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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 646: debated on Tuesday 11 September 2018

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Iain Stewart.)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak this evening. I am grateful to colleagues for joining me tonight.

Like many across this House, I came to this place because I wanted to give back to my community, to speak up for the vulnerable and to stand up for those who look to us for leadership and understanding. Let me be clear: the Government’s flagship welfare reforms—whether it is universal credit, the personal independence payment or the job centre closures—have failed. They have failed to support those in need, failed to support those with disabilities and long-term chronic conditions, and failed to show the basic values that we expect to see from any Government.

I have called for a debate on the roll-out of personal independence payments, known as PIP, because of the calls, the emails and the visits to my surgery from people pushed to breaking point. Personal independence payments, or PIP, were a replacement for the disability living allowance for people of working age—between 16 and 64. Those who are over 65 will remain eligible for disability living allowance. The PIP was introduced for new claimants in 2013, under the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and the Department for Work and Pensions aimed to reassess all existing working-age DLA claimants.

I looked at the website in preparation for this debate. You know, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you are looking for help with PIP, the suggestion on the Government’s website is to look for a local support organisation or the local Citizens Advice Bureau. That is called taking the biscuit: we have all seen the savage cuts to local government, local community groups and to citizens advice bureaux, so it is hugely insulting to have the Government suggest that people look for services and support that no longer exist. If you do find the brilliant people who still work there and who are still trying to provide support, have sympathy, because they cannot get their heads round the constant changes that have come from the Department for Work and Pensions.

I know colleagues want to intervene, but I would like to tell a story from one of my constituents from Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. Mr William Queen has Perthes disease, which is a rare condition that affects his hip joints. When his reassessment came up, William, who had already moved on to the personal independence payment from the disability living allowance, was refused his request and had his PIP withdrawn. He had an extraordinary assessment with Atos, where the assessor did not even take his disability into consideration. We know what firms such as Atos and Capita are like, and they should have no role in providing public services to vulnerable people. William was left suffering with increased stress and anxiety and, more importantly, empty pockets. When someone cannot work due to their disability, they should not be made to feel worse by a cold and dismissive system designed by the Department for Work and Pensions. William and so many people like him have been treated disgracefully, and they deserve better.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to the House for consideration. I fully support the comments he is making. Universal credit is only just happening in my constituency, and vulnerable people who I represent and who speak to me every week about PIP have already contacted me in fear of the changes and charges. Does he agree that communication to vulnerable and ill people is not acceptable and that more needs to be done by the DWP and the Government? Hopefully the Minister can bring back something positive in her response.

Yes, I agree. In doing research yesterday, I found that Disability Rights UK has highlighted DWP research that four out of 10 PIP claimants do not appeal, as it would be too stressful for them. We have unfair assessments that result in people losing money, but they do not appeal because of the stress that would be caused. What a disgrace!

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. He represents a constituency that neighbours mine. Glasgow North East has had the worst impact from the change from DLA to PIP, with some £2 million a year being taken from the pockets of the poorest people in my constituency. More than 580 people have lost their entitlement as a result of the change. Behind the figure is a litany of despair and misery. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Government have to understand that they need to take a compassionate approach? The misery faced by my constituents and his has to end.

Talking about compassion, the introduction of PIP, which was supported by the Tories—we should not forget that the Liberals backed it, too—was meant to lead to a fairer, more transparent and more consistent system. It has been anything but. We should not forget that the overarching aim was to slash public services—in other words, saving money on the backs of the most vulnerable in our country. They are the people who are suffering. Has it worked? No, it has not worked for those who want a fairer, transparent and consistent system.

Despite all the Tory and Lib Dem cuts, the Office for Budget Responsibility has continued to downgrade its estimate of the savings from the introduction of PIP. So the Government’s aims have not been achieved. At the same time, we have seen many people and families hurt in the process. That hurt is made worse by the fact that despite the DWP being responsible for handling PIP claims and making the decision on entitlement to benefits, private companies such as Capita and Atos have been doing the assessments. Perhaps we should not be surprised by what we see and hear every day. It is time for change.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about cuts, but does he recognise that the welfare reforms have led to an increase in welfare spending? If cuts were the Government’s desire, then yes, we have failed. However, if that means we are providing more funding for those most in need, that is where my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has succeeded.

