As we said in our Green Paper, and as I discussed with the right hon. Gentleman last week, we recognise the need to improve disabled people’s experience of our services. In response to feedback, we have already committed to changes for the special rules on terminal illness. In the British Sign Language Bill and its supporting work, we also show that we are listening to disabled people with an advisory board of BSL users.
DWP’s social security advisory committee highlighted just over a year ago the serious problem that disabled people do not trust the Department. Burying the NatCen report, in breach of the cross-Government social research protocol, has made matters worse. The failure to consult properly on the national disability strategy has also now been found to be in breach of the law. As a first step, should the Minister not accept the social security advisory committee’s recommendation to establish a protocol for engagement to do the job properly with disabled people?
I do want to engage more with disabled people and continue all the work that is going on to listen to disabled people and disabled people’s organisations. That is a priority across a number of areas of work for all the Ministers on the Front Bench. I take issue with the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the NatCen research and the use of the protocol. As has been the habit of successive Governments, including the one that he served in, protecting a private space for policy development has always been a relevant factor and is a permissible technique for ensuring that we can bring research out at the right time, as we undertook to do in this case.
In addition to the Minister’s vital work with leading health and disability charities, can she confirm that she is fully engaged with the regional stakeholder networks to ensure that a full diverse range of disability voices has an opportunity to shape Government work?
I certainly can. My hon. Friend is correct: we need to be able to listen to disabled people and disabled people’s organisations of all shapes and sizes. That is what will help us to come to the right conclusions; for example, in the White Paper that we will be bringing forward in the summer.
The NatCen report is a shocking read that again highlights the hostile environment created by the Department. Disabled people are having to undergo cruel and unfit-for- purpose assessments for their employment and support allowance and personal independence payment; face long delays before a decision is made; and, in most instances, must appeal to a tribunal where they have to wait even longer for vital support. Can the Minister understand why, given those experiences, thousands of disabled people feel let down by the Department? What action will she take to reduce long delays and unfair waiting times?
We are working to ensure that that benefit gets to the people who need it most as quickly as possible. I must take issue, however, with the hon. Lady’s assertion that most claims go to tribunal or reconsideration. They simply do not. I set out the facts on that last week in Westminster Hall.
I welcome the British Sign Language Bill and the important commitment to ensure that the access to work scheme better meets the needs of BSL users. Will the Minister commit to driving that work forward at pace to ensure that more deaf people are supported in reaching their potential?
I am glad to hear that there is support for the Bill on both sides of the House. It is an important piece of work and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) whose Bill it is and with whom I am pleased to work to bring it forward. As my hon. Friend asks, we are all committed to doing that as quickly as we can because there is so much that we can do to support deaf people to be better involved in education, employment and wider society, which is what the Bill aims to do.
Before I call question 9, I understand that it has been grouped with question 13 but not questions 20 and 22, which are identical. I find that rather strange. Of course, it is up to Ministers to propose groupings, but I make it clear that if the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) wish to catch my eye, they will be called for their supplementaries.