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Personal Independence Payments: Supreme Court Ruling

Volume 663: debated on Tuesday 23 July 2019

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on last week’s Supreme Court ruling on personal independence payments for those with mental health issues.

The Supreme Court has ruled on the case of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v. MM, which is known as MM. The case was about the definition of “social support” when engaging with other people face to face in the PIP assessment, and how far in advance that support can be provided.

We took the case to the Supreme Court because we wanted clarity on the issue and the judgment gives us that clarity. We welcome the Court’s judgment. We are pleased it accepted that there is a difference between “prompting” and “social support”, and that there must be a need for social support to be provided by someone who is trained or experienced in providing such support.

PIP is already a better benefit for people with mental health conditions than the legacy disability living allowance. The proportion of them who get the higher rate of PIP is five times higher than under DLA, with PIP at 33% and DLA at 6%.

It is clear that there is an increasing understanding in society about mental health and how important it is to make sure that individuals with poor mental health get the right help. It is not an exact science, but the desire for an increased understanding of mental health issues is one of the few areas that have cross-party support.

Getting this clarity ensures that even more people who need help to engage face to face may now be eligible to benefit under PIP. I want to be clear that supporting disabled people and those with mental health conditions continues to be a priority for this Government. That is why we will now carefully consider the full judgment and, working with disabled people and engaging with Mind and other stakeholders, implement it fully and fairly so that claimants get the PIP support they are entitled to.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question and the Minister for his response.

The individual concerned in the case is a Glasgow South West constituent. As the Minister said, the Department appealed the decision by the Scottish courts.

Will the Minister confirm that the judgment means that ongoing encouragement from a family member to help someone leave their house and engage socially will result in additional points in the PIP process? Does he accept that it is now clear that PIP assessments need to be overhauled and that, once again, we have found that the process discriminates against those with psychological conditions?

The Minister appears to accept the judgment, so will he tell us whether any estimate has been made of the number of people who will be affected by the decision and how long it will take to initiate any back payments? Will he confirm that that will be new money and that it will not come out of existing budgets?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I pay tribute to him, because through his constituency work and as a valued member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, he has been a real champion in this area.

I repeat that the Government are committed to supporting people with mental health conditions. I push back on the suggestion that PIP needs fundamental reform, because only 6% of claimants with a mental health condition were able to access the highest rate of support on legacy benefits, compared with 33% under PIP.

We recognise that there is more to do. That is why we will engage with stakeholders and disabled people. We have already met Mind since the judgment was passed down. We want to get this right and to ensure that people are treated fairly and are fully supported. I cannot give an exact timeline but, as with all legal judgments, we will update the House once we have had time to consider it. We do, however, take this very, very seriously.

I commend my hon. Friend for the excellent job he is doing and for his statement. He is right that more people with mental health conditions are receiving more support than ever before, but clearly there is more to do. Will he kindly update the House on the progress that is being made on training Department for Work and Pensions staff—not just the PIP assessors, but the people in the jobcentres and the people who pick up the phones—to make sure that everybody has a positive experience and is treated with respect and dignity?

I thank my hon. Friend, who did so much in this role before me and is widely respected across the House. She is right to highlight how much more is done in terms of training. I am grateful for the support of the stakeholders who helped to shape that training. One of the biggest improvements is that we now have a mental health champion in each PIP assessment centre who can support claimants who may be more anxious when they arrive to make sure that their experience is as positive as can be.

This landmark judgment by the Supreme Court should act as a serious wake-up call for the Government.

According to Mind, more than 425,000 people with conditions classed as psychiatric disorders have been turned down for PIP. What percentage of those people would have been successful in the light of this judgment? Will the Minister be clear that the Government will look again at those cases where people have been turned down?

The assessment framework for PIP is not fit for purpose and has created a hostile environment for disabled people. After the ruling, Mind commented:

“Far too many are struggling to claim benefits they need because of draconian assessments, which often fail to take fully into account the impact a mental health problem can have.”

Does the Minister agree? Many people with mental health problems can feel socially isolated, so surely the Government should be providing a system that supports people in need.

It was revealed recently that more than 60,000 appeals against the tests for PIP ruled against the Government in 2018. That is 72% of all tribunals. Clearly this is wholly unjust. The fact that such a high proportion of PIP assessments are overturned on appeal speaks volumes about the failings of the Government’s record when it comes to providing support to disabled people. Ill and disabled people should not have to fight through the courts to receive the support that they are entitled to. Ministers at the Ministry of Justice recently revealed that the Government spent £26.5 million in 2018 on PIP hearings that ruled against the Department. The Minister must surely also be aware that the introduction of PIP has ended up costing the taxpayer more than the system it replaced, so will he commit today to scrapping the cruel and discredited PIP assessment framework and replacing it with one that treats disabled people with the respect they deserve and provides them with the support they need?

