[Jim Sheridan in the Chair]
On the point about evidence, I have said this already but it is inexcusable that we do not have a comprehensive impact assessment that is able to predict—there are methods by which this can be done; I have used them myself—what the impacts will be, not just on claimants but on other services and on society as a whole. We should be doing that. I welcome the new Minister, but I hope that she will reflect on the recommendations that we have made and reconsider this change, in light of the huge concerns about its implementation.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. Given the colour of your shirt and tie, you are obviously celebrating “Think Pink” week or whatever it is. That is germane to some of the people who have to claim the kind of benefits that we are dealing with today.
I sincerely welcome Jane Ellison; I am sure that she will indeed be joining the Select Committee. We have missed our Conservative members at the last few meetings. It might be thought that we would find that a bit of a relief, but actually it is very good to have the debate that we usually have. I am sure that the hon. Lady will be relieved to know that it is a Select Committee in which we do not necessarily spend a lot of time berating one another; there is often a wide area of agreement.
I would like to take up a couple of points before going on to the more detailed issues that I wanted to raise. People think that this is a change for the worse because of the context from which it started. That is very important to remember. It is still about reducing the number of people who will be on PIP compared with DLA. That is in the Department’s own impact assessment. It is about saving money. That not only coloured the beginning of the process, but has continued to colour the process. People are very concerned that things may get worse for them or members of their families.
I take slight issue with the comment made by the hon. Member for Battersea that previous Governments left all this in the “Too difficult” tray. My right hon. Friend Mrs McGuire, who will be answering this debate on behalf of the Opposition, will have the scars to prove that that was not the case. Changes were made to many of the benefits that existed; I do not think that it is true to say that nothing changed.
I find slightly odd some of the language that has been used in relation to the need to reform DLA. The suggestion has sometimes been that it is a very old benefit that has to be modernised and brought up to date. In fact, it is not that old—20 years old is not Victorian; it cannot even be described as post war. There is a tendency to exaggerate some of the claims, and if people do that, there is a danger—
Jane Ellison (Battersea, Conservative)
On the point about exaggeration, I take the point made a moment ago about where things started—the way a debate starts out and how it is framed can influence the tone of it thereafter. I accept that point.
Would the hon. Lady accept that there is a duty and responsibility on those who support the best interests of disabled people not to assume the worst in every circumstance—not to highlight only the cuts aspect or whatever of reforms, but to present them in a more balanced way? Many important reports, including the two I referred to in my speech, are based on opinion surveys of disabled people or their families. Colouring opinion by misrepresenting the facts feeds directly into how people feel and becomes self-perpetuating. I seek balance on both sides in the tone used in the discussion.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
I would not suggest that exaggerated comments have not been made. In answering or writing to constituents, I certainly find myself at times being careful to say, “I think this is wrong” or “I think this should not be done”, while not panicking people, so I tell them that it is not happening tomorrow, that there is time and that they should seek advice. It is important that people are not unnecessarily concerned.
The atmosphere in which the debate is ongoing is not helping. It is easy to blame the media, but there is still a tendency on the part of Ministers, whether they intend to or not, to juxtapose benefit claimants with hard-working people. Only the other week, the Prime Minister spoke about people heading out to work in the early hours of the morning, seeing their neighbour’s curtains closed and feeling rightly angry.
That neighbour with the curtains closed might be a night-shift worker or someone with an illness, which might not be visible. It is clear that those with mental health difficulties or less obvious conditions are those
who people see and think, “What are they doing on benefit? How is that happening?” It does not help to compare and contrast continually in that way. It engenders some of the responses that we get.
The Government have to be careful about how they present their statistics. There have been improvements of late, in that not quite such provocative statements have been made in response to statistics, but it is not all about media spinning. There is a tendency with the statistics—this week, for example, on the outcome of ESA assessments—to emphasise how many people are found fit for work, with an undertone of, “which means that they were previously scroungers or not entitled to the benefit.” We have not had the migration statistics on ESA, so they were new claimants; they are claiming for the first time.
Let us have a comparator. Let us see what happened previously with incapacity benefit, for example, when people claimed for the first time. I hope that we are careful not to fall into the same trap when the PIP statistics come out. Some 50% of those who try to claim DLA are refused, so if 50% of those who try to claim PIP are also refused, I hope that it will not be hinted at or suggested that that in some way proves that people were getting a benefit that they should not have had. Remember what a baseline is and look at it that way.
Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead, Labour)
Does my hon. Friend agree that a possible unintended consequence of such media reports and skewed statistics is that employers who have read those reports may be more prejudiced against people with disabilities, who already face prejudice, who want a job, and against those who have been on benefit and want a job? It makes it more difficult to get those people back to work.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
I hope that employers would not form that view, but there are dangers.
If the Government wanted to reform, the way to start would have been to discuss seriously the issues around DLA, not to start from an assumption that it was somehow old-fashioned, not working and that people did not understand it, so we had to throw the whole thing in the air and start all over again. That leaves aside how the reform was couched in terms of financial savings.
If the Government wanted to make a change, it would have been helpful to have the discussion and carry out the research. If we think back to when the White Paper came out in late 2010, an extraordinarily short time was given for people’s responses. It was a generalised paper, and the extensive response to it was responded to in a very simplified fashion. That did not help. If we had sat down with a lot of the groups in the first place, we might have come out with a better ending.
Obviously, as a Select Committee, we look at the details. The hon. Member for Battersea was correct to say that we have to be careful that we do not end up seeing the trees and not the wood, but details are part of the job of a Select Committee. One thing that we all say, and we all feel strongly about, is that we must get the assessments right first time, which is precisely what appears not to have happened with the WCA.
We know that the cost of appeals is met by the DWP, not the provider.
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne, Liberal Democrat)
I completely concur with the hon. Lady about the statistics on the WCA and the level of successful appeals. Does she agree that the changes to the WCA that the coalition Government have brought in, with Professor Harrington’s reports, will mean that the first assessment is wrong for fewer people and that the new WCA is more effective and productive?
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
Unfortunately, the statistics do not yet show a huge change. The latest statistics show a small reduction in the number of successful appeals, but the number is still very high. Statistics always lag back a few months, so it may be that further improvements are still to come, which would be good. It is particularly important that we get this benefit reform right.
Many people, including those in the disability field and Opposition Members, have asked whether there is any penalty of any sort on the assessor for not doing the job as they should. We are constantly told that we cannot have the information because it is all commercially sensitive. I can understand that perhaps being the case during the tendering process, but I am not clear why it is deemed to be quite so commercially sensitive once the contract is awarded. We still do not know. Public money is going to these organisations, so it is important that we have confidence that this time there is a system in place.