I am sorry, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not know who goes into his surgery to talk to him, but I certainly do not hear that from the people who come in to talk to me.

Many colleagues have consistently raised PIP with the Government over recent months and years. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) is one and I congratulate her on the birth of her baby boy and I hope that they are both doing well.

I just wish to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham). Does my hon. Friend agree that, in fact, the introduction of PIP has been used as a means of cutting support for disabled people? When we look at the figures from charities such as Mind, we can see that more than half of the people who started off on disability living allowance and transferred to PIP are to get reduced points or no points at all. This is purely a means of cutting support for disabled people.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend and I thank her for her intervention.

Many MPs have spoken on the issue over the past few months and years. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham highlighted how the mental health conditions of those with chronic disabilities is also a factor. My hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) have also spoken on the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen), in my neighbourhood of Lanarkshire, raised a very good question with the Government around the actual number of challenges to original assessment decisions that have been successful. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) legitimately asked the Government whether claimants would be entitled to receive a copy of their PIP assessment reports.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate him on this important and timely debate. Does he agree that the sheer number of people who are successfully challenging the outcome when they lose their PIP award shows that the system is completely broken? We should not be putting people through that stress and anxiety and dragging them into poverty; we should be getting it right the first time round.

I totally agree, which is why I am pleased to be having this debate tonight.

Those were just a few examples of points raised by colleagues on the Opposition Benches and I pay tribute to them for championing these issues and for supporting the people who need our help. It is not just those in this House who have a view on PIP. Here are some comments from actual PIP claimants—people who do suffer from PIP. One said:

“In an assessment, an assessor cannot see the difficulties faced on a daily basis, nor can they know how constant pain feels.”

Another said:

“The assessment was focused on physical disabilities and didn’t factor in my mental health.”

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He is making a fantastic speech. Many of my constituents, especially those with mental health difficulties, have said that when they went for their assessment, they were assessed on how they were doing on the day. They have described it as like going for a job interview; they were trying to do their best. One constituent said that she was asked whether she could get a pen out of her handbag. She picked up her handbag, and on her form it said that she was able to pick up a handbag. Does he agree that that is ludicrous and that this way of testing people is simply not fair and not reflective of their disability?

Yes, and that is why I am making these comments. These are actual people who are on PIP. One said:

“I found it humiliating.”

Another claimant said that she found

“the whole experience was brutal and gruelling.”

Finally, one asked:

“How low do these assessors go? I was asked if I had thought about killing myself.”

Can Members imagine somebody going to an interview and being asked that? Let us think about that:

“I was asked if I had thought about killing myself.”

This is the country that we live in, in 2018. These are comments from people who have gone through the process and we should be listening to them and we should be supporting them, with action not words.

I thank my constituency neighbour for giving way and congratulate him on securing this debate and on his speech. The examples that he has given, presumably from his constituents, are echoed by my constituents in Airdrie and Shotts. Like me, does he welcome the changes that will be made by the Scottish Government when we take control over some of these areas to ensure that there will no longer be face-to-face assessments unless they are requested and that there will be paper-based medical assessments carried out first? This is one of the most demeaning and most problematic aspects of the PIP assessment process.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned Scotland. Let us take Scotland separately, with the special Government up there. In Scotland, we must not walk by on the other side. The SNP Government have the powers to abolish PIP assessments, and that is what they must do as a matter of urgency. I will give my assurance that the Labour Benches in Holyrood will support that.

In Wales, Keith Jones from Wrexham was refused PIP, having been on DLA since 1997. Keith died before his appeal was heard. He died weighing just 6 stone because his mouth cancer meant that he could not eat solid food, and he struggled to walk more than 20 metres. I could go on about more cases, but I want to encourage interventions.