To repeat: we do welcome the judgment. It was the Government who referred this matter to the Supreme Court to get clarity. Across society, there is a deeper understanding of mental health, and that is welcome. This is not an exact science, but it is one of the few areas where there is cross-party support as, together, we get a better understanding of how to identify and support people with mental health conditions. This will be a complex exercise, and we will need to work carefully through the detail of the judgment before we start the exercise of checking claims. We are committed to doing that as soon as we can, working with disabled people and stakeholders, so that we can pay people as quickly as possible. I remind the hon. Lady that we are committed to supporting those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We are now spending £10 billion more than when we came into office in 2010 on supporting people with long-term health conditions and disabilities. This represents a record high of 6% of Government spending, and we are committed to seeing that rise in every single year for the rest of this Parliament.

On the specific point of appeals, we know that the vast majority of successful appeals are because of additional written and oral evidence, but we recognise that the independent appeal process is too long and that it adds anxiety for claimants who are in too many cases having those decisions changed over. We are therefore determined to improve the mandatory reconsideration stage so that we can proactively contact claimants to get that additional written and oral evidence at that point. We have already piloted this in all the PIP mandatory reconsideration assessment centres, and that has been so encouragingly positive that we will do the same with the work capability assessment mandatory reconsiderations. This is a really important area of work, and we are determined to get it right for all claimants as quickly as possible.

Many people will be unaware of the way in which PIP supports people who have mental health conditions far better than the predecessor benefit, disability living allowance, but mental health conditions can fluctuate and people can find it very difficult to get the right support and advice. How is my hon. Friend ensuring that PIP best supports those people, particularly in finding their way through what can be a very complicated and difficult application system?

My right hon. Friend raises the really powerful point that we collectively need to do more to support claimants with mental health conditions. This is why we now have mental health champions in all the PIP assessments, and we are putting videos online so that people can see what to expect. We encourage claimants to bring a trusted third party—family, friends or a support worker—with them during the process, and we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to identify ways to get hold of the crucial medical evidence that can improve the decision making at the first time of asking.

Will the Minister please answer the question that the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) asked him at the beginning: how many more claimants will now be eligible for PIP who previously were not? Also, will he again clarify a commitment that he will look at all those claimants who have had their PIP application turned down, to see whether they are now eligible under the new rules?

We must consider the detail of the judgment and how it needs to be implemented before we can estimate how many people will be affected, but we will look back at cases. We are committed to engaging with stakeholders and disabled people, utilising their expertise, to ensure that the people who should receive support get it fully, fairly and as quickly as possible.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the Supreme Court judgment, and I welcome much of what the Minister has said today about making things easier and more appropriate. However, does he accept that, as has already been mentioned, mental health assessments bring with them a particularly difficult set of circumstances? People’s conditions may fluctuate, and assessments affect individuals in different ways, so will he consider, yet again, bringing assessments back in-house and having specialists who deal specifically with mental health cases to ensure that individuals get not only a mental health champion, but an appropriate champion with knowledge of their particular condition?

I understand the thrust of the hon. Lady’s point, and I know that she works hard in this area. As I have said, our collective understanding is getting better, and we are working with stakeholders—people with real frontline experience—to help shape our training. All the assessors—trained health professionals—have people behind them who are experts in all conditions, not just mental health. Remember, many claimants have a menu of health conditions to be navigated. Where an assessor feels that they need additional support, they will get it from those experts before the assessment and while writing the report afterwards.

To be dragged to the courts yet again in relation to PIP and the totally inadequate support that it provides to disabled people is a shame on this Government. According to Mind, two thirds of people on DLA for mental health conditions have had their PIP refused or reduced, which is just not good enough. On top of that, 60 disabled people a month—a month—die after being refused PIP. To say that PIP is an okay support system for the most vulnerable people in this country is an absolute disgrace, so will the Minister write to me and answer the questions that I put to him in my letter of over two months ago?

I remind the hon. Lady that the Government took this case to the Supreme Court because we wanted to get clarity on this important issue. I also remind her that, under DLA, only 6% of claimants with a mental health condition got access to the highest rate of support. Under PIP, 33% of claimants are getting that support—more than five times higher than under DLA. We are doing everything we can to support people, and we are continuing to work with stakeholders and disabled people to ensure that the process continues to improve. I am proud that this Government are spending a record amount of money on supporting the most vulnerable people in society, something that Opposition Members continue to vote against at each Budget.

The judgment is welcome, of course, because it will provide more support to people with mental health conditions, but it does prompt a question, regardless of who brought the case, about whether the PIP and ESA assessment processes still contain significant flaws. I was under the impression that the Government were looking at the processes, potentially bringing them back in-house, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) that there should be more specific assessments for people with certain types of health conditions. Why are the contracts with Atos and Capita being extended for another two years when they are not meeting their targets?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The key thing is that we will continue to engage with stakeholders and disabled people and be held to account by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, of which the hon. Lady is an active member. We will continue to make improvements, which is why increasing amounts of money are rightly being spent on vulnerable people in society. The Secretary of State is personally committed to improving the process, and we will do all that we can to do so.

