I beg to move amendment 43, page 56, line 40, at end insert—
‘(7) Regulations shall exempt people with prescribed medical conditions from the requirement in subsection (4)(c), including in prescribed circumstances where the individual is—
(a) severely mentally impaired;
(b) a double amputee;
(d) undergoing haemodialysis;
(e) severely visually impaired; and/or
(f) meets the requirements of special rules set out in Clause 80.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
‘as regularly as their disabling condition occurs’.
Amendment 44, page 56, line 45, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘3’.
Amendment 77, page 57, line 3, leave out ‘as respects every time’ and insert
‘as regularly as their disabling condition occurs’.
Amendment 45, page 57, line 3, leave out ‘6’ and insert ‘9’.
Amendment 46, page 57, line 15, leave out from ‘previous’ to second ‘months’ and insert
‘3 months means the 3’.
Amendment 47, page 57, line 17, leave out from ‘next’ to second ‘months’ and insert
‘9 months means the 9’.
Amendment 66, in clause 83, page 58, line 34, leave out ‘meets the condition in subsection (2)’ and insert
‘is an inpatient of a hospital’.
Amendment 41, page 58, line 35, leave out ‘2’ and insert ‘3’.
Amendment 42, page 58, line 40, at beginning insert—
‘(3) The condition is that the person is an in-patient of a hospital.
Amendment 73, in clause 86, page 59, line 35, at end insert—
‘(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the impact of regulations made under section 83 within 12 months of the regulations being laid before Parliament.’.
Amendment 60, in schedule 10, page 140, line 25, at end insert—
‘(3) The Secretary of State shall ensure that, in respect of any person whose award of disability living allowance is terminated on or after the appointed day, an award of personal independence payment is made without application, and that said award is not subject to the requirements of assessment in section 78(3) or (4), or subsection (2) of this section, until:
(a) The Secretary of State has commissioned an independent report, no less than six months after the appointed day, on the effectiveness of the assessment process as used on new applicants for personal independence payment, and;
(b) The Secretary of State has satisfied himself, having consulted with disabled people, that the assessment process is functioning correctly.’.
Amendment 74, in clause 91, page 61, line 13, at end insert—
‘(c) the first regulations under section 83 containing provisions about the payment of the mobility component of personal independence payments to residents of a care home.’.
We have reached a vital stage in our consideration of the Bill. Government proposals for the reform of benefits for disabled people have been mired in controversy and bogged down by issues that the Government have failed to address, and they have alienated many organisations of and for disabled people. Sadly, instead of listening to and attempting to understand those concerns, the Government have dismissed them and undermined the traction that they command throughout the country. So much for the new politics! Instead of continuing the previous policy and the new approach of co-production practised with care and consideration by my right hon. Friend Mrs McGuire when she was the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, the Under-Secretary has been steadfast in her refusal to appreciate the issues brought to her, which I will detail. I fear that her approach has alienated the voices for reform in the disability movement and in this House. As a result, we are debating a huge missed opportunity for meaningful reform. However, we are where we are, and we will debate the proposals before us and our amendments to improve them.
Let me say a few words to provide some context. Although disability living allowance is a much respected and much valued benefit, it was designed in a different time, well before measures such as the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and the Equality Act 2010, which were introduced by the last Labour Government and which have profoundly changed the way in which disabled people participate and are recognised in society today. I acknowledge that the application procedure to make a new DLA claim—the process of self-assessment whereby somebody has to fill out a long, and at times complicated, form—is not one that many people believe to be suitable in a modern welfare state. We therefore believe, and have said consistently throughout our deliberations, that it is right to reform DLA. We welcome the Government’s decision to keep DLA as a non-means-tested, in-work benefit, and we think it is right to introduce a new, objective gateway.
Notwithstanding that, we feel that this Government have made profound mistakes and have missed opportunities in their approach to DLA reform. The whole process was kick-started by a rushed consultation. Apparently, according to the DWP website, it was one of the biggest of its kind, yet despite all those representations it yielded very few changes following the introduction of the Bill. The consultation was carried out over the Christmas and new period and was cut short. Perhaps most disappointingly of all, the Government chose to publish their proposals before it had even closed. No wonder this Minister, in particular, has a reputation for not listening. She will know that charities and the disabled people whom they represent have been highly critical of the process of reform. It did not have to be like that, and it is very disappointing that the Government did not undertake more groundwork to ensure that key stakeholders were a key part of the reform process.
While we take issue with the process of reform, we also have major concerns about its substance, and that will be the focus of my remarks. We now know that universal credit will halve support for disabled children and take away the severe disability premium for disabled people who live alone without a carer, yet put nothing appropriate in its place. Furthermore, part 4 outlines details of the new personal independence payment, with proposals to make disabled people wait half a year before they receive support and to take away the right of automatic entitlement for those with severely disabling conditions. The proposals are plainly chaotic and confused as regards the future of DLA mobility component for those in residential care homes.
My hon. Friend has referred to the Government not listening and not understanding. Does she share my utter dismay at what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions, when, on at least four occasions, he failed to acknowledge and understand what the Bill means, or even to see the difference between those who are terminally ill and those with cancer?
I could not agree more. It was staggering how ill-informed the Prime Minister seemed to be about the impact that the Bill will have on cancer patients. I will make reference to further experiences that cancer victims will have as a result of these proposals. There is worse news for them, as we will find out.
Our amendments seek to put right the wrongs in the Bill. They would make the personal independence payment a fairer, more effective and more workable component of welfare reform. That is incredibly important given the scale of the reform, with 1.8 million working-age people being assessed in just three short years. Let me begin with one of the most controversial elements of the Government’s proposals and explain the key arguments behind our amendments to clause 83, which deals with the mobility component for those in residential care homes. That policy has attracted much attention and has been the subject of much debate inside and outside the House, yet the Government’s position remains, I am sorry to say, far from clear.
The blanket cut to those living in residential care was first announced by the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review: it is there on page 12 of the documentation that I have here beside me. For the record, that position has not changed. The cut was in the first Budget document, and it remains in today’s Budget document. Granted, it has been delayed by six months, but it is still there. The proposal was met with an outcry from disabled people, disability organisations and the Opposition. Where was the Government’s much vaunted compassionate welfare reform? Why single out this particular group? Why select perhaps one of the most vulnerable sections of society? We have heard much talk of reviews and overlaps, but let there be no mistake—unless clause 83 is amended, people living in residential care homes can have their DLA mobility taken away from them.