The Select Committee’s recommendation was:
“DWP contracts with private companies for the delivery of the PIP assessment”
“directly link the payment of public funds to the production of reliable assessment reports that are ‘right first time’.”
Now that the contracts have been awarded, I hope that the Minister can tell us whether that has been done and whether it will be monitored and reported on. Obviously, if the assessments are much better, there will not be many penalties, but we need to know now whether that link has been made. It would give people more confidence in the process.
The Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Dame Anne Begg, briefly mentioned contracting. The PIP assessments have been let on a regional basis. In Scotland and the north of England, Atos won the contract, but it appears to be subcontracting to NHS Lanarkshire to carry out the assessments.
If Atos is not doing the work, what is it getting out of the contract? How much of the contract price goes to Atos and how much to Salus? Salus is the not-for-profit arm of NHS Lanarkshire; it does other forms of occupational health work, which is why it was selected. It is not unreasonable to ask those questions. Such arrangements are becoming all too typical in this new world of outsourcing to large, all-purpose, public service, private companies.
We saw it in the Work programme. At the apex are the big boys such as G4S, A4e and Serco. Sometimes they do the work themselves; sometimes they subcontract;
sometimes the subcontractors subcontract. At the bottom of the heap some of the sub-subcontractors see little of the payments. That is a major problem.
What are some of those big companies being paid to do? Are they being paid just to put the contract together? Are they just creaming something off the top? They are certainly not shouldering the risk for their subcontractors, because when those get into trouble—with the Work programme, at least—they are not bailed out by the prime contractor. The main contractors do not carry a financial risk of that kind.
We need to know what is happening with the process. The question arises whether it might not have been easier to contract the work in the first place directly to the NHS. If we talk about these things a lot, it is because people naturally think there may be a connection. My hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams pointed out that in statements that have been made in the past the connection with WCA was made overtly. It is not only we who make it.
The question of targets has been controversial. Atos has said there are no targets in relation to WCA. The Government have vehemently denied that there are targets. However, it now seems clear from people who have worked as health care professionals in this field for Atos—and this came out of the television documentaries in the summer as well—that there are expectations about normal and correct outcomes of assessments. Health care professionals whose performance deviates from those expectations are audited so that their performance can improve towards them. We must ask ourselves at what point an expectation becomes a target, or when there is very little difference between the two.
If there are such expectations, what cognisance will there be of regional variations in ill health—and even variations within regions? Partly because of industrial history, certain forms of ill health are more prevalent in some areas and they are likely to have a greater number of people with certain conditions than others. If there are to be targets or expectations, whatever we may call them, such things must be taken into account. However, since we do not know the guidance, we do not know whether they are taken into account. I hope that they are.
If the Government want people to be more confident about the changes, they must be more open and transparent about them. In the absence of such openness and transparency people reach conclusions, rightly or wrongly, which tend, in modern parlance, to go viral around the disability community. People then get very frightened.
Another aspect of the matter that has, I suppose, come out of the WCA experience, is to do with what kind of assessment is being carried out and the attempt to restrict complex conditions to a simple set of descriptors. The aim from the outset seems to have been, certainly with WCA, to create a system that could perform large numbers of assessments and achieve reliable and replicable results. People have often complained about a tick-box approach, and that seems to me to be a direct result of that attempt.
It is not just bad practice by Atos; sometimes, critics concentrate too hard on Atos and not enough on the underlying system. I think that what happens is inherent in the adoption of what is effectively a computerised
test approach. I am sure it was sold to the Government as the IT answer to carrying out assessments. I think that we all know that IT magic miracle cures are often oversold by those who sell them. Before the Minister says so, I know that it was the previous Government who introduced the WCA and the form of test in question. The fact that they turned out to have inherent difficulties should not mean that we should not criticise them and consider whether we were perhaps naive to think an IT solution could deliver all that was needed.
Anne McGuire (Stirling, Labour)
Does my hon. Friend also accept that the previous Government had already established some monitoring and evaluation of the WCA as it was initially introduced? They did not go for a big bang approach but were going to role it out gradually, so that lessons could be learned.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
Certainly the system had been operating for some time before the roll-out to all the existing invalidity benefit claimants, but it is not clear that the evaluation was put in place first. I think at the time we said that as some concerns were being considered, and new ways of doing things were being found, it would have been more sensible to put those changes in place before moving everyone else across.
The WCA experience tells us that IT is a tool, and should never become the master of the process. The computerised test should not be the whole of the assessment process. What comes through loud and clear from Professor Harrington’s report is the importance of seeing the computerised assessment as only a part of the whole. Gathering essential documentary evidence early in the process is important. I often heard the previous Employment Minister say that people come to WCA appeal tribunals with information that was not there in the first place—as if people keep it hidden at home and deliberately wait for the appeal to produce the information. Many of the appellants say that no one asked them for it. Some people have even said that they turned up at assessments with information that was not looked at. We must ensure that information is made available from the outset.
The other important thing, according to Professor Harrington, was that DWP decision makers should not simply rubber stamp the computerised assessment. They should consider the position in the round—look at the documentary evidence and consider the situation again. That change should now be in place for the WCA, and there are signs that that is happening, although when I have asked the Government questions about how many Atos assessments are changed by DWP decision makers, I have been told that the information is not kept in that form. Again, it is quite difficult to know exactly what is happening.
The Minister’s predecessor gave us to understand that the PIP assessment would be very different. In the Government’s response to our report, they said:
“The face-to-face consultation, as part of the Personal Independence Payment assessment, is fully intended to be a two-way conversation between the claimant and the health professional, allowing a detailed exploration of how the claimant’s health condition or disabilities affect their day-to-day lives. The discussion at the consultations should not be mechanistic and should be tailored to individuals. This is being clearly expressed to potential providers as part of the tendering for Personal Independence Payment assessment contracts and will be set out
in detail in the supporting guidance for providers and their staff. The guidance will stress the importance of positive interaction throughout all aspects of the assessment. The contract will require assessors to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills, including the ability to interact with people sensitively and appropriately.
The Department is not placing targets on the time required for face-to-face consultations and is making clear to potential providers that consultations will need to be as long as necessary to reach evidence-based conclusions on individual cases.”
