I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. Reform is about making the benefit fit the individual need. If the benefit needs to be paid and if it fits the need, it would not be wrong if it went up by 20%.
It is vital that the Bill does not disproportionately hit those with autism and other disabilities, who are all too often overlooked despite being among the most vulnerable in our society. The goal surely must be to support people with autism who cannot work, so that they can live a full and happy life. However, for those who are able to work, DLA has been crucial in helping them into the workplace. Without the DLA, people with autism would be socially isolated and more likely to suffer from poor mental health. The reform of DLA may lead to people with mental health problems missing out, which could have huge knock-on cost impacts on health and social care services. Surely this cannot be this Bill’s motivation—to give less support to people with autism and to increase the knock-on costs to other Government Departments. As it stands, that is what the Bill is in danger of doing. Its implications for people with autism could lead to confusion and frustration, which in turn could lead to more serious health problems. The Government must ensure that the needs of those with ASDs are taken into account.
The proposals for face-to-face assessments are in themselves creating great anxiety among people with autism and with mental health issues. ASDs are a very specialist area of medicine, and the doctors who deal with such disorders are the people who understand them and their implications. Many of the doctors undertaking the assessments will not have a full understanding of ASDs and the specific needs of the people who suffer from them. When a detailed assessment by a specialist has already been undertaken, what is the need for a further assessment, for benefit purposes, to be carried out by someone without that expertise?
As I said at the beginning of my speech, for a welfare reform Bill to work, it must be, as it says, a “reform” Bill that makes benefits easier to access and to understand.