Let me draw to the attention of Members who may be thinking about how they will vote a briefing submitted by several charitable organisations, which says that while the Government are no longer planning to remove DLA mobility from people living in residential care, they are planning to remove PIP mobility. Members should be careful to remember that if the Government say they are not removing DLA mobility, the Bill as it stands will remove PIP mobility.
I accept the hon. Lady’s observations about the confusion over the Government’s intentions. I think she just said that the Bill will remove PIP mobility. Is it not the case that the Government could bring forward regulations to remove PIP mobility? What we have to determine this afternoon, and what I hope Ministers will give us assurances on, is whether that is the Government’s intention.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he takes a great interest in this matter. That is exactly the point I am about to address. Our purpose this afternoon is to prohibit the Government from ever taking away PIP mobility from those in residential care. I hope that I can win his support, because I know that he has a genuine interest in this matter. I hope he bears with me, and I will gladly allow him to intervene again.
Just to put it in plain English, are we agreed across the House that the mobility allowance, as it used to be called, should be available to people who happen to live in a residential home, rather than in their own home, whether their home is within a residential home or they are living in a block with others?
Yes, that is what we agree on. Our amendments would ensure that the Government do not have a blanket power to remove PIP mobility from people because they live in residential care. If Members agree with me, they should vote for our amendments. I will go through the arguments again, and hopefully that point will be clear.
Does the hon. Lady agree that what will be foisted on people tonight if we are not careful is a sleight of hand whereby, from March 2013, people will be moved across duplicitously from DLA to PIP, and then PIP will be withdrawn? Of course, DLA will not be withdrawn because it no longer exists. That sleight of hand should be rejected outright by this House.
This is getting embarrassing because, again, I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more. He made the point perfectly. I commend him because he too takes a strong interest in this matter and has argued passionately for his constituents.
Unlike the Government’s position on DLA mobility for those in residential care homes, Labour’s position is crystal clear, as are our amendments. The Government must not remove DLA mobility for those in residential care and must delete the part of clause 83 that sets out to do just that. When I say “DLA mobility” throughout my remarks, I also mean as it applies to PIP mobility.
There have been many warm words from the Minister on the Government’s plans on DLA mobility, but they come as little reassurance to disabled people when they realise that absolutely nothing has changed since the cut was announced. The clause remains unamended and the cut remains in the Budget book. Some 80,000 disabled people continue to be under threat of losing out at the hands of this Government. Warm words, yes; a change in policy, no.
When justifying this cut, the Minister explains that it is about removing the overlap in provision. She has described a situation of chaos in the residential care sector in relation to this benefit, but hon. Members and charities have heard little or no evidence to substantiate that claim. Furthermore, she knows as well as we do that she does not need clause 83 to remove any overlap there might be in the provision of services to support the mobility and transport needs of care home residents. She already has the power to set new eligibility criteria. Such criteria could remove any overlap in funding or inconsistency in practice and ensure that the mobility component of DLA is used appropriately—I presume that that is the reason for her concerns about overlap. If care homes or local authorities are using the mobility component in a way that is not appropriate, she should address it head-on with the care homes and local authorities.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely good case. One of my constituents has said that if the mobility component of DLA is taken away, it
“will make a prison of my son’s care home”.
A wider issue that has been raised by many constituents is that people may be in care for many years with considerable mobility needs and that the care home needs the extra resources to get them beyond the front door.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to his constituents’ concerns. I am sure that he, and all Members, will bear that experience in mind when we vote this afternoon. I appeal to Members to consider the significant needs of people who live in care homes. That should direct us in how we vote.
Does the hon. Lady agree that many people will be perturbed and confused by the fact that the Government are derelict on the real crisis affecting care homes in funding, ownership and stability, but are diligent in trying to claw back the pittance that some people in those care homes receive, based on the myth that there is some financial West Lothian question whereby people are being paid out of one fund and also getting money out of another?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point with great passion. We must bear in mind the context in which this decision is being taken and the scale of resource that is involved. I have to say to him that we have found no evidence of great concerns about the practice of care homes and local authorities on the matter. The Minister has not presented any such evidence to us or to charities, and we cannot see where the great worry or cause for concern is.
If I made that mistake, I am very grateful for the opportunity to correct it. We are talking about the mobility component of DLA, which will be transferred to PIP. I will come on to broader concerns about PIP later, but I thank the hon. Gentleman.
I was talking about how the Government are addressing the issue of overlap and introducing a review. I assume that part of their concern is the need for greater consistency in how funding for people who live in residential care is arranged. I put it to the Minister directly that if there needs to be greater consistency in how the transport and wider mobility needs of residents are addressed, she should issue the appropriate guidelines to care homes. Whatever she chooses to do to address the matter, it is plainly wrong and irresponsible to make victims of the residents themselves by the blanket withdrawal of a benefit to which they are legitimately entitled.
The core of the argument, which should determine how we vote today, is that the power in clause 83 is necessary only if the Government want to remove payments solely on the basis that someone lives in a residential care home. If that is not the aim, we need to change the Bill.
On that point, does the hon. Lady agree that under article 20 of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, on personal mobility, and article 31 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, removing the mobility component from children in residential homes may amount to a breach of the UK’s obligations in human rights conventions?
That is a very interesting observation, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing it to the House’s attention. I know that he takes a great interest in these matters. That point gives us even more reason to argue that Members should support the amendments—they would avoid any problem of that nature.
When the Minister is not talking about “overlap” in an attempt to address the problem in question, she is talking about the need for a review. It was promised that the review, first announced earlier this year, would look into the provision of DLA mobility to those in residential care homes, which I know offered some succour to Members who were concerned about the matter. Labour Members were mildly optimistic that that was a signal that the Government were undertaking a rethink, as we know they are prepared to do when the time is right. However, we have been sadly disappointed. Although a review was launched, it has no time scale, there are no terms of reference, no review group has been established and there is no involvement for disabled people. No wonder people are confused about where the policy stands.
I remind the House that at Prime Minister’s questions on
Does the hon. Lady agree that throughout all of this—no matter how it is dressed up or how Opposition Members are criticised—the policy is about doing one, well named thing? It is about making the pips squeak among the most vulnerable in our country. That is another reason why it should be opposed.