That sounds wonderful, and if it happens we will definitely have a much better assessment process than the WCA one that we have criticised. I have a problem reconciling it with the contract approach. Has it been built into the contracts? How will it work? If an assessment on one day, for one person, takes as long as is needed, what happens to the other people sitting in the building waiting to be assessed?
Are those people going to be sent home or asked to come back another day? What effect will that have on the number of assessments carried out? What are the targets or expectations of how many assessments should be carried out each week or month? There is a conflict—a tension, at least—between those hopeful and optimistic words and a contract-based system that has expectations of putting through a large number of people over a short space of time.
The Committee was also concerned about the frequency of reassessments. Although we accepted that there should be more reassessments than previously, we had concerns about how often people should have to go back through that process. It is very stressful and expensive for claimants. Stress can affect people’s health and make them worse rather than better.
Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan, Scottish National Party)
I am glad the hon. Lady has raised that point. The whole question of getting to assessments has been one of the biggest issues around the WCA for people who live far away and often depend on relatives or friends to take them. It can mean a whole day trip for a simple—and sometimes unnecessary—assessment process.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
That is where I hope we will see a more flexible approach that in some cases allows for a decision to be made without the absolute necessity of a face-to-face assessment. That should certainly apply in the case of reassessment, even if not always for the first assessment. There will be some cases, even when it is the first occasion, when the obviousness of someone’s situation should make a face-to-face assessment unnecessary.
There is sometimes a reluctance to accept that anybody falls into that category. It is important to give people optimism and hope. I had a constituency case concerning WCA, although it could have applied equally to DLA. A constituent’s son has a number of conditions but basically he is a 21-year-old toddler. He had no concept of what he was to be put through, but his mother did. He had been kept at his special education school for some time beyond normal school leaving age. However, he now had to apply for the benefit. His mother asked whether it was absolutely necessary to take him to an assessment. His inability to handle new situations is so great that she cannot get him into strange places and buildings.
When she phoned to ask about that, she was repeatedly told that there would have to be an assessment and that she would just have to do it. She filled in the form and sent it in. She was then told that he had been granted the benefit without an assessment. That is good, but she had been put through a lot of unnecessary stress, because one bit of the Department did not seem to know that that was possible under certain circumstances. Anyone who had met him would quickly see that the young man was clearly entitled to the benefit and to be in the support group. There was no way he could undertake employment any more than any toddler could.
There are real cases of people who should not be put through all that and the extra difficulties. Apparently, one of the providers is proposing to do quite a lot of home visits and that might take out some of the difficulty. However, that prompts the questions of whether the process will take longer and of how to deal with the large numbers involved. It has been described as a much bigger challenge than the migration from incapacity benefit to ESA. The Department is taking on a bigger challenge before it has completed the previous one.
One problem encountered by people who appeal under the WCA process is that the reassessment comes through quickly thereafter. One oddity is that the decision on the reassessment period is based on the recommendation of the original assessment. The original assessment might say that someone should be reassessed within a year. The person might then appeal and win. If the appeal takes 10 months, that person could still be called back for reassessment two months later, even though the decision to call someone back within a year was based on an original flawed assessment. It does not seem sensible to operate such a procedure. There seems to be no reason why a decision about reassessment should not be reviewed if someone wins an appeal.
The Government response said that the recall time for reassessments could be almost any length; they could be a year or 10 years. They would never again be indefinite. A year is a very short time when one considers that to qualify for the benefit in the first instance, it is necessary to demonstrate that the condition is likely to last for at least a further six months. I would suggest that over-short periods will put everybody through unnecessary difficulty.
Other speakers have mentioned the piloting phase. It defies belief that a proper evaluation of a pilot can be done within two months and then the results applied. That is what is being suggested. The initial roll-out in the Bootle office will start in April. The roll-out to new claimants in the whole of the UK will start in June. There is barely time to get enough data to make an appropriate evaluation, let alone carry out that evaluation and then make changes.
The Department constantly tells us in connection with this benefit and universal credit that it now has an agile system that allows details to be changed as things go along and it can keep rolling out in different ways. That was not our experience with the Harrington changes in WCA. It took months for most of those changes to be put in place. When we asked about it, we were told, “We have got to draw up new instructions to staff. They have to be sent out to staff. New training has to be put in place.” In effect, between the first Harrington report in November 2010 and the following summer, some of the changes began to be rolled out. The explanation we
were given for the time lag was that that was the time it takes to go through a process of getting staff ready for the changes.
How is it that suddenly, only a year later, the Department is confident that it can have a pilot, evaluate it and roll out changes and make a real difference to people who are making claims? In October next year, the process of ending people’s DLA claims and inviting them to apply for PIP will begin. The whole process is quite tight and does not give opportunity for proper evaluation and tracking of what is happening to people. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there will be a proper evaluation of the Bootle pilot. Who is to carry it out? When will the results be known? Does she think it makes sense to move to the full roll-out in June?
Monitoring and tracking changes of this sort is important. We need to know how this will be monitored in an ongoing way. I was appalled to discover how little tracking seems to go on of the results of the ESA process. Parliamentary questions that I have asked about the destinations of people who are found fit for work are often answered with, “We do not keep that information. We may know who is on benefit and who is in employment, but as for other things, we do not know.”
The previous Government put in place a research project that started to track such information, but I think that it has now stopped. It had a first and second wave, but there is no sign of the research continuing. Perhaps the Minister will let me know whether I am wrong.
On ESA, the project found that within a year of people being found fit for work, 43% were neither in work nor in receipt of an out-of-work benefit. That is an awful lot of people simply to disappear. There are a whole lot of reasons for that; people may have gone on to jobseeker’s allowance, run out of the contributory JSA or they may have a working partner. Some may have a small pension because they were retired from work early on health grounds—even though they were then found to be fit for work, which is not uncommon.
There may be lots of reasons, but, as a responsible Parliament and Government, we really should know the effect that this measure is having. These people are seeing a substantial reduction in their incomes. They may have been in a two-income household, which then becomes a one-income household plus a benefit and then a one-income household possibly with the additional costs of having an illness of some kind.
What happens to those people and their standard of living is important. It is the same with the change we are discussing. Some may say that making the change will be good. We were even told by the Minister’s predecessor that some people who previously did not get this benefit—especially mental health applicants—will do so now. We may have even more people getting the benefit. We need to know all the information. I hope that we will have a proper research project and that the Minister will tell us that it is being fully funded by Government.
As for the housing benefit changes, the Government have put in place a research project, which is being carried out by one of the universities. A baseline piece of work has been done, so that we know what we are measuring against, and then it will look at the effect of the changes. If we are going to do that, we should have been doing the baseline now, but perhaps we are and I simply do not know about it.