The fact that 69% of decisions that go to appeal are overturned surely shows that there is a significant flaw in the system. If decisions are being overturned 69% of the time, how can the Government say they are doing the right thing?

That is exactly why we are here, speaking up for those who do not have a voice.

Joe MacMillan from my neighbouring Glasgow died two weeks after he appealed against the decision of the Department for Work and Pensions to remove his PIP. He had £8 in the bank—the last of his money—but his benefits were cut. Do you know why? Because he could make a cup of tea. In 2018, that is how we judge people who are looking for support and help.

I pay tribute to some of the organisations that are thankfully supporting people in need, including the Samaritans, Mind, Get Connected, HOPELineUK, MayTree, Rape Crisis and SurvivorsUK. These organisations work hard to support people. Frankly, the Government should be doing the same.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent and powerful speech on behalf of the millions of disabled people affected by PIP, but they are also affected by the cuts for disabled people in universal credit and by the cuts to employment and support allowance. Does he agree that the combination of all these cuts is having a cumulative impact on disabled people, some of whom are up to £10,000 a year worse off as a result? Does he agree that that is a disgrace and that the situation needs to be looked at as a whole?

I certainly do agree.

Even today, more organisations have contacted me and sent me documents. These include the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Mencap, Headway—the brain injury association—and Scope. Surely all these people cannot be wrong.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there was recently a challenge against the Government regarding PIP, and it showed that the Government were discriminating against people with mental health issues? This is an area on which the organisations that he mentioned provide support and campaign actively.

That is what I am doing—calling on this Government to think again in the interests of people right across the United Kingdom. PIP is not working. People have lost their lives. It is time to think again and to be fair, transparent and consistent. This was the Government’s flagship policy. I respect the Minister for being here to listen, but what more do she and her colleagues need to see before they halt the roll-out of PIP and think again? Can I say that it would have been nice to see the Secretary of State here for this debate as well?

This is all about politics. It is about the decisions taken in this place. I will work with anyone to get a better deal for these people, but let me be clear that these callous Tory policies will come to an end with the next UK Labour Government. That is why Labour is the party for the many, not the few.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) on securing this very important debate. I would like to add my personal congratulations to his, and those of his colleagues, to the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock). I am pleased to hear that she has had her baby and both are doing well. Please extend those congratulations to her. I hope to see her back in her place in due course so that we can continue our work together.

It is very clear to me that all Members who have spoken here today care deeply about their constituents and want to see the best possible outcomes for them when they are going through the process of claiming the personal independence payment. I can assure them that this Government are equally committed to supporting everyone to achieve their full potential in society and to lead as independent and full lives as possible. The successful roll-out of PIP is integral to our vision that we have a really fair and compassionate society and that people get the support that they need.

Figures have been bandied around this evening, and it is really important that we deal with the facts. We are committed to providing a strong safety net for those who need it. That is why we are spending about £54 billion this year just on the benefits that support disabled people and those with health conditions. We are focusing on those main disability benefits through employment and support allowance and other benefits in addition to PIP. Expenditure has increased by more than £5.4 billion since 2010. It is set to be at a record high this year, and it will continue to be higher in every year to 2022 than in 2010.

The hon. Lady is a very experienced Member of Parliament, and she understands that in an Adjournment debate we have very little time. My door is always open to all Members here tonight if they want to raise constituency cases or broader points with me. I will not be able to address these points if I take interventions. [Interruption.] I ask the hon. Lady please to come and see me, and I will be more than happy to listen and respond carefully to what she wants to say.

These disability benefits are also exempt from the benefits freeze, so they will increase again this year to make sure that they are going up in line with inflation. We have about 5.25 million people of all ages on benefits, but we are supporting 1.8 million on PIP. Again, we have heard the misquoting of information about appeals. Of all the people who have applied for PIP, about 9% have gone to appeals, of which only 4% have been overturned. One person who has a poor experience of PIP—one person who does not get the treatment that these people all richly deserve—is one too many. We are utterly committed to a continuous improvement programme.