This is embarrassing, because hon. Members are putting the argument so much more effectively than I am.
To conclude on this section of my contribution, may I make an appeal to Members of the House? We have a moment in time. We are being watched by disabled people this afternoon, and by their organisations. This goes to the heart of what we are about. People will be prisoners in residential care and prisoners in their own homes if this provision is removed from them. Many opportunities for them will also be withdrawn. I appeal to hon. Members: let us do the right thing this evening and vote for amendment 43—I also intend, Mr Deputy Speaker, to press amendments 42 and 44 to a Division when the time comes.
I shall now discuss specific aspects of the personal independence payment that should be changed to make the new benefit fairer and more effective in giving support to those who need it, and to assist a smooth transition for existing claimants to the new benefit. Amendments 44 to 47 seek to amend clause 79 and the proposed change to the required period condition for PIP. The amendments would retain the three-month period that claimants must wait before they are eligible to receive PIP, but would extend the period over which a claimant must show that they will be with that disability from six months, as is currently the case with DLA, to nine months.
In other words, for those who have not followed every single detail of the Bill like those of us who served in Committee, like the Government intend, the Opposition would extend the current DLA required condition period from nine months to one year for PIP. However, the Opposition would extend the provision after receipt of the benefit, not at the beginning. To do otherwise would be to penalise unfairly those disabled people who need extra help associated with their disability early in their treatment.
Yet again, there is some confusion about the rationale behind the change in the waiting time for PIP. In Committee, the Minister said that the change was categorically not about savings. She clearly stated:
“I will be honest and open with my answer. I would like to reassure the hon. Lady”— meaning me—
“that the principal aim of extending the qualifying period from three to six months is not about savings. We do not expect the measure to provide any significant savings.”––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee,
Furthermore, I have asked the Minister in a series of written parliamentary questions what the projected savings are. Again, her Department was unable to provide any sort of answer—nor do its answers so much as allude to potential savings resulting from this policy decision—yet at Department for Work and Pensions questions on Monday, the Minister appeared to backtrack, stating that “modest” savings were now part of the reasoning for pushing ahead with the change. In her response today, will she indicate the scale of those modest savings? It is a little concerning that the rationale behind changes that will make such a big difference to the lives of many disabled people in this country is, even at this late stage, being cobbled together by the Government.
If we cannot comment on savings from the policy, we can at least discuss its impact on disabled people who require PIP to help them to meet extra costs associated with their disability. In Committee, we discussed in great detail the different conditions that are likely to require early support, so I will not go into them in great depth today unless pushed to do so.
The hon. Lady has clearly outlined the issues in relation to the qualifying period. Is she aware, as many in the House are, that for people in poor health, it is a time of stress and anxiety? The Government are talking about increasing the qualifying period when people are under the most pressure regarding their health, so putting them under additional, financial pressure. Does she feel that such financial pressure will impact on people’s health at a time when they need less pressure and more help?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong point. The Macmillan cancer charity, which has already had an airing in the Chamber today, makes strong representations about the impact that financial worries can have on health, including leading to a deterioration in health. It is therefore especially pernicious that the Government have come forward with this policy. Cancer and stroke victims will suffer severely from this, because they can have major changes in costs very early in their conditions. Cancer and stroke victims may not be terminal, but they can still have great needs and society needs to support them in working through the terrible and difficult circumstances they are experiencing.
Indeed, and for those of us who have experience of how families struggle through family illness on lower incomes, we know how important that is. We do not want to have a society in which people who are struggling with major illnesses have to worry about how they will meet their family bills.
Cancer and stroke victims usually require help early in their conditions. As of August 2010, some 195,000 people were receiving DLA for a malignant disease or a stroke-related condition. Many in this group who are of working age may well be the very individuals who will be affected by clause 79 and the decision to lengthen the qualifying period to six months.
The extra costs will vary from individual to individual, but we can safely assume that they include key criteria such as extra fuel costs, costs associated with aids, adaptations and special diets, and extra costs of washing clothes and such like.
On the issue of extra fuel costs, one reason why the last Government—followed by this Government—said that they would not extend the winter fuel payment to those with disabilities was that it was already covered in the payments received under DLA. If the people who move on to PIP do not get those payments, they will be disadvantaged.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point, which reinforces why we should not accept the Government’s proposals and instead vote for this amendment. Simply to shrug aside the points that have been made or—as I suspect the Minister will argue—to pass on the obligation for meeting these costs to local authorities that are already feeling the strain of funding would be unfair and a great insult to many victims. Cancer patients are already the victims of the decision to time-limit the contributory employment and support allowance to just one year, as the Prime Minister now understands. Why should they be punished yet again at the hands of this Government when it comes to reforming DLA? We had controversy this morning about how cancer patients are being treated by this Government and now we have more concerns and more difficulties for cancer patients.
As it is carers week, it is also important to remember that when someone is having treatment in a hospital that may be some distance from home, there is also an impact on family members, who end up taking time off work and have to pay high travel costs. That has an impact on the whole family’s income, not just the person who is suffering the illness.
Indeed, and there is often an impact on the wider family, not just the immediate family.
We believe that the Government are misguided in their decision to lengthen the time disabled people must wait before they are given support. The Government are also wrong to remove automatic entitlement for certain severely disabled people who currently have the automatic right to receive the higher rate of DLA. At the moment, the severely mentally impaired—that is the language that is used—double amputees and those who are deaf-blind, undergoing haemodialysis or are severely visually impaired are automatically able to receive higher rates of DLA. Under the Bill, however, only those with a terminal illness will automatically receive PIP. Obviously I welcome the Government’s commitment to protect the terminally ill, but we believe that this obligation does not go far enough. Amendment 43 would ensure that those with a severely disabling condition, who are currently eligible for automatic entitlement, would retain that right following the introduction of PIPs.
It is important that we keep in mind the group of people whom we are talking about in the amendment. Is the Minister planning to inform the House today that an individual who is severely mentally impaired or a double amputee might not now be eligible for the higher rate of PIP? That would be quite an announcement. What reason is there to force this group of severely disabled people to undergo an assessment process of which we can all safely predict the outcome? We now know that the Government plan to spend £675 million on establishing PIP, on the bureaucracy of PIP and on the reassessment of 1.8 million working-age recipients of disability living allowance.