Data collection is important as well. There have been some hints that the Government will be doing less reporting and data collection on benefit recipients. However, if we do not collect the data, we cannot do the research, even if we try to do it later. At the moment, we can find out how many people claiming DLA are doing so in relation to different conditions. We can tell the proportions of people who are receiving the benefit because of Parkinson’s or other such conditions. If we stop collecting these data—I hope the Minister will reassure me that there is no such intention—we will have a much less clear view of what is happening. Hopefully, we will go on collecting them.
Finally, the implications of the change not being a migration are important. People will consider it to be a migration if they had received incapacity benefit and are now on ESA—of course, not every DLA recipient is in that category. The notion that people will necessarily respond, and respond in time, is fraught with difficulty. Possibly the first time people will notice it is when their benefits stop. Suddenly the benefit will stop, and they will say, “What has happened here?” They will go and get advice and then discover that they have missed the boat—they had not gone ahead as they should have done.
The time scales are short. From the letter’s dropping through the door, a recipient has four weeks to get in the first part of the application. When they get the stage 2 form back, they have four weeks in which to return it. Voluntary and advice agencies say that if people are going to get assistance with some of this process—for some people it is very important to get such assistance—four weeks is not a long time. In many areas, people can wait that sort of length of time for an appointment with an advice agency or a welfare rights adviser, so the time scale can be a serious problem.
If people have to get additional information, which the form will apparently ask for, people will need time. The time scale seems short, and that may be revealed by the pilot. Will the Minister assure us that if it turns out that a large number of people are either not making the claim that they should be—they are not responding to the stage 1 letters and are dropping out—or are having difficulty with the four-week period for returning the form, the Government will move to change the process fairly quickly?
We do not want to see a lot of people losing out over this. If, as the Government claim, the change has genuinely been made to improve the situation for people with disabilities and to give them a personal independence payment that enables them to play a full part in our society, we have to get it right. No Government should be unprepared to accept that.
Let me touch briefly on the issue of our Olympians and what people can and cannot do. Sadly, the success of the Paralympics could turn out to be a double-edged sword for some disabled people, although I hope that it will not. Not everyone can be a Paralympian. Just because some people can, it should not be assumed that other people who are not able to find work, volunteer or play sport are somehow not trying very hard. Although it is good for people to see that disability is not about being a victim and that people can do lots of things when they are disabled, we should not make the obverse mistake of thinking that everyone is up to that and that they are just not pulling their weight.
As many of the Paralympians said, DLA was one of the benefits that helped them to achieve some of the important things that they did, whether it was getting to their training sessions or being able to have a carer so that they could concentrate on getting to places, doing their training and having a home. Many of them specifically said how much they benefited from DLA. We must remember that someone can be a Paralympian and still need benefit.
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale, Conservative)
I am sorry that I was not here for the start of the debate, Mr Sheridan, and thank you for calling me to speak. I would like to make a brief contribution.
Since the introduction of disability living allowance in 1992, the number of claimants has increased from 1.1 million to 3.2 million, with a 30% increase in the past eight years alone. It is clear from the escalation of those figures that a proportion of the claims need to be reviewed. The Government are committed to disabled people’s services, will continue to spend more than £40 billion a year on them and anticipate spending £13 billion on personal independence payments next year. We also know that reform is needed.
We understand that each individual’s situation is different, and we also know that circumstances change—illnesses can progress or, on the other side, treatments can help to manage symptoms or even provide cures. No one person is the same as anyone else, and someone’s health can change rapidly. That is why it is vital that we look to guarantee that each person is supported according to their own needs, not according to a checklist, which was ably shown in the speech of Sheila Gilmore.
The Government will not write off people as unable to work, pushing them to the sidelines to feel that they can never contribute to society. DLA is considered a benefit for life: 130,000 people have not had their award changed since the inception of the policy two decades ago, in 1992. Some 71% of people receiving DLA do so on a permanent basis. That is clearly wrong. The state has failed to recognise and adapt to the changing needs of claimants.
There has been about £630 million DLA overpayments —clearly, that is wrong—but it is much more important to focus on the fact that £190 million has been underpaid. It is our duty to ensure that we provide vital support to the most vulnerable in our society. A more tailored approach will prevent those failures.
About 50% of assessments are made without any additional medical evidence being provided. That is a deeply concerning state of affairs, especially when we consider individuals with mental health issues or learning difficulties who might struggle to identify needs that a medical professional could identify. The best way to make assessments is to use face-to-face consultations, dependent on the individual’s personal conditions, to find out how people’s disabilities affect their day-to-day lives.
I also welcome the increased number of definitions of criteria in the assessment, to ensure that we make assessments objective and consistent. Examples of that
include splitting the “communicating with others” category into “communicating” and “engaging socially”. I am sure that my colleagues will agree that those are two very separate issues that affect an individual’s interaction with society very differently.
I welcome the Government’s overhaul of an outdated and inefficient system that forces a one-size-fits-all mentality on the welfare of disabled people across the UK. We have a duty of care and a duty to enable. PIPs will provide us with a way to achieve that.
Anne McGuire (Stirling, Labour)
Thanks very much, Mr Sheridan, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
First, I welcome the Minister to what I think is her first set-piece debate on an issue in her portfolio. She follows a distinguished line of Conservative Ministers for Disabled People. We should never forget that her colleague, the Foreign Secretary, piloted the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 through the House. Frankly, he did so in the teeth of opposition from his own party, and he should be recognised for the contribution that he made with that first step along the road of legislating for the rights of disabled people. I welcome the new Minister to her post.
I also thank my hon. Friend Dame Anne Begg for mentioning Lord Morris of Manchester, who was the first Minister for Disabled People, and certainly a great source of advice and opinion to me when I was the Minister. Along with his colleague, Lord Ashley, he made sure that we all kept on our toes on these issues. They were at the forefront and the pioneers of parliamentary activity, as well as activity outside Parliament, in ensuring that the rights of disabled people were recognised. The memorial service for Lord Morris will be held soon and I hope that many colleagues can attend.
I also particularly thank members of the Work and Pensions Committee for their valuable report. I appreciate the time and effort that have gone into accumulating the evidence and presenting the report to Parliament. It is an interesting comparison that we in Westminster Hall this afternoon are competing with a badger cull debate in the main Chamber. I will let that comment stick to the wall and say no more.
