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Claimants with Disabilities: Number of Assessments

Volume 673: debated on Monday 9 March 2020

13. What steps she is taking to reduce the number of assessments undertaken by claimants with disabilities. (901393)

21. What steps she is taking to reduce the number of assessments undertaken by claimants with disabilities. (901402)

As our manifesto set out, we are committed to reducing the number of assessments that disabled people face. That will build on improvements already made, including reducing the frequency of assessments for those with severe or progressive conditions and removing regular reviews for PIP claimants over pension age.

I thank the Minister for his response. A number of constituents with severe conditions that are not reasonably expected to improve have contacted me with concerns about the current process. What reassurance can he give my constituents that their predicament will be given consideration as part of any future changes that the Department makes?

In the coming months, we will launch a Green Paper that will look at claimants’ experience, trust in the process and allowing claimants to lead full and independent lives. We will be doing a full review, working with stakeholders, claimants and charities to identify further areas of improvement on top of what we have already done.

I welcome the Department’s announcement last week that it will create a single, integrated service for PIP applicants and users. Can my hon. Friend confirm that that will make the application process much smoother for my constituents in Workington?

It will give us greater flexibility to try out new ideas that will be identified in the Green Paper, ensuring that we put claimants first.

Before Errol Graham was found dead after his employment and support allowance was stopped, he wrote a letter to the Department for Work and Pensions, pleading with officials. He said:

“Please judge me fairly. I am… overshadowed by depression.”

That letter was revealed to the public weeks after the National Audit Office published a damning report showing that the Department has investigated 69 suicides linked to social security, which are just the tip of the iceberg. Will the Secretary of State finally make a statement on that report, and will she now commit to an independent inquiry into the deaths related to social security?

The Secretary of State is absolutely passionate about the need to make improvements in this area and is leading very important work. On the specific point of the NAO report, we are working at pace to drive forward improvements and learn the lessons from any cases. We have already improved support and guidance for staff on how best to support vulnerable people. The NAO report notes action that the DWP is already taking, but we are now carefully considering the NAO’s findings and how they can help to further improve our excellence plan.

That passion certainly does not seem to be demonstrated in recent tribunal cases—the Department for Work and Pensions has lost more employment tribunals for disability discrimination than any other employer in Britain. Is the Secretary of State shocked by her Department’s own disability tribunal record, given that it should be, as the Minister said, leading by example? What will the Secretary of State do to rectify that?

Fair and respectful treatment is a right, and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form within the workplace, including within ours. We have instigated a review of our processes and actions to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and with respect. I am proud that, as a Department, since 2014, when 6.8% of our workforce were identified as having a disability, we are now at 15.3%, which is well above the civil service average of 11.7%. We are keen to be a fully inclusive and diverse workforce to benefit from their full potential.

Many of my constituents reduce the number of assessments they face by discontinuing their applications themselves, because they find it far too traumatic to have to repeat their life story over and over again to every public body they come across. When somebody dies, the Government have a “Tell me once” principle to help bereaved families cope by only notifying a public entity on a single occasion. As the Minister draws up his Green Paper, can he look at whether we can have one single source of truth for each claimant to reduce the trauma they face in going through this process?

My hon. Friend is absolutely spot-on. This comes up time and again, and it is driving our desire to bring forward the integrated assessment: where a claimant has already secured sufficient evidence, with the claimant’s permission, and only with the claimant’s permission, that information can be used to increase the chance of a paper-based review and reduce the need for a full face-to-face assessment for other benefits.

For a decade, disabled people and disability organisations such as the Disability Benefits Consortium have highlighted the absurdity of testing people with learning disabilities and progressive conditions every six months, as well as the stress for them and the cost to the taxpayer and the NHS. The Minister says those assessments will be reduced. When can they expect them to be reduced?

We have already made changes—for example, in the PIP process, where we no longer routinely assess those of pensioner age and those with the most severe conditions—and that work will continue to be brought forward as our knowledge of different conditions improves. As part of the ambitious and exciting Green Paper we are bringing forward in the coming months, claimants, charities and stakeholders can further identify how we can make the claimant experience much better. I know that the hon. Member has done a huge amount of work in this area, and I hope he will contribute to the Green Paper.