Does my hon. Friend have estimates of the cost of each of these interviews that will have to take place; of how many will be unnecessary; of how many will be appealed successfully; and of the incredible stress and hardship through which individuals will be put while knowing full well that unfortunately they can never get a job or go to work, and that they will have to be in receipt of benefits in the future?
I am afraid that I do not have specific numbers to hand, but I will make it my business to get that information because it would be very interesting. I am sure that some organisations could help us estimate those numbers and the different categories that my hon. Friend highlighted. He outlined a common-sense approach. It makes no sense to put these people through this stress, or to add to the bureaucratic costs of administering the process, when that money should be going to the disabled people themselves.
In a time of economic restraint, I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House agrees that this is a huge amount of money to spend on administration, so we should consider opportunities to reduce the costs. It is absurd to propose reassessing conditions that will clearly be eligible for the new PIPs. I have asked how much it will cost, and I will try to get answers—perhaps the Minister can give them in her reply. If the argument for retaining automatic entitlement is rooted in the avoidance of needless assessment, it is also grounded in the goal of appeasing the anxiety of many disabled people about having to undergo reassessment for PIP eligibility. As I am sure my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn knows, one of the biggest concerns disabled people tell us about is the constant reassessments they have to undergo, despite it being obvious to everybody that they have a disability. They are needless assessments.
Does my hon. Friend agree that problems are also created by the period disabled people have to wait before an assessment and the consequent stress and worry? They read newspapers that convince them they are not going to get the benefit, and their overall state worsens as a result of this whole exercise.
Yes, absolutely, and we have an opportunity here to minimise that stress and to address the problems. I strongly believe that we should take that opportunity.
Does the hon. Lady recognise that many people are concerned that as the costs of administering the assessments emerge and escalate, they will be met not by scaling back the arrangements, but by tightening the criteria and reducing the benefits awarded?
I acknowledge that many disabled people and disability organisations are extremely concerned about that, given the Government’s track record on this. We cannot underestimate or brush aside the level of anxiety of many people in this country about the reform of DLA. Many people find incredibly stressful and worrying the prospect of having to go through a new face-to-face assessment to prove their disability, despite it being abundantly clear, in order to receive help.
It is the Government’s job to assure disabled people that the introduction of PIPs—I know that the Minister tries to do this—will not mean the end of financial support for disabled people. Given the Minister’s efforts on that, I plead with the Government to go that extra mile to assure disabled people that the process is about meaningful reform of an important benefit, rather than an attempt to remove it from those whom they can get away with removing it from. One way the Government can do that is by ensuring that the most severely disabled members of our society do not face needless upheaval and uncertainty over the future of support following the introduction of PIPs.
I understand where the hon. Lady is coming from, but does she agree that the Government have made good progress by bringing in Professor Harrington to ensure that the test—which, to be honest, we inherited from the previous Government—is improved?
That test was introduced for the work capability assessment and the application of employment and support allowance, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Of course I acknowledge that the Minister is working with disabled people to try to ensure that the test is as effective as it can be, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman and the Minister that most disabled people are saying that they are not satisfied. I do not think that reassurances have been given that the test is right yet.
None the less, what I am talking about in this debate is automatic entitlement, which is a different issue. Even if the test were perfect, which would be very hard to achieve—we are very far from that—putting people through needless assessments, all at a cost, would still not be worth it when they are clearly disabled. Retaining automatic entitlement for severely disabled people would be a small step, but would enable the Government to send out an important signal to show that they are listening and that they get some of this. The big cry coming from disabled people is that there has been no shift from the Government and no signals, and that they do not get it.
Amendment 60, which is our final amendment in the group, would ensure that the process of reassessment will result in an orderly, careful and efficient transition for working-age claimants. As I have said before, we need to keep in mind the scale of the exercise that the Government are proposing to undertake. We are talking about reassessing 1.8 million working-age people on DLA in the space of just three years. To meet that goal, the Government would need to reassess—I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North that I do have the figures for this—roughly 600,000 people, which is 11,500 people a week or more than 2,000 a day. That is the scale of the process that disabled people will have to go through.
Given the scale and depth of concern about this issue, our amendment 60 proposes that checks and balances be written into the Bill to ensure that lessons are learnt as reform develops—we have tried to learn some of those lessons ourselves—and that the teething problems of assessment are addressed and disabled people have the confidence that reform will work for them. Amendment 60 would embrace this opportunity to send out a clear message that we will learn from mistakes in the system and iron out anomalies in the assessment before we start to assess some of the most vulnerable people currently receiving DLA, by ensuring that only new applicants are assessed first. That is what the safeguard would do. Amendment 60 is fair and proportionate. We are not saying that reassessment is wrong; we are simply saying that it needs to be done properly and carefully, and that it should be phased, with the Secretary of State playing a key role in the process to ensure clear scrutiny and accountability.
The amendments would ensure that the personal independence payment was a fairer, more effective and workable reform. As I set out in my introductory remarks, the Opposition support reform and the principles of reform; however, the Government have wasted a significant opportunity to introduce such reform. If the universal credit penalises families of disabled children by halving the support available to them; penalises severely disabled people who live alone by neglecting to replicate the severe disability premium or the personal independence payment; penalises disabled people in residential care homes by removing their DLA mobility component; penalises disabled people by making them wait six months before they receive the support that they need; and creates uncertainty and needless anxiety for the most disabled people in our society by removing their automatic entitlement to the new benefit, is it any wonder that we are opposed to this Bill?
I rise to speak to the amendments tabled in my name, which focus on the mobility component of the disability living allowance for those in care homes. We have already heard a lot about that from Margaret Curran. Amendment 74 asks for the regulations on this issue to be dealt with under the affirmative, rather than the negative, procedure. Amendment 73 asks for a report on the impact of the changes after one year.
There were many concerns across the House when the Government announced their original plan to remove the mobility component of the disability living allowance from all those in care homes. Concern was expressed particularly about young people in boarding schools and residential care, and about the impact on parents who have to meet extra costs associated with their child’s disability, whether or not they are in residential care. For example, they might need to meet the additional cost of an adapted or expensive car to transport the young person around. Concern was also expressed about the impact of the proposal on older people in residential care, and it is that issue that seems to have taken off, rather than a focus on younger people.
The Government have listened, however, and they have said that they no longer plan to remove the mobility component of the disability living allowance from all those in residential care. Instead, they have made it clear that they intend to tackle instances of overlapping funding, such as when a local authority is providing funding for someone’s mobility needs directly to a care home and the individual is also getting DLA. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is the Government’s intention, because it is important to be clear that we are tackling the overlap of funding rather than entirely removing mobility support from people in care homes.