I offer a vote of thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South, who has been a Member of the House since 1997. She came into Parliament with me as one of the so-called Blair babes. At times, we felt like Blair’s grannies, but never mind. My hon. Friend has served the House with distinction since that time, no less than during the past two years in her chairmanship of the Work and Pensions Committee. She brought to the report, and indeed to her contribution to our deliberations today, her very particular and personal insight into disability benefits.
Sometimes I think that MPs give the impression that somehow they are not real people, and that we do not live lives out there that have nothing to do with politics. I know from my hon. Friend’s activities, both as a teacher and as a political activist, that she has provided inspiration to many people who are disabled—not only in the way that she conducts campaigns and is articulate on behalf of disabled people, but because of a very
particular knowledge. We should recognise that and not hide her particular light under a bushel. I want to pay that particular compliment to her. She has done that work while managing yet another difficulty, having just spent more than three months in hospital.
I thank the Work and Pensions Committee for providing a pretty comprehensive picture of the changes that are taking place. I appreciate that the report is a little dated now in some respects, but the views that underpin it have not dated, not least the view of the context and environment in which the changes are taking place. I will come back to that point shortly.
I also welcome the Government’s response to the report, although I must say that in many places it is pretty inadequate. It is full of fine words, but as some people in some parts of the country say, “Fine words butter no parsnips.” There are a lot of people out there who think the Government response is camouflage rather one of substance.
However, I welcome the Government’s recognition that more work needs to be done before personal independence payments are introduced in April 2013. We have heard some of the reasons why more work needs to be done. We are talking about an incredibly tight timetable for a change that will throw the financial stability of many disabled people in this country up in the air. We should not run away from that, and I hope that the Minister will not run away from it. Therefore, will she update us on the progress on her deliberations on those changes that are necessary and that the Select Committee report has identified as necessary?
I hope that the new Minister will not underestimate the distress that the uncertainty is causing out there; I do not think she will. Yesterday, I met with some young people from a Royal National Institute of Blind People group called Haggeye. You, Mr Sheridan, will not be surprised to learn that that is a Scottish group; they have amalgamated our national food with their own disability to name the group. They were joined by some other young blind and visually impaired people from other parts of the country. They had a tour of Parliament, and they met with some MPs and Mr Speaker.
At one point during the day, I had a conversation with them and I must say to the Minister that that conversation with those young blind and visually impaired people encapsulated many of the discussions that I have had, and I am sure other Members of the House have had, during the last several months. We talked about their fear of the future. One young woman said to me, “I don’t think I’m going to qualify.” There are grave concerns out there among visually impaired people about whether they will qualify for the new PIP. She also asked, “What happens to me?” The financial underpinning that allows her to conduct her life could be taken away.
The Government must accept responsibility for the environment that they have created. I welcome the words of, I think, Jane Ellison, and indeed of Stephen Lloyd, who are supporters of the coalition Government. They recognised that throwing a hand grenade into the debate on the disability agenda in June 2010, without any warning or consultation, did not set the right tone for the debate.
The Minister needs to look again at what is meant by “co-production”. The hon. Member for Eastbourne made a valiant attempt to say that that announcement in June 2010 was an example of co-production. It was not co-production; co-production would have meant that disabled people were involved in discussions before the announcement was made. If he wants to see some experience of co-production, in 2005, my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett started on the route to our welfare reforms and he did so by talking to disabled people and involving them from the beginning, rather than saying, “The Chancellor has said that and we now need to manufacture a new benefit around it.” The Chancellor effectively said that there would be a cut of whatever billions of pounds he happened to conjure up at that time. I appreciate that the Minister is new to her post, but the Government must accept some responsibility for that environment.
I also want to highlight some other issues that I hope the Minister will address. I note, for example, that the response by the Department for Work and Pensions fails to reply effectively to the evidence given by Professor Sainsbury, who, at paragraph 38 on page 15, says that
“he was ‘at a loss’ as to where the 20% figure came from”
and did not know how it could have been put into the public domain
“before any work had been done on the criteria and thresholds for the benefit.”
Although we have heard fine words that the change is about serving the needs of disabled people and so on—we all know the script—the reality is that the figure was put into the public domain and policy arena as a savings target, not to define a new benefit to meet the needs of disabled people. No matter how much work has been done in recent months to try to ameliorate that impression, it still sticks, because that is where it emanated from. I hope the Minister will allude to that initial statement by the Chancellor.
Moving on, the Government’s response says on, I think, page 5 that the 20% figure was
“a high level assumption”
and that further work is being undertaken on
“assessment criteria and the detailed policy that will underpin primary legislation. More detailed and updated expenditure savings figures will be provided”.
Will the Minister provide us with some of that information to allow people to start to flesh out exactly what is meant by this new benefit? It is disturbing that anguish has been caused to many disabled people on the basis of a high-level assumption of a 20% cut, translated into the withdrawal of benefit from between 500,000 and 640,000 people—that is the rough spectrum, depending on how we cut the statistics. I hope she will refer to that. Are there current working assumptions for the reduction in spend and numbers? If so, will she share them with us?
I was pleased that various Committee members here, and indeed the Committee as a whole, highlighted the issue of media coverage. The reality is that the Government set the initial context. We should not run away from that, and I hope that the Minister will not because some of her ministerial colleagues were disgraceful in how they never or rarely rebutted any of the scrounger stories in the national newspapers. I was delighted that
the hon. Member for Eastbourne mentioned some of those issues. Indeed, on occasion, the Secretary of State fuelled such media stories. I remember one about disability living allowance for children and Motability cars. He said—it was in quotation marks—that all people had to do was fill in an application form for DLA and, Bob’s your uncle, they could move almost directly into their new Motability car.
Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan, Scottish National Party)
The right hon. Lady is making an important point about how disabled people have been vilified in the press in recent months. Does she agree that far from being a benefit paid to people who cannot help themselves, DLA actually helps a lot of disabled people keep themselves in work, making them and their families less dependent on the state?
Anne McGuire (Stirling, Labour)
That is right, and it is a part of this debate that has been missed. Although a significant number of people on DLA are not in work, an equally significant number are, and they use their disability cars, if they have them, to get from home to their workplace. If they are not on the higher rate, they can use their allowance to meet some of the additional costs. One of the young visually impaired people I met in my discussions with Haggeye yesterday said that he used his DLA for a taxi to work, because it was too difficult for him to navigate the roads. He worried about that. The hon. Lady is quite right.
