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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat as a Statement an Answer given to an Urgent Question in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on personal independence payments. The Statement is as follows:

“Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different from what was originally intended by the coalition Government. We are therefore now making amendments to clarify the criteria used to decide how much benefit claimants receive in order to restore the original aim of the policy, as previously agreed by Parliament, which followed extensive consultation.

I want to be clear about what this is not. This is not a policy change, nor is it intended to make new savings. I would like to reiterate my commitment that there will be no further welfare savings beyond those already legislated for. It will not result in any claimant seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by the DWP.

Mental health conditions and physical disabilities which lead to higher costs will continue to be supported, as has always been the case. This Government are committed to ensuring that our welfare system provides a strong safety net for those who need it. That is why we spend around £50 billion a year supporting people with disabilities and health conditions and why we are investing more in mental health than ever before, spending a record £11.4 billion a year.

Personal independence payments are part of that support and provide support towards the additional costs that disabled people face. At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that support should be made according to need, rather than a certain condition, whether physical or non-physical. It is also designed to focus more support on those who are likely to have higher costs associated with their disability. PIP works better than DLA for those with mental health conditions. For example, there are more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of PIP than under the old DLA system”.

That concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement to the House. I want to concentrate on the judgment on the mobility component of PIP. Despite what the newspapers may have reported, the tribunal ruling does not mean that anyone with mental health problems can get the higher rate of PIP. What it does mean is that assessors cannot arbitrarily ignore all mental health problems when working out whether someone is entitled to the higher rate of PIP to deal with the higher costs that they face. Despite the Minister’s comments, MIND has pointed out that the Explanatory Memorandum for the original Act said that the higher rate was right if someone’s mobility was,

“severely limited by the person’s physical or mental condition”.

If these regulations go through, it seems that someone who is blind and needs help to plan or navigate a journey could get the higher rate of PIP but someone who, for example, has autism or early-onset dementia and could not manage to plan or navigate a journey without help would not be able to get the higher rate of PIP. My question is very simple: how does that sit with the Government’s commitment to parity of esteem between physical and mental health and to the Prime Minister’s promise to tackle the stigma associated with mental health problems?

My Lords, what the tribunal said was that there was some uncertainty in our regulations, despite the fact—I am sure the noble Baroness will remember this far better than I can, because I was not in this position at the time—that these matters were extensively debated during the passage of the Bill a year or so ago and agreed in Parliament. The tribunal said that there was uncertainty and we are trying to put that right.

The noble Baroness specifically referred to the example of people who are blind in comparison to those with psychological distress. That was a matter considered in one of the two cases that we are dealing with. Mental health conditions are more likely to fluctuate than conditions such as visual impairment or blindness, and people who cannot navigate due to a visual or cognitive impairment are more likely to have a higher level of need and therefore face higher costs. What we are seeking to do, quite simply, is amend the criteria to reinstate the distinction between those two groups, as was originally intended in the order. It is no more than that.

My Lords, the Minister said that this is quite simple. It is not quite simple. In both recent appeals, the Upper Tribunal considered the relevant PIP descriptors most carefully. Does the Minister accept that in the second case, which dealt with mobility, the judges took into account the Government’s own declaration that non-physical conditions, which surely must include “overwhelming psychological distress”, under descriptors 1.b. and 1.e. in the 2013 regulations, should be given the same recognition as physical ones? Why did the Government not consult disabled organisations before bringing in these amending regulations so that they could learn the true picture of what the changes would mean?

My Lords, in the time available we have not been able, as the noble Baroness will know, to consult SSAC, nor have we been able to consult a large number of different organisations; no doubt those consultations will take place. What the two tribunal decisions exposed, to go back to what I said earlier, was that there was some confusion in the original directions. We are seeking to put those back on the footing that Parliament agreed a year or so ago, so that the matter is clear and we can continue the support that is, and has been, available at a very high level—at much higher levels than it ever was available under DLA, as I made clear in the original response.

My Lords, have the Government conducted an impact assessment of the social isolation caused by denying enhanced-level PIP to people who would experience overwhelming psychological distress if they had to undertake a journey without someone to accompany them? If this assessment has not been done, when will it be and could it please be made available to this House?

Can I again make it clear to the House that we are not in any way trying to suggest that people with any particular condition should be deprived of PIP? As the noble Baroness and the House will be aware, when we brought in PIP the arrangements were much more generous and reached far more people than DLA did in the past. It is not any specific condition that is being looked at here; people are not awarded PIP on the grounds of any specific medical condition but because of the way that particular impairment or medical condition affects their ability to live an independent life. That is what we are trying to do with PIP, or it is what we were trying to do and want to try to get back to.

My Lords, it is not the case that PIP is more generous than DLA. The Minister has only to consult the information produced by Motability on the number of the people losing cars to know that that is not a correct statement. Let me go back to the substance: we all know that DLA, followed by PIP, is not an income-replacement benefit but an extra-costs benefit associated with disability. What analysis have the Government made of the extra costs facing people with mental health problems, which would underpin their eligibility for the points assessment in assessing the awards for PIP? Given that there is not a clear answer, which I accept, would it not be wise and prudent to refer it to the Social Security Advisory Committee, whose job is precisely to steer the Government in areas such as this?

On the noble Baroness’s first point, I go back to what I originally said: there are many more claimants on PIP with mental health conditions who are claiming the mobility component. It is 29% compared to the 9% who were on DLA, which was not as good at reaching these people as PIP is. As regards her second point, it was right that, the decisions of the two tribunals having been made, and complaints having being made by the tribunals about a lack of clarity in the original directions, or words to that effect, we should correct those directions and get back to what Parliament originally intended. That is what we are trying to do and will do in these regulations.

Can my noble friend the Minister give an update on what the Government are doing to remove the stigma for many people with mental health conditions, particularly those in the workplace? Does he agree that it is particularly important for people with mental health conditions to stay in work and find it quickly if they are unemployed? What is being done to support them in this way?

My Lords, PIP is just part of all that the DWP and the rest of the Government are doing in this field. We believe that we are reaching more people. We are committed, as we made clear in our manifesto, to increasing the number of disabled people in work, and that includes those with mental health conditions. We are also committed to narrowing the gap between employed non-disabled people and employed disabled people, and will continue to work in that area.

The Minister may know that as many as 50% of people with learning disabilities also have mental health problems, which are often undiagnosed or overlooked. Has the department looked at how the regulations will impact on eligibility for PIP for those who have a dual diagnosis of a learning disability and mental illness?

My Lords, the important thing to remember about PIP, which is what we are discussing today, is that, as I made clear in one of my earlier responses, we are looking not at specific conditions but at how those specific conditions or medical conditions affect their ability to live an independent life and then, as the noble Baroness said earlier, to make sure that the benefit goes to meet their extra costs.

My Lords, I can give that assurance. As I made quite clear in my earlier remarks, we have seen a growth in the support for people with disabilities and for those with mental health problems. As I said, we spend something in the region of £50 billion a year supporting people with disabilities and health conditions, and we are investing more in mental health than ever before.

My Lords, will these measures be retrospective? Will those thousands of individuals who have undergone reassessment for PIP, and are waiting for the mandatory reconsideration, be judged on the old system or the new system?

All those who are in receipt of PIP will continue to receive PIP at the rates granted to them in the past. There is no question of any individual losing out.