Under the hon. Lady’s definition of overlapping provision for mobility needs, would she settle only for what we would expect anyone living in the wider community to have—namely, complete freedom of choice and access to transport to assist them when it suits them?
I am about to come to my understanding of that point. Obviously, it is up to the Minister to determine her definition, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will be able to comment on what the Minister has to say later.
I am also glad that the Government have put on hold the plan to introduce this change while comprehensive research is carried out. Any decision needs to be based on solid evidence, and it has become clear that no research has been done in the past, so no such evidence has been available so far.
To the best of her knowledge, can the hon. Lady identify two examples of where overlap is a problem? Does she think that the review should be widened to involve disabled people? Does she also think that its findings should be published?
I have just made it clear that no research has been done in the past, so there has been no evidence up to now. I have absolutely no idea what evidence the Minister has found, but I am sure that she will be able to give the House more information on that and answer the hon. Lady’s question. Not being part of the research team, I cannot give the hon. Lady any examples of overlap, but I am sure that the Minister will be able to provide more information about that later.
May I ask you to address the second part of my question, which was about the review? There are serious concerns that the review is not being made public and that we do not know its terms of reference. I presume that you know its terms of reference, since you support the Government’s proposals. Could you perhaps explain them to the House?
I think she means “the hon. Lady”, rather than you, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is obviously an issue for the Minister to address later, particularly in regard to the terms of reference. I do not believe that it would have been appropriate for disabled people to take part in the research, because it is my understanding that this is an information-gathering exercise—
The hon. Gentleman shouts “Shame”, but this is an information-gathering exercise to obtain evidence on the basis of which a decision can be made. At that point, it will be appropriate for people to be consulted. When we know the evidence base, and what options are open to the Government, it will clearly be appropriate to consult. At the moment, the Government are communicating with local authorities to find out what funding is in place, and disabled people are probably no more aware of that than I am. It would not be appropriate, while gathering that information, to consult. Afterwards, when we have the evidence on which to base a decision, it will become appropriate to consult on the options.
I have to confess that I am astonished to hear the hon. Lady suggest that disabled people would have nothing to add to an information-gathering exercise. Would she support postponing the proposals until we have clarity on what the review will involve, to ensure that everyone with a view is able to put their view forward?
The hon. Lady completely misrepresents my words. I absolutely did not say that disabled people have nothing to add to this. I said that the Government are undertaking an information-gathering exercise so that we have an evidence base on which to look at the options for the Government to take forward. At that point, people with disabilities and others affected would, I hope, have an opportunity to be consulted and to participate in discussions. At the moment, it is my understanding that the Government are gathering information to provide the evidence that has been lacking. I have to say that I was taken aback to find that the previous Government had never done research to enable us to understand what funding is made available to care homes and what is made available to people through disability living allowance. Providing such evidence is seriously overdue.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is being very good and lenient with her time. On the issue of overlapping, which was raised at the start of her comments, I want to point out that the disability living allowance as currently constructed is a non-means-tested benefit. Overlapping implies that there should now be a means test. If part or all of someone’s benefit were to be taken away, means-testing would be necessary. Is the hon. Lady saying that she will support a provision that would introduce a new means test by stealth?
I do not believe that this is about means-testing of benefits. It is about looking for sources of state support or Government funding for the mobility needs of individuals with disability. It is about looking at the different sources of money to ensure that it is provided evenly to people with disabilities so that their mobility needs are covered.
I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from, as she and I are signed up to the same position. Let me confirm that her position and mine is the one agreed at our party conference only a few months ago—[Interruption.] Let me put it on the record that the conference called
“on the Coalition Government not to remove the Mobility Component completely and to ensure sufficient funding for the mobility needs of those who cannot afford to fund their needs themselves” and
“to ensure that any reductions to the Mobility Component are based on clear evidence that the cost of that support is provided via other funding means.”
That is where we stand, so I ask my hon. Friend to confirm that that is why she is making sure that the Government will end up standing there, too.
That is exactly the position that I am putting forward. I am concerned, because clause 83 still leaves it open for Ministers to cut the mobility component for those in care homes. As a number of Members have made clear, the concern about that is considerable.
I appreciate that the hon. Lady is trying to get the Government off the hook by supporting this review, but the original proposal came forward in the coalition Government’s first Budget—almost a year ago. Is she not as surprised as I am—if not shocked—that the work that she now advocates was not done before the proposal was made in the first place?
To risk the wrath that has been incurred by some colleagues on my side, I have to confess that I was somewhat surprised about that, but I also think it should have been done by the previous Government as well. It is pretty shameful that we have no understanding of where the funding for these costs has come from.
I am afraid that I am not taking any more interventions, as many Members want to participate in the debate and I do not want to run out of time. I am sure that those who have further comments will attempt to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker.
We must not underestimate how important it is for people to be able to get out and about. I appreciate that those in residential care often do not have as many mobility needs as some people living on their own. For example, they do not need to shop regularly for food as it is usually provided, and they often do not need to make arrangements to get to a doctor’s appointment or the hairdresser’s because those services are often provided in the care home. However, they often need to shop for things other than food—for clothes and personal items—and they need to be able to maintain contact with friends and family. Younger people in residential care may often be in work and need to travel in and out of work as well. They have needs that need to be funded. It depends on the disability, but often public transport is not an option, so people rely on expensive taxis, on Motability scooters or on having access to their own vehicle, all of which add significant costs.
It is important that people have independence, keep up their social lives and live a full and valuable life. That is not possible on the £22 a week that people in residential care would be left with if they did not have the mobility element or any other support for their mobility needs. Although this part of the Bill is about PIPs, which will apply only to those who are over 18, I would be grateful if the Minister clarified the Government’s intention about extending PIPs to the under-18s, too, and whether the provisions will apply to families and young people with disabilities who are under that age.
My amendments would ensure that this important issue is decided by affirmative resolution, enabling proper parliamentary scrutiny, and that its implementation is monitored effectively through the production of a report after enough time has elapsed to show the impact and the effect. It is clear to me from the totality of the Government’s proposals that affect people with disabilities that the Government do not intend to restrict the independence of individuals. The move towards personal independence payments from disability living allowance goes in quite the opposite direction. We had a number of debates in Committee about the increased emphasis on individual needs and independence, and I sometimes found the Minister’s emphasis on taking every person as an individual and assessing their individual needs somewhat frustrating. Sometimes in debate it is easier to consider groups of people, but it is clear that the Minister’s intention is to consider individual needs and to take them into account when making decisions, as well as to ensure that individuals have independence.