I will give the Minister a bit of flexibility, as this is her first outing, but the newspapers have been awash with stories equating in the public mind those on disability benefits with scroungers. Glasgow university, commissioned by Inclusion London, delivered a report showing that the number of negative stories about disability had increased. Frankly, many people felt that the Government had set up an Aunt Sally and then knocked it down. Instead of being honest about what disability living allowance is for, they set up the image that everybody who claimed it was not entitled to it. There have been instances of hate crime, with people being harassed because others did not think they were as disabled as they made out to be. The way that the debate has been conducted has had a domino effect.
I thought optimistically that the Secretary of State had seen the error of his ways but, disappointingly, he has proved himself a serial offender. He was at it again this morning, this time talking not about disabled people but about people with families. I use this to illustrate my point about setting the context. I was aghast to hear him say in his interview this morning that there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of families out there on benefits who have multitudes of children. A freedom of information document published by the DWP on
I do not think that a family with three children is large. I certainly do not think that a family with four children is large, having come from one myself. To set a context by saying that reform—in this case, reform of other benefits—is essential because tens of thousands of people are out there abusing the system is disrespectful
to the people who, more often than not, want to get out of the benefits system. The Government certainly set the context quite nicely in terms of disabled people, because disabled people have been feeling threatened since then.
I was interested to read on page 5 of the Government response that the Department is
“developing a case study approach to illustrate the contribution disabled people make to society”.
Again, what exactly is happening? When is it happening? What newspapers have been approached? It is fine for the Minister for Disabled People to write features for major disability organisations, but it is not the opinions of those organisations that we need to change; it is those of the mainstream press. I am interested to hear her response.
I appreciate that we have taken a lot of time and will probably run out of time, and that the Minister has a lot of questions to answer. On the assessment of the impact of introducing PIP, will she consider a cumulative impact assessment of all the benefits affecting disabled people? The previous Minister used to say that it was too difficult, but it is astonishing to me that a Department with more than 100,000 civil servants should find it too difficult to come up with a cumulative impact assessment of their policies on disabled people. Disabled people know what the impact will be, and if the Government are not prepared to accept some of the findings of the Hardest Hit campaign and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s report earlier last week, they are duty bound to come up with their own impact assessment. They cannot just discredit everyone else’s and say, “We’re not going to do one.” I hope that the new Minister will think about that.
Can the Minister tell us when we will see the final regulations? Time is getting tight; there is no doubt about that. PIP is coming in next April, and we have not yet seen the final regulations. I am also interested in knowing what the Minister’s interpretation of co-production is. It is not just consultation after the effect; it is the involvement that I have mentioned.
I, too, welcomed the comments made by the previous Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling, about the idea of there being a “conversation”, but let me test the logistics of that idea because this is a crucial issue. The Government’s response says that there will be no time limit, which I am sure is a welcome statement, but although there might not be explicit targets, if a company has to carry out some 100,000 reassessments in a short time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South has said, there is an implied target. There might not be a target in the contract, but one is certainly implied, particularly I understand that Capita has already found out that 60% of people would like home visits. I just do not know how the Government will do this.
On the prime contractors, many colleagues have identified that there is no great confidence in at least one of them, and the Minister might be aware that in Scotland Atos has contracted with an NHS social enterprise called Salus. Atos told Third Force News, the newspaper of the voluntary sector in Scotland, that
“subcontracting the work to the NHS would help assessors make more informed decisions as they would work alongside local health boards when it came to assessing claimants.”
Why would Atos contract with an NHS unit only in Scotland? Is there a particular reason, perhaps concerning the politics of Scotland or because Atos feels that there is more sensitivity there? To whom is it subcontracting in the other areas in which it has the contract? Regarding the trail of public money, is it not ludicrous that the Department for Work and Pensions, as a public sector organisation, is contracting with a private sector organisation, in this case Atos, which is then subcontracting to a public sector organisation? What way is that to run a business?
Anne McGuire (Stirling, Labour)
The expectation would be that there might be more accurate assessments, but we must also take on board the comments of my hon. Friend Sheila Gilmore, who said that the assessment criteria are set not by Atos but by the Government. The issue is how those assessment criteria are interpreted further down the line. We might get better, more valuable assessments, but as the previous Minister said on more than one occasion in this House, the ultimate decision is made by the decision maker in the Department for Work and Pensions, and the criteria are set down by that Department. We must always remember that.
I want to come on to an issue relating to Atos, of which the Minister may or may not be aware. I understand that this afternoon some major disability organisations are up in arms about the fact that Atos has apparently named them in the contract. They did not know anything about it. As a matter of fact, they are incandescent with rage, because their being named in the contract has given the company an element of credibility. In one instance the contract states, I think, that those voluntary organisations are going to carry out the disability training of Atos staff and do various other kinds of partnership work with the company. Someone in one of the organisations has said, “It is difficult to know whether we should fall about laughing, because it is so ridiculous.”
Will the Minister tell us whether Atos named in the contract organisations that it had not contacted? What is happening now that those organisations are challenging the fact that Atos has put them down there? If the contractual system has proved to be flawed, will the Minister say that she will have to review the contracts? We cannot have a situation in which a private sector contractor uses as cover disability organisations in the voluntary sector, when those organisations have not given their permission and have in some instances said that they would have nothing at all to do with Atos.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is all part of the opacity of the contracts? Public money is going out, and we do not know what is in the contracts or, in the case of the subcontracting, who is getting what money and what Atos is even being paid for, if it is getting other people to do the work.
Anne McGuire (Stirling, Labour)
My understanding is that the disability organisations involved did not know that they were listed as Atos partners, if I can call them that, until some of the information was published recently. There are
serious questions here. I do not know whether the Minister will have an answer this afternoon, but if she does not, I suggest that she might need one pretty quickly, because some organisations are up in arms.
Finally, I want to come on to young people. I note from page 19 of the Government’s response that they still think that the age of 16 is the appropriate cut-off. There is a myth that the changes will have no impact on young people and children, but by the end of the roll-out of the process a 14-year old who is in receipt of disability living allowance now will be affected by the changes brought in with PIP. The previous Minister told me that 16 was the appropriate age because it is the natural point at which a child transitions to adulthood, but I suggest that the Minister reconsider that. The school-leaving age is going up, and I assume that that will have an effect on disabled young people at school. If a child or a young person was moved from a benefit at the age of 16, when they were still going through their school career, they could be in the ludicrous position of having qualified for DLA but not for what the Government have promoted as the tighter benefit of PIP. Young people in what would be fourth year in the Scottish education system—I do not know what it would be in England—should not be put under such additional stress. I suggest that 16 is no longer the appropriate age. The Government have stated that they are considering a transitional arrangement for people aged 16 to 18, and I am keen to find out the Minister’s view on that.
