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Personal Independence Payments

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 23 April 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on disabled people and their families of changes being considered in the review of personal independence payments announced by the Prime Minister on 19 April.

My Lords, we will shortly publish a consultation on personal independence payments. This will explore potential options to reshape PIP, to ensure that support is focused on those with the greatest needs, and will run for 12 weeks, ending in July. Outcomes for disabled people will be considered before implementing changes. There will be no immediate changes for current PIP claimants. I encourage all stakeholders to input to the consultation when it has been published.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. In his announcement, the Prime Minister singled out people with mental health problems as a particular group that could be excluded from personal independence payments in the future. As we know, these were introduced to help to meet the higher cost of daily living associated with long-term disability and ill health. The Prime Minister stated that people with mental illness would be better helped by treatment and services, but he failed to admit that there are currently 1.9 million people on waiting lists for NHS mental health services in England; they simply cannot get the treatment, because of chronic under- investment by the Government. Mental health services are, frankly, on their knees. Families living with disability are already disproportionately represented among the millions of our citizens currently struggling to meet the rising cost of living. If they are to be denied access to personal independence payments, does the Minister conclude, as I do, that these families would be pushed even further into more severe hardship and poverty?

We need to take a step back. It has been over 10 years since the introduction of PIP, and we need to ensure that our system is fair and accurately targeted at those who need our support most. In the decade since PIP was introduced in 2013, the nature of health and disability has changed. The noble Baroness mentioned mental health, and she is right, but there may be better ways of supporting people to live independent and fulfilling lives. This could mean financial support being better targeted at people who have specific extra costs.

My Lords, only yesterday in Grand Committee, my noble friend the Minister stated that the DWP is forecast to pay out nearly £300 billion in benefits by 2024-25, a sum which is completely unsustainable if we are to have sufficient funding for any other departments: defence, health, education and so on. Will he please just remind us of the future cost of the personal independence payment?

My Lords, I reiterate that there are several reasons why we want to bring forward this consultation, which will be launched in coming days. Cost is one factor but not the only factor, as I alluded to in my answer to the noble Baroness. Over the coming four years, PIP spending alone is forecast to rise by 63% from £21.6 billion to £35.3 billion. That is for the years 2023-24 to 2028-29. That is one of the reasons why we are reviewing PIP to ensure that the system is fair, accurately targeted to those who really need it the most, and delivers the right kind of support for people with disabilities and health conditions.

My Lord, PIP is not a general living benefit, unlike universal credit. It is designed specifically to help fund the extra costs that long-term severely disabled people have just to be able to live their lives, and often to be able to get to work. The Minister said just now that it is important to review all processes. I entirely agree, so why is it that seven out of 10 PIP appeals are won on the same evidence that the DWP had originally, which shows that this funding is desperately needed for the most disabled in our community?

I have already said that this Green Paper is a conversation that we are starting to see how the costs are best targeted and how people are best supported. The noble Baroness will know that some claimants will have considerable extra costs relating to their disability—quite right too—and others will have fewer costs or minimal costs. That is why this Green Paper will look at whether there are ways in which we can improve how we support people in the right way and in a way that is fairer to taxpayers.

My Lords, yesterday I visited National Star, an FE college that serves young people with severe lifelong disabilities. Many of them are being subjected again and again to reassessment throughout their lives. That is not only traumatising but a complete waste of time and resources. What will the Government do to take this into consideration so that people with severe lifelong disabilities are not subjected to reassessment again and again, unless, of course, that disability is generative?

The right reverend Prelate makes a very good point. It chimes with what I said earlier, which is that we need to target our resources in the right place and be sure that individuals are looked after in terms not of the end result but of the process. That is extremely important. I will make this point again: where an individual has severe conditions, it must be right that we, the state as a compassionate country, look after them, and we need to be able to provide a better focus. This is, again, one of the reasons why we are bringing forward this Green Paper.

My Lords, it is common ground among commentators that claimants who have realistic work prospects should be offered high- quality employment support. Why do the Government have so little confidence in their own policy that they feel it necessary to impose benefits cuts and the threat of sanctions, risking greater poverty and even destitution, rather than the life of dignity promised in the DWP press release?

As the noble Baroness will know, you can claim PIP whether you are in or out of work. More than 5 million disabled people are in work. One of the aims is to continue to encourage those who are disabled to take up some form of work. I say again that it is incredibly important that this is done in a measured and targeted way in line with the needs of the individual.

My Lords, the Minister mentions that this as a conversation but that is not how the headlines read, is it? The headlines are that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are all about cracking down on young people, mental health problems, people who are sick, and people who do not want to work. The Government created PIP, so if there is a problem with PIP it is their problem. Everything about it is the Government’s responsibility. We have had 14 years. We have a problem with record numbers of people being locked out of work because of long-term sickness. How much of that is to down to the NHS failing? How much is down to lack of mental health services? How much is down to the fact that the systems that the Government have created do not work? We need change but, somehow, it is always jam tomorrow. I want to hear the Government come up with ideas. I do not want speeches that point out that we have spent 14 years buying no jam, then saying that there is no jam, then saying that jamlessness is a problem—but no actual jam comes along. Where is the jam?

I am certainly not going to allude to any jam. It may come with my tea later if I am allowed it. As the noble Baroness has alluded to, this conversation is designed to consider what future support for individuals should look at. That is why we are bringing forward this consultation on PIP. As the Prime Minister said on Friday morning, and I was there in person to see him deliver what I thought was a brilliant speech:

“This is not about making the welfare system less generous”.

It is for a greater focus on those “with the greatest needs”, for whom

“we want to make it easier to access”

support “with fewer requirements”. Those who need support will continue to get the support that they need. The consultation will explore changes to the eligibility criteria, the assessment process, as alluded to earlier, and the types of support that can be offered so that the system is better targeted towards individual needs.

My Lords, does anyone give any attention to the many millions of trade unionists who are paying the tax bills for all this? We keep on about the need to do things, which I am sure we need to do, but we seem to forget who is paying the taxes to make all this possible. We have to have a better balance. Tax has never been higher for middle-income earners. It needs to be put under control.

My noble friend is right. I have been very careful to say—and it is true—that we clearly need to continue to focus on those with the greatest needs. As has been mentioned earlier, we are due to spend £69 billion this year on benefits for people of working age with a disability or health condition. This is not sustainable, as the Prime Minister said himself on Friday morning.