The change from DLA to PIP has meant that my constituents have lost £2 million collectively—[Interruption.] That is a matter of fact, so I do not know why the Secretary of State is shaking his head. There is clearly a lot of despair behind that figure, and the recent judgment clearly proves that the situation is unsound. What is the Secretary of State going to do to fix it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for elevating me to Secretary of State. I am just a Minister of State, but he is very kind. To be clear, 33% of people with a mental health condition will now access the highest rate of support under PIP, compared with just 6% under the legacy benefit. That is significant progress, but we are committed to work with stakeholders and disabled people to continue the improvements that we are proud to be making.

Just last week, I had a constituent in my surgery who had not been awarded points in their PIP assessment for which I could clearly see that they were eligible. After the ruling, and considering that people have hidden and fluctuating conditions, what can my constituent now expect?

As I have set out, we will be looking carefully at the judgment, but the hon. Gentleman highlights something. As constituency MPs, we all have cases in which it is clear that, with additional written and oral evidence, a different decision could come about. That is why it is right—it is a departmental priority—to improve the mandatory reconsideration stage, so that more people can get the correct decision much quicker, without the long independent appeal process.

There is a letter in the post to the Minister about this case, but I do not know whether he will be there to receive it, so I thought that I would ask about it here. My constituent has a long-standing diagnosis of Asperger’s, but her PIP assessor ignored the detailed medical evidence that she had provided and performed a five-minute mental state test involving taking 25p away from £1 and spelling the word “world” backwards. Her decision letter stated that she had

“no cognitive sensory impairment diagnosed”


“no evidence of a cognitive impairment”.

Surely constituents should not have to come to their MP to get such evident mistakes overturned. The Minister should be getting things right first time, rather than going for mandatory reconsiderations.

I have gone from being the Secretary of State to potentially not having a job in the next couple of days in the space of one question, but I will look at that letter carefully. I actually agree with the hon. Lady’s point that we want the right decision the first time. We want claimants to be able to access the crucial medical evidence that can assist with assessments. Assessments are right more often than not, and only a small percentage of claims ultimately need to be appealed, but we need to learn lessons wherever there are mistakes, and I will take that case seriously.

I also welcome the ruling, but it is important not just that we get rulings, but that people on PIP get the support that they deserve. I was concerned by the release of figures a couple of weeks ago showing that the Department’s own equality impact assessment expected 14% of the 1.6 million people on PIP who were reviewed after previous court rulings to get an additional award, but just 0.8% of people reviewed have actually received an increase in their entitlement. Will the Minister commit to an urgent audit of what is going on in those reviews to ensure that people affected by this case do not see their awards quashed yet again?

The hon. Lady refers to the mental health estimates, which were done before the final guidance was implemented. We have consulted with Mind and other key stakeholders on the revised guidance, and we will continue to ensure that those who are entitled to additional support get it as quickly as possible. We are on track to complete that work by next year, as initially set out.

We all have casework in our surgeries involving people suffering from mental health issues who have been denied PIP or have had it taken away from them, but the situation goes beyond that. I have a profoundly deaf constituent who was transferred from DLA to PIP, but they were then denied PIP. Other people with chronic illnesses have failed to score enough points through the question and answer system. Will the Minister take on board the fact that other people in the system will be suffering similarly? We need a fundamental review to ensure that those people do not suffer in the way that they are currently.

We have made a real commitment, and we work closely with stakeholders representing a huge variety of disability and health conditions, empowering them to challenge, to make suggestions, and to work with our teams to help shape the training guidance. That is why an increasing amount of money is being spent each year on supporting people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. As I said, at £55 billion a year, spending is up £10 billion since we came to office. That is a record high, and it will continue to increase as we work, listen and engage with the people who have frontline experience, which the Government have committed to do.

I have a constituent who is rebuilding his life after spending some time in jail. His mental health condition means that he has communication issues and that crowds are a problem for him, which makes travel on public transport more problematic. All of that makes it difficult for him to maintain family contact and access the necessary support groups. He was denied PIP despite my office sending supporting letters and trying to help him hit the PIP descriptors. What changes will the Government make to the system so that my constituent will get the support that he deserves, as in the Supreme Court ruling, and be able to go forward and fully integrate into society?

I would be happy to look at that specific case. On the broader point of supporting people transitioning from prison back into society, I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who has responsibility for family support. He has been working with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), the prisons Minister, to make sure it is joined up. We have had successful trials to make sure that work coaches go into prison in advance of a person’s leaving, as it is key that those who need the support can access it as quickly and as smoothly as possible. The case raised by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) highlights why that is so important.