In conclusion, I will quote an optimistic sentence spoken by the Chancellor just before the emergency Budget, which is highlighted in the Hardest Hit report:
“Too often, when countries undertake major consolidations of this kind, it is the poorest—those who had least to do with the cause of the economic misfortunes—who are hit hardest.”—[Hansard, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 180.]
There is a strong sense out there that disabled people are the hardest hit. [ Interruption. ] I am delighted that the hon. Member for Battersea is back in her place. I am sure that she will be a great asset to the Select Committee.
In the Hardest Hit report that I have mentioned, the Paralympian David Clarke stated:
“There are hidden costs [to being disabled]. Computing what those costs are is very difficult…but fundamentally they exist. Withdrawal of [that] additional funding to cover those additional costs, if that is being planned, will jeopardise the independence of disabled people.”
Paralympians did wonderful things this summer, but many of them will say that one reason why they could do those things was because of the additional support from something like disability living allowance. I hope that the Minister will address that issue because we need to consider that there are extra costs to disability. PIP will, according to the Government, recognise the people who are most severely disabled and those in the greatest need, but there are people in great need, and people in greater need. No matter how laudable, if we concentrate all the effort and finance on those who are most severely disabled, there will still be disabled people who require some help to meet those additional costs. That is the dilemma the Government face.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North, Labour)
been asked to answer a number of serious questions, but the Chair of the Select Committee has indicated that she would like a few minutes at the end to conclude.
Esther McVey (Wirral West, Conservative)
I begin by congratulating and thanking the Liaison Committee for calling this debate. I thank the members of the Select Committee and other hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken today, some with very personal knowledge of this most important subject.
In summing up I hope to get through all the questions. As Members can see, I have papers on those questions across my desk, but should I not get to answer all of them, I am sure Members will catch my eye and pursue the matter that most concerns them.
I am pleased, Mr Sheridan, that you are chairing the debate today. Thank you.
I believe that the change will be of the same quality and standard as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend
We have been clear about our welfare reform plans, which are designed to rebalance the benefits system so that it is fair to claimants and affordable for the taxpayer. Key to ensuring those objectives is replacing the disability living allowance with personal independence payments for people of working age.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
I regret that the Minister has fallen into the trap of counterpoising claimants and taxpayers. Many claimants are indeed taxpayers. Many are income tax payers, but they all certainly pay VAT. The two groups are not distinct.
Esther McVey (Wirral West, Conservative)
I never sought to put them in two distinct groups. I said “affordable for the taxpayer”. I am afraid that it is the hon. Lady who distinguishes between the two. I certainly did not.
The Government currently spend almost £50 billion a year on disabled people, including more than £15 billion on adult social care, £1 billion on free transport for elderly and disabled people, £13 billion on disability living allowance, £15 billion on a range of other benefits and £320 million on disability employment programmes. We are also putting an extra £15 million into Access to Work. We should be proud that we are doing all of that.
We spend a fifth more than the EU average, and we are acknowledged as world leaders, which is a very good point to start this debate.
Those services enable disabled people to make their own choices and live independently, and for the services to continue to be available they must be sustainable and keep pace with the needs of disabled people today, which is considered no longer to be the case with disability living allowance. As hon. Members may be aware, from May 2002 to February 2012 the number of people claiming DLA rose by almost 34%. DLA, therefore, is financially unsustainable. We, like many others, including the Select Committee, consider DLA to be outdated and in need of fundamental change.
Anne Begg (Aberdeen South, Labour)
Those figures have been mentioned elsewhere today, and they should be put in context. The growth in the numbers claiming DLA is because people are living longer. Most of that growth comes from those over 65, because if people qualify before they are 65, they effectively keep DLA until they die. Of course, the introduction of PIP does not apply to that cohort. It is therefore wrong to say that the growth in DLA will be halted by the changes, because the large proportion of the growth is purely down to demographics.
Esther McVey (Wirral West, Conservative)
I checked the numbers before I came here today, and the over-65s are not the vast majority, but a third of the total. Interestingly—I think my hon. Friend Graham Evans brought this up, although many people have touched on it—DLA is not a static benefit; it is a dynamic benefit in so far as 3.3 million people are on it and the conditions they have will change. Some might stay the same and some might get worse, but some people’s condition may get better, and we have to acknowledge that when people get better, they will move off the system. There is a natural movement within the system, and we have to consider all those incidents, which is why we believe the reform is required.
I know I am short of time, so I will address the assessment and answer as far as I can some of the specific questions that were raised. If I do not have enough time, because there were so many points, I will write to hon. Members.
Esther McVey (Wirral West, Conservative)
Thank you, Mr Sheridan.
I have been corrected, so perhaps the right hon. Member for Stirling could wave to me a few minutes before Dame Anne Begg speaks.
When hon. Members spoke about the whole DLA reform and consultation, I do not think they necessarily knew the full length of the consultation that has been
embarked on. The consultation has been very thorough and has taken place over a long period. The Government code of practice on consultation recommends a minimum of a 12-week consultation, but I will put into context how we set about this consultation.
When there was a debate on whether we should change DLA to PIP, there was a consultation with disability groups, health groups and social care groups. That consultation was long before any change came into being and lasted for 10-and-a-half weeks. After that, there was a 10-week consultation on the reforms to which more than 5,500 people responded. There was then a 16-week informal consultation on the initial drafts of the assessment, followed by a further 15-week formal consultation on the second draft of the assessment, after which there was a 14-week consultation. In total there have been 55 weeks of consultation, which is a year-plus. By anybody’s reckoning that is a considerable amount of consultation. The consultation has been a real listening exercise, because there is no point in having it if we do not amend and change things as we see fit. As the Bill progressed and became the Act, key things were altered. Again, we are listening, and when we do finally table all the assessments, I believe the consultation will be reflected in them, too. Questions have been asked about when that will happen; it will be later on in the year, but it will be as soon as possible. There are many things to balance: we have to fit a specific timetable, which, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen South said, begins in April, but it would be incorrect to put something in play if we had not listened to everyone for as long as we possibly can.