It is really important to remember why we looked again at the disability living allowance. It was a benefit for its time. It was mostly focused on physical disability. It did not take into consideration all the mental health conditions that we know people live with. It did not take into consideration learning difficulties or sensory impairments like blindness. Understanding of other conditions such as autism has changed immeasurably. DLA was too reliant on self-assessment, and people had very little opportunity to be reassessed, so they could be underpaid in their benefit.

In fact, PIP has achieved many of its objectives. We can absolutely see that when we look at the results. Over 1.88 million people are now in receipt of PIP. Over 225,000 more working-age disabled people are now receiving DLA or PIP compared with when PIP was first introduced, and more support is now going to those that need it the most. Over 30% of claimants are receiving the highest level of support under PIP, compared with 15% under DLA.

There has been much talk, quite rightly, about people with mental health conditions. It is really important to note that 65% of PIP recipients with mental health conditions receive the enhanced rate of daily living component, compared with 22% of people on DLA. Clearly, where we were aiming to make sure that people with mental health conditions were benefiting from this new benefit, that is happening. It is a holistic benefit that looks at a whole range of conditions with regard to people’s ability to lead independent lives.

I have consistently listened to colleagues in the House. I regularly meet charities and stakeholders to ensure that we make improvements to PIP. We have had independent reviews of PIP. We have had a Select Committee inquiry, which made many recommendations that we have accepted. We are absolutely committed, and a lot of changes have already happened.

I would like to take this opportunity to update the House on the extensive work we have been doing on implementing the reforms to PIP that I have set out and communicated regularly to the House. Starting with the beginning of the applicant’s journey, we have done work on improving communications, including making changes to the forms, ensuring that people understand that they can bring people along to support them and providing far more access for disabled people. We have independent evaluation where we engage with our PIP claimants to ask them how we can improve the process. Some 87% of them found it a positive experience, but of course other people are not finding it a positive experience, and they are the ones we are working with. We are working with individual disabled people and organisations, and we have listened and acted.

I have been asked about particular changes we have made. Over the summer, we have done a huge amount of work to get ready for a proper pilot of recording PIP assessments. I would like to say to the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill that using the private sector to undertake assessments is not a new thing. It was brought in by the Labour party when it brought in ESA back in 2008. It was the Labour party that introduced work capability assessments and used health professionals to undertake those assessments.

Let us remember who these health professionals are: they are the nurses, physiotherapists, doctors and occupational therapists we all depend on when we go to our local hospital or engage with our local health service. Those are the healthcare professionals undertaking the process. They are highly dedicated and motivated healthcare professionals who receive very thorough ongoing training, particularly in mental health. There is a huge amount of stakeholder engagement from voluntary sector organisations that support disabled people to ensure that the assessors undertaking these assessments are completely up to date, and this is a continuous improvement process. We have also introduced a lot more guidance, support and training for our case managers. Healthcare professionals undertake the health assessments, and that information is then passed back to the Department, where experienced case managers are the decision makers.

Over the summer, I was also able to ensure that we implemented other important changes that we said we would to PIP. For people who have severe conditions from which we know, from their medical information, they will not recover, we have built on the work we have done on ESA by working in partnership with disabled people and the voluntary sector to make changes so that once people on ESA receive the highest level of support, they have a lifetime award, with a light-touch review after 10 years. We have now introduced that to PIP.

I have so much more that I would like to update the House on, but we are simply running out of time.

We remain absolutely determined to roll out at pace the whole suite of reforms to PIP that we have set in train. We are already seeing improvements in those processes. This is something we take extremely seriously, and we are working at pace and with great urgency. There is no doubt that Government Members want exactly what Opposition Members want, which is to ensure that all disabled people and people with health conditions in our country are treated with respect and dignity and get the support that they richly deserve. We have committed to and continue to spend more money than ever on benefits supporting people, and we will continue to do that every year in this House.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.