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Disability: Welfare Support

Volume 607: debated on Monday 14 March 2016

4. What steps he has taken to review the system of assessments for disabled people seeking welfare support. (904053)

Independent reviews have been carried out of the assessments for personal independence payment and work capability assessment. The first review of the assessment for personal independence payment was undertaken and published in December 2014. There have also been five independent reviews of the work capability assessment.

Disabled people, particularly those with mental challenges, report that the work capability assessment is exacerbating their ill health, even to the point that they want to take their own life. Those constituents are vulnerable and fragile. The situation is made worse by changes in benefits, financial hardship, and threats of future cuts. Rather than deny the problem, will the Secretary of State order an independent review of those with mental health challenges to assess the impact of the system from a service user’s perspective?

Following the Dr Litchfield recommendations, we accept that more needs to be done. We are improving training for staff, and now, across the jobcentre networks, we have mental function champions who can spread best practice in mental health.

In view of Friday’s statement, why do the Government have such a compulsive need to hit out at disabled people at every opportunity? Does the Minister not realise how difficult it is for those people to lead their lives while their income is being undermined by the Government? This can only be described as an ongoing Tory war against the disabled.

I simply do not accept that. We are increasing the numbers of people who will benefit from the PIP system, we continue to improve the claimant’s journey, and we work extensively with our stakeholders to make sure that improvements are ongoing. By the end of this Parliament, we will be spending more money in this area than we are today.

One of my constituents, a Mr McLoughlin, is registered as blind, but he has been denied, through the access to work scheme, essential equipment to help him work. The reason given was that able-bodied people would also be able to use the equipment. I am interested to know what equipment the Minister believes an able-bodied person could not use that a registered blind person could. Will he personally look into Mr McLoughlin’s case and that of others who face the same difficulty?

I will happily look into it, because without having all the details I cannot comment. On the broader issue, we are now helping more than 38,000 people a year—close to record numbers—with the access to work funding, which is in the fourth year of growth, and we have just secured funding for a further 25,000.

My constituent, who is also registered blind, has told me how valuable the access to work scheme has been in getting him into work. His disability employment adviser contacted a new employer about his needs and they made workplace adjustments without which it would be very difficult for him to hold down his job. Is it not the case that this scheme is extremely valuable in supporting people such as my constituent?

I thank my hon. Friend. That is why we were so delighted to secure the extra funding for a further 25,000 places. We will be doing a lot more to promote this scheme, and I encourage employers to take advantage of it.