I will pick up some of my notes, because Sheila Gilmore asked whether there are targets for the length of assessment. No, there are no targets for how long an assessment should take or for how many assessments should be completed in a week or a day. She is right: there are challenges, and it will be tough, but this is written into the contract. I met the two key providers yesterday to discuss how they have to engage with people and how the system has to be humane. They have to listen and be caring and all of those things, because—she is right—we need rigour and confidence in the system.
On the monitoring of quality and consistency across the PIP providers, guidance has been very strict, and training will be strict, too. They will be closely monitored for quality, auditing and the work of the health professionals. We are seeking feedback from claimants. They will be monitored again in two years, as well as this being ongoing. Should we see any discrepancies in appeals and reassessments where there seem to be issues, that will be monitored, too.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh East asked about other types of targets. There are no targets or expectations for assessor performance in the work capability assessment, and there will not be any in PIP. Yes, performance is monitored and assessors are audited. Where abnormal results occur, we will look into them, but everything has to be of the highest possible quality.
The hon. Lady talked about the initial start-up in Bootle and how it would roll out across the country. The Department will test the effectiveness of the IT system, and the assessment and referral and claiming process. The Department will also be able to validate assumptions about the timings of the process: the initial
telephone call, the claim form, the completion and the assessment duration. All of that will be tested in the original bit, which goes from April to June.
The hon. Lady asked many more questions, but I wonder whether I should move on to another question, which I think all hon. Members asked, about how disabled people are portrayed in the media. The right hon. Member for Stirling correctly pointed out that the superheroes of the Paralympics make up a tiny percentage of people with disabilities. Just as I will never be an Olympian, most people with disabilities will never be a Paralympian. However, the Paralympics shone a light on an area that we hope to capitalise on and open up disabled people to mainstream media. To that end, as somebody who worked in the media for 14 years, I hope that I can bring some insight and knowledge. I have asked straight away for—I would like to say a media summit, but that might make it sound even more highfaluting than it actually is—for a media round table. When one considers that there are 11 million people with disabilities in the UK and what percentage of the population that represents, it seems only right that such organisations as the BBC or ITV would look at that as a significant audience they should be reflecting, not just occasionally but daily, in all their programmes, whether they are dramas, news or current affairs.
It may be that we have to be even more careful about the language we use. If we know that the issue will be polarised and put into headlines and TV captions—we know that that will happen—then we need to be more careful about how we talk. I have never mentioned the word “scroungers”. I am mentioning it now because other hon. Members have mentioned it, and maybe we should all stop using it.
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne, Liberal Democrat)
I thank the Minister for giving way. She is covering a lot in a very short time, and I forgot to congratulate her on her new post. As I asked in my speech, will she commit, when the Government get it wrong, to going out on behalf of disabled people and very aggressively putting it right in the media?
Esther McVey (Wirral West, Conservative)
I agree that we should all do that, and that is what I am aiming to do. I have, in fact, been interviewed myself and felt that the interviewer was using the wrong language. I picked up on that, because I thought it was inappropriate. Whether that was to catch me out or whatever, I felt it was inappropriate.
I am aware of the time, so I would like to answer some of the questions raised by the right hon. Member for Stirling. Many hon. Members brought up the figure of the 20% cut. The right hon. Lady said that the impression sticks, so let me try to unstick it. Where did the 20% figure come from? I have to say, and I say this hand on heart, that when I walked into the Department and took on this daunting position—a huge task, with huge shoes to fill—I said, “I want to know how those numbers came about, because I do not honestly believe I can stand up in front of people unless I know the integrity of what I am saying.” If it is not right, I will change my words accordingly. As Stephen Lloyd said, if this is not what he thinks it will be, he will be a vocal opponent of it.
I have the figures. I have the numbers of what the spend would be, and this is what it was about. I asked all the medics who were setting the assessment, “Where did the numbers come from?” They said, in all honesty, they
were given the task of looking at what a benefit would be for 2013—looking at the disabilities now as we perceive them. We are not looking at DLA of the 1990s—that was very much skewed towards people with physical disabilities. This had to take in everything: sensory, mental conditions, learning difficulties, and how that would be done and how it is best placed to fit. They said that they came back with this assessment, this is how it was structured, and these were the results.
The actual sums that were paid out were £12.5 billion in 2010-11, and by 2014-15 the expected, real-terms spending will be £13.2 billion. The 20% cut that people talk about was the cut in the expected rise in the benefits, because they had risen exponentially by 40% in 10 years and everybody felt that that was unaffordable. Therefore, if we wanted to give the benefits people wanted, if we wanted to look after those who were most in need of support, but equally those with great needs as well as the greatest need, this is what had to be done to be sustainable. Those were the figures and those were the facts I was given. I believe them, and that is why I am standing here today.
Let me see if I can come on to any more questions. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South asked rather a lot. I reaffirm my commitment to working with people on disability benefits. Wherever possible, we will be working with everybody. As I am running out of time and the hon. Lady will be speaking in a moment, I will come to a conclusion and send her my response.
In conclusion, the London 2012 Paralympic games truly captivated the hearts of the nation, and undoubtedly helped to shift attitudes towards and perceptions of disabled people. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalise on that. The Government want to build on that success and I am adamant that I will do so.
I have just remembered that the right hon. Member for Stirling asked a question about Atos. I am not fully aware of the answer, but it is of concern. I will address it, and my team will look at it straight away.
We have to ensure that those who face the greatest barriers get the support they need. By replacing DLA with PIP, we are safeguarding that support for the future. Not only are we doing that, but we are modifying a benefit to ensure it keeps pace with the needs of disabled people today.
I hope my comments have reassured hon. Members. I know that they wanted more reassurance, but I do not have the time. Our proposals have been developed following extensive collaboration and consultation with disabled people and, when viewed as part of a wide package of support available, are intended to enable those disabled people who face the greatest barriers to lead full, active and independent lives.
Anne Begg (Aberdeen South, Labour)
Jane Ellison rightly pointed out that not all disabled people who receive DLA are vulnerable, but—this is a big “but”—the most vulnerable in our society are all disabled and will all qualify for DLA. That is why the Government must get this right. That is why the Select Committee must do its job of scrutinising the Government’s proposals, which does mean ringing alarm bells and asking lots and lots of questions.
DLA has been an extremely useful benefit and has helped to transform lives. PIP must do the same, which means that the assessment must be sensitive and supportive so that disabled people have the wherewithal to continue to be all that they can be, be that a Paralympian, an MP or a person incapable of any independent movement. It is imperative that the Government get this right. If they do not, we will turn the clock back to a time when disabled people were neither seen nor heard, and we cannot let that happen.
Sitting adjourned without Question put (