Jim Shannon (Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights); Strangford, DUP)
I congratulate Tom Greatrex on bringing this matter to the House. The issue affects us all as MPs. With benefits changing now and in the future, the impact on our constituents is greater than ever.
I want to focus on one thing, as I am conscious of the time. I will give an example of how the Atos system does not work when it comes to basic knowledge of the interaction between the applicant who is appealing against the decision to refuse incapacity benefit or ESA to those who are wheelchair-bound and have severe mobility problems. They are asked to attend the appeal on the third floor of a building in the centre of town. The first question the receptionist will ask is, “Can you leave this building on your own if there is a fire?” That is a very important question but the fact is they could not do so, so they have been asked to attend an appeal tribunal that cannot take place. They go home and join the back of the queue once again, having to wait perhaps another six or eight months. They are then asked to attend an appeal that takes place about 45 to 60 minutes away by car, through traffic, pain and other problems in order to get where they want to be.
There are clear problems in the basic knowledge of the scheme. Whenever an elected representative makes a complaint about that to the relevant bodies, whether Atos or the Minister responsible in Northern Ireland, they take it on board and seem to respond. That is great, because one thinks one has won the battle for the constituent and the system in future. However, it does not work that way. Guess what happens? Next time, someone else in a wheelchair with severe mobility difficulties encounters the same problem. I want to illustrate that with an example, because we have a system that has failed my constituents again and again.
There has to be a grassroots change in how the system works. That is what the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West is saying and why we are all here today. There are many people who fall into the category. It is assumed that if someone is not able to walk they can sit and do a job. That is unfair for many people because the problems they have with their back or severe mobility problems they have means they cannot stand or sit on a regular basis. I am very conscious of these issues and want to raise them. I hope the Minister will give a positive response. We need change or accountability—either one or the other, or indeed both.