The Minister has said that she does not envisage the results of the review being published. If I understand the hon. Lady correctly—she is making some telling points—she envisages the review being published so that there can be consultation. Will she confirm that she disagrees with the Minister on that point?
I have no idea whether the review will be published. I was commenting on the fact that the options on PIPs and DLA for the future should be consulted on. The Bill simply states that that will be decided in regulations, which is one reason I tabled an amendment requiring them to be subject to an affirmative resolution. The decisions will be made by regulations, which means that there is a further decision-making point. The Government will be able to publish their regulations and their intentions once they have done the information gathering and considered the funding situation across the board. At that point, I would like to see some broader involvement of people who are affected by these decisions. We will then have the information when we make a decision.
I am afraid that I shall disappoint the hon. Lady, but that is an issue for the Minister. I do not know what discussions the Minister has had with the devolved Administrations. I am a Member of Parliament for a Welsh constituency, so the issue clearly affects my constituents, too. I am sure that some discussion is going on, but the hon. Lady can ask the Minister to respond to that question.
A number of other issues are covered by the amendments before the House and have already been raised by Margaret Curran, including how the Government handle fluctuating conditions and the assessment requirements for PIPs. We have had a number of debates about fluctuating conditions, not least in a Delegated Legislation Committee yesterday afternoon which was attended by many Members who are in the Chamber this afternoon. Fluctuating conditions are hard to manage in the benefits system. As has been mentioned, Professor Harrington is doing work on descriptors for the work capability assessment for fluctuating and mental health conditions and on how the assessments can be improved to take them into account. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that the Government are learning the lessons from the mistakes made in the work capability assessment and that we do not replicate them when the new PIP assessment is introduced.
I am afraid that I will not, as I am aware that a lot of people want to speak.
I flagged up my concerns in Committee about whether there are some people for whom face-to-face assessments are not appropriate, and I was reassured by the Minister’s response, as she clearly accepted that they are not appropriate for everybody. She intends to allow Jobcentre Plus advisers discretion to consider individual cases and the Government seem to be thinking about taking the same approach to the need for ongoing face-to-face assessments. As long as there is discretion and an acceptance that such assessments are not appropriate for everybody, I hope that decisions will depend on the discretion and common sense of Jobcentre Plus advisers. Will the Minister reconfirm today that the Government are taking a slightly flexible approach?
The final issue that I want to flag up is that of sudden-onset conditions such as cancer, stroke or accidents, which the hon. Member for Glasgow East has mentioned. Such conditions are very different from conditions that gradually worsen. They do not give people time to adapt mentally, emotionally or financially to their new circumstances and in addition to the trauma of coping with diagnosis there are large up-front costs that start almost immediately. There might be a sudden loss of income and there is the cost of travel to and from hospital for regular treatments, as well as parking charges and new equipment that is needed. Such costs seem to be just the sort of thing that disability living allowance was designed to fund.
The change from three to six months before someone can apply for the new personal independence payment might hit those people the hardest, because they have to pay those costs so immediately up front. I understand that that group of people form a very small proportion of those who are currently on DLA—around 6%, I think—so it would not be expensive to treat them differently. There are knock-on implications for that group, as their carers will not be able to apply for carer’s allowance unless they have DLA, so both the claimant and the carer could lose income. I raised this issue in DWP questions on Monday and the Minister was kind enough to say that the Government are looking into the issue. I hope that they will look at what can be done to ameliorate the situation for that small and distinct group.
I welcome the Government’s moves to take into account concerns about the removal of the DLA mobility component, and although I welcome the decision not to push ahead with the original proposal to remove it entirely, I think the Bill leaves the door open for that to happen in future—perhaps not under this Government but under a future one—so I believe that any changes should pass through the House via affirmative resolution. I also believe that the situation needs to be monitored closely to ensure that we are protecting and enhancing the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society.
I suspect that many hon. Members will want to speak particularly about the removal of the higher-rate mobility allowance from residential care, so I shall not talk about that in any detail, but I think it is merely the top of a very pernicious iceberg, and the proposed amendments attempt to allay our concerns on that. This issue has captured the public imagination because it seems so grossly unfair and because people cannot understand what kind of Government would take away the independence of the, by definition, most disabled people in our community because they happen to live in a residential home or, for those whose families might lose access to an adapted vehicle, because they happen to go to a residential school.
I want to look more widely at the Government’s reasons for seeing fit to wipe away everything that was the DLA and bring in a new benefit called the personal independence payment. Let me address the Government’s analysis, or rather their argument—I should not have said analysis because part of the problem is that there has been no proper analysis and it is very difficult to get any data to suggest that some of what they have said is true; that might be the case for individual cases, but it is not widespread. The fact that Jenny Willott had to ask for some of those data may show that the Government lumbered into the whole area without knowing the details, and that their proposals were based on some perception of prejudice, or the need to save money, a point to which I shall return.
What were the criticisms that the Government laid at the door of DLA? They said there were no regular reassessments. That is easy to sort. We can put in regular reassessments for certain people. The Government said that too many people were getting DLA for life. Is that too much of a problem? If a person is quadriplegic after a cataclysmic accident, I am not sure they will get better. The reason many people who at present depend on DLA are so frightened by the changes is that they have an award for life; they do not have to worry about more reassessments. They have gone through assessments. They know they are profoundly disabled. Anybody looking at them can tell they are profoundly disabled, so why on earth do they yet again have to go through an assessment?
Another criticism of DLA was that some people were getting it automatically based on their condition. I challenge the Minister to tell us what it is about the condition of people who cannot feed themselves, cannot dress themselves, cannot move from one seated position to another, cannot walk or go to the toilet themselves that means they have to be assessed for their need for extra costs for care and mobility. I cannot think of a reason. Why should there not be an assumption that those individuals have their extra costs for care and mobility covered by DLA? That is what it was all about.
