP claimants with a mental health condition get enhanced-rate daily living, compared with just 22% of such DLA claimants. That is an example of how the improved assessment process is getting people to the right level of benefit—the level they should be receiving. We considered mental health at every stage of the design process, and that awareness has been built in to the activities that are examined.
A number of hon. Members have highlighted individual cases. Without all the evidence, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on a specific case. However, it is important to point something out. Many people have talked about a figure of 14,000 people; actually, there are now 24,000 more people using the Motability scheme than there were at the start of 2013, when we began introducing PIP. So, there are many, many more winners now, which is an important point to remember.
If people in individual cases, like those set out today, believe that an assessment is wrong, they have the option of a mandatory reconsideration, which looks at evidence afresh and allows for a late submission of evidence—
I am just tight on time, but if I can give way, I will. If people are still unsatisfied, they can go to an independent appeal that is separate from our Department. Those who lose an appeal, which is a relatively small proportion of the total number of claimants, have had that opportunity to present their case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) made a brilliant point when he said that in a utopian world, and former Governments have tried this, as a Department we would have all the relevant information at our fingertips. However, the “supercomputer” did not quite work, which is a shame as it could have helped hugely. A lot of the appeals that are won are not won because we made the wrong decision. We made the right decision on the evidence that was presented. However, when we send out the letter explaining why an applicant has not been unsuccessful and has not received what they believe they are entitled to, it sets out why. A lot of people then go, “Oh, actually, while I submitted my GP’s”—
Given the fact that in many cases people are going through the appeal process, would it not be right for them to retain the ownership of their vehicle until the appeal process is finished, rather than losing the vehicle, particularly if they live in a rural area where losing a vehicle puts them at a massive disadvantage?
I understand that point, but it is a long-standing principle that benefits are not paid pending an appeal. A negative decision means that there is no entitlement to benefits, so we would not normally pay benefits unless the decision is overturned on appeal. That is true of all Governments for all time, which is a point that the hon. Gentleman himself has made. Again, with devolution there will be opportunities to do things differently. However, as it stands, that is how things are.
Generally, decisions are overturned on appeal because additional evidence is presented. We will continue to do all we can to make it as easy as possible for people to get hold of that information, because it makes a significant difference.
For those people who are no longer entitled to Motability, there is a transitional support package, and discussions conducted by staff in my Department before I became a Minister meant that the Department was able to secure a £175 million package for transitional support. That gives significant help to DLA claimants who leave the Motability scheme. They can keep their car for seven weeks; they are allowed to buy their own vehicle; and most of them will receive up to £2,000 in benefits, which is normally enough to buy a used car. Motability helps to pay to adapt new non-scheme cars and it provides advice on matters such as car insurance. That support is paid for by donations from Motability Operations, to make things as smooth as possible.
A number of Members have powerfully raised important points. We keep a very close eye on the Motability scheme, but the overriding factor is that PIP is being delivered in a controlled and measured manner, and we are making sure that we deliver it to the most vulnerable people in society. As I have said, we see a much higher number of applicants securing the highest rate of benefit under PIP compared with the number who secured it under DLA.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak again.
I started out by saying that it would be ideal if this debate did not need to happen. Unfortunately, it needs to happen and the convincing testimonies from all around Westminster Hall today show us that we have a long way to go.
There have been some excellent contributions. I thought that the Minister gave an excellent response, and was very genuine. However, his response still seemed to ignore the fact that the system is wrong; it is not working, and he must reflect on that. I believe that he is much more genuine than his predecessor was, but, as I say, the testimonies given here today prove that the system is not working.
The Minister also said there were more winners than losers. Again, when we consider the testimonies that we have heard, it does not feel like that at all. I go back to the 20 metres/50 metres argument. I accept that there is not an absolute rule, but I will quote the Library briefing paper on the Motability scheme:
“Under the final PIP Regulations, individuals who do not need a wheelchair only qualify for the enhanced rate mobility component if they can only move short distances of no more than 20 metres, rather than 50 metres as in the previous draft.”
I am reading that from the Library briefing paper. It is possible that the Library is wrong, but can the Minister confirm that? And if the 20-metre distance is not part of the guidance, even though there might be a repeat test, can he ensure that every assessment centre in this country knows that and does not use it to remove enhanced mobility from people?
I finish with those remarks and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Motability car scheme.