The Government’s main argument was that DLA was not well understood. That is not my experience from talking to people who receive DLA. It was one of the few benefits they did understand. DLA was for the extra mobility and care costs associated with disability. Compare that to the confusing rules for tax credits, or the in-work benefits or disability premiums associated with jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit. We could look at contributory ESA as well. Those are confusing. The one benefit for disabled people that was clear—they knew what it was for—was disability living allowance. That is what they tell me and I am sure it is what they have told the Government. The vast majority of responses to the Government’s consultation made exactly that point: people valued DLA so greatly that they were frightened they might lose it.
Another criticism the Government have made of DLA is that the form was too long and complicated. That would be easy to sort. Make it shorter, make it less complicated and maybe put it online. There were solutions.
Those are the main criticisms of DLA that the Government have come up with, but none of them could not have been solved by some changes to the existing allowance. It did not require the sweeping away of DLA and its replacement with a new benefit, with new criteria. If the criteria were out of date, some of them could have been changed, but there was and is no need to change all of them. People who depend on DLA at present as a large part of their income are terrified, because they do not know what lies ahead. If the system is as bad as, according to the Government, it is at the moment, those people are worried that whatever the Government come up with will not be suitable for their needs. I have to tell the hon. Member for Cardiff Central that the previous Government did not collect data on double-funding mobility allowance in care homes, because they were not advocating the removal of DLA from that group of people.
The things that are particularly good but often forgotten about DLA include the fact that it is an in-work and out-of-work benefit. That element will become increasingly important as the Government proceed with their welfare reforms to put work obligations on people with profound disabilities. Anyone who is not assessed as being in the support group for ESA will have a work obligation. However, if those who end up in the work-related activity group find that they no longer qualify for DLA, it will be all the harder for them to find a job or to do the work-related activity that the Government expect them to do, because the extra financing to make that possible will have been removed.
The best thing about DLA was that we had for the first time in this country a benefit that followed the social model of disability, rather than the medical model. There is a worry that the clock will be turned back. The Government call their new benefit the personal independence payment, but DLA was a personal independence payment, so they did not need to change the benefit. DLA is personalised and represents what the Government say they want the benefit system to be because it is a dynamic benefit, which means that it helps people to lead an independent life by going out to work, visiting friends and doing all the things that everyone else takes for granted. Such independence includes the ability to live in the community, which can be achieved if a person can buy in care and get someone to come in to look after their care needs. All those things exist under DLA, so why is there a need to make a fundamental change to something that was not broken? Why fix something that was working reasonably well? No one would have complained if the Government had done a bit of tweaking, but such a fundamental change makes people especially worried.
The Red Book states that the Government want to cut 20% from the DLA budget. That means that the pot will be 20% smaller, but given the cost of reassessing everyone, about which we have heard today, the reduction in payments will be more than 20%, because some of the money that would have gone to disabled people so that they could live their lives will be invested into the private company that will carry out the reassessments. Given the difficulties of the ESA, there is suspicion about the accuracy of the reassessments. Even though Professor Harrington has made recommendations, there are still fears and worries about the way in which the work capability assessment is working, and disabled people’s experience of that assessment makes them especially worried about what will happen under PIP.
Does my hon. Friend agree that anxiety is especially high among people with mental health problems? We have recently heard reports of a number of suicides, so we need to be able to offer people reassurance about the process.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Perhaps I should now speak to amendments 76 and 77, which I tabled as an attempt to ensure that fluctuating conditions—mental health problems are often fluctuating conditions—are properly recognised.
Mental health organisations throughout the country are deeply concerned about clause 79, which makes provision about whether an individual will qualify for a personal independence payment. The Bill states that the question of qualification relates to whether during
“every time in the previous 6 months, it is likely that if the relevant ability had been assessed at that time that ability would have been determined to be limited”.
Mental health charities are worried that someone with a fluctuating condition would not qualify because they would have to be sufficiently ill for qualification at every point over those six months. Amendments 76 and 77 clarify that the condition would not have to be continuous throughout that time. The charities agree with the principle of monitoring a person’s condition over time rather than making a snapshot assessment—they have no problem with that. They say the latter would poorly serve individuals with fluctuating conditions. This has been especially apparent in the experience of people applying for employment and support allowance.
The wording of the Bill suggests that people with fluctuating mental health problems or another fluctuating condition will not qualify if they are not consistently ill for the required length of time. Denying them support through PIP could have a detrimental effect on their health and their ability to manage their condition. This could affect the individual’s ability to stay in work if they are employed, or impede their recovery if they are not working. Also, it would not accurately capture the impact of the condition on an individual’s life. I do not intend to press my amendments to a Division—we probably have enough votes—but I want an assurance from the Minister that fluctuating conditions will be taken into account and will be recognised. That is a particular worry.
If the Government are hellbent on introducing PIP, it is important that we get it right. As I just mentioned with regard to people with mental health problems, the Government are putting new obligations on disabled people of working age. They will have work obligations. They will have to do work-related activity. If PIP is not there to act as an aid to help someone get into work, the barriers that exist for all disabled people—such as lack of access to transport, or the lack of the ability to buy in their own care that is flexible enough to allow them to go to work—become insurmountable barriers. That means that the Government will not be able to deliver on their stated aim of getting more and more disabled people into work.
It is particularly important that the right people and those with severe disabilities get PIP because, as we heard during Prime Minister’s questions today, the Government are proposing to limit contributory employment support allowance to a year. That will affect anyone who is not in the support group and who has cancer—that has been used as an example, but it could be someone in the early stages of multiple sclerosis or with a condition such as Crohn’s disease—and who is quite ill, but not terminally ill or ill enough to go into the support group, and not so disabled that anyone looking at them would say it was unfair to expect that person to work.
Large numbers of people with conditions that are difficult to manage and make work difficult will be assessed as being able to look for work some time in the future and will therefore be in the work-related activity group. They will lose their contributory ESA after a year. I know that many such people in my constituency will not get any benefit afterwards because they will probably live in a household that has other income. That need not be a large income, but just enough to put them above income support level, which is not particularly high. There is much talk about caps on benefits, but if a household is living on income-related benefits, it does not get a lot of money. Those people do not get £26,000. They get an awful lot less than that. If somebody is earning more than £10,000, there is a good chance that they will not get any benefit.
In a constituency such as mine, which is reasonably affluent and wants people in work, there is a good chance that there will be a partner in the household who will be working. At the end of the year, the cancer patient or the person in the early stages of multiple sclerosis will lose their contributory ESA if their condition is not bad enough to put them into the support group. If that happened now, the one thing they would have is their DLA, but in future they may not have their PIP. They will have no independent income whatever. That is particularly worrying.
Even more worrying is the fact that the Government have set up an unfairness in that some people will be able to keep their contributory ESA and others will not. If someone has a cataclysmic accident and becomes quadriplegic, they will go straight into the support group. If they have worked all their life up to that point and paid their national insurance, they will get their contributory ESA, as far as I can gather, for life.
However, if someone falls out of work because they have just been diagnosed with MS that is quite far advanced but not far enough advanced to put them into the support group, they might be in the work group. Because they have MS, they might find it very difficult to get a job. That was why they fell out of their previous job and it would be difficult to get back into work. MS in its early stages can be a fluctuating condition. For the first year, that individual will receive contributory ESA, and the next year they will not because they have a working partner, but what will happen in year three or four when they are reassessed and go into the support group? Will they get their contributory ESA back? I do not think that they will, because they will not have made national insurance contributions for two years, having been out of work for that time. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that.
There is a danger in all this of setting up a two-tier system for contributory benefit, which would be particularly unfair on those with slowly degenerative diseases, who fall out of work some time before they are classified as severely disabled and before the work obligation is taken off their shoulders.
Perhaps I misunderstand the hon. Lady, but I think that I am right in saying that if those individuals are reassessed a year or two later and found to qualify for the support group, contributory ESA is no longer relevant as they will automatically be in the support group in any case. Is that right?
That is exactly what I would like the Minister to clarify. I do not know whether there will be contributory ESA for those in the support group, whether it will be income related, or whether everyone will get it. If someone lives in a household with a working partner who earns £20,000 or £30,000 a year and then goes into the support group, having not worked before that and so having not made national insurance contributions in their own right, will they get any ESA? I am not sure they will, because ESA is an income replacement benefit, and of course to get such a benefit they need to have made national insurance contributions or have a low income.
That is my understanding also. There will be a group of people who will have paid the contributions in the two previous years and who will go straight into the support group and get to keep the benefit for life, but those with slowly degenerative diseases and those who come from better-off households will get nothing at all. It is that kind of unfairness and that sense of a two-tier system that frightens people.
I am sure that there will be a conclusion in which the two points join together. I am not taking that as a point of order.
My point is that if the Government take contributory ESA away from this group of people and then change the criteria so that they no longer qualify for DLA or the new PIP, those people will end up with no independent income at all. That is the connection. We cannot look at the Government’s proposals to remove DLA and introduce PIP in isolation, because they are putting disabled people under all sorts of other obligations. If we look at the benefits in isolation, we will get into trouble, and that is what leads to the fears of disabled people, because many of them, particularly those with more profound disabilities who are trying to live independently in the community, have complex funding packages that they have put together to make things work for them. They are dependent on the personal care element of DLA for their care and on housing benefit to pay for their rent; they are dependent on local government facility grants to adapt their houses; and they are dependent on the mobility element of DLA to provide them with transport or, for many of them, with cars through the Motability scheme. These are complex packages, and if the Government interfere with some of them the whole edifice could collapse. That helps to explain why there is so much fear among people with disabilities about what the Government are doing. They feel that the Government are not seeing the whole picture—that they are seeing different pieces of the jigsaw but not putting it together or looking at the impact that those pieces will have on individuals.
Part of the problem with universal credit and with PIP is that we do not yet know the criteria, the payments or who will qualify for what, so it is impossible for individuals to sit down with all the new regulations, which nobody has seen because they have not been published, and work things out, saying, “Right, in my condition, I know I will get that, that and that, and I can add that together and that will then tell me whether I am going to be better off or worse off under the new proposals.” It is difficult to judge the situation, because we do not have that detail.
The hon. Lady is doing the House a great service in teasing out the complexities, and in illustrating just exactly what is and is not known. Is not that at the root of many problems? How can we proceed with these measures when our constituents have so many unanswered questions? They have asked me, but I am unable to relay with any certainty what is going to happen to them, so surely the issues that have been raised deserve full clarification. Certainly, what has been illustrated as definitely going to happen demands that the amendments be carried.
Much of Monday’s debate was about the fact that the regulations for PIP, for housing benefit and for universal credit do not exist, so it is difficult to judge exactly what will happen to individuals.
There is also a fear among disabled people, because the Government sometimes take a simplistic view of what a disability might be. Disability living allowance was quite clear, because it was to cover the extra costs of disability, but one worry is that, under the PIP proposals, aids will be taken into consideration. The implication is that, if someone has an aid, they do not have the extra costs associated with their disability—that somehow the aid will miraculously take away those costs.
It has been said—the Minister did so in front of the Work and Pensions Committee—that, if a wheelchair-using Olympic athlete has a university degree, it is reasonable to place some work obligations on them. That might be the case, but being an Olympic athlete who needs a wheelchair does not take away the need for an adapted car. They still need the car, the wider parking space, to build the ramps to get into their house, the adapted shower that the local authority’s facilities grant often does not pay for, and the adapted bathroom.
In many cases, therefore, aids and adaptations do not take away the need for extra money. In fact, people with disabilities sometimes need the extra money to run some of those aids, such as an electric wheelchair and the extra costs that that entails, or an electric buggy that gets them around the shops. Rarely are such aids supplied by the NHS or, indeed, by the local authority, and DLA was such a good benefit because people could choose how they used it in order to fulfil their needs and lead an independent life.
If disabled people have work obligations placed on them, they will need extra money for travel costs. I could be as fit as possible and have the best super-duper wheelchair in the world, but with the best will in the world I am still not going to be able to get on the underground. It just will not happen, so we need to ensure that we get PIP right, and to ensure that it enables disabled people and does not hinder them.
Disability living allowance, particularly the mobility element, acts not only as a passport but as a proxy for all sorts of other things. Local authorities and organisations such as railway companies and cinemas use an individual’s qualification for upper-rate mobility allowance as a proxy for the fact that they must be disabled and therefore qualify for a disabled railcard, a disabled cinema ticket or a blue badge—or, in my local authority, a green badge, for which we also have to pay 20 quid a year, so it is not as though we are getting it for nothing. That means that people do not have to be assessed time and again, which makes things much easier. For many people, the knowledge that they have been assessed and qualify for upper-rate mobility allowance is more valuable than the money. I would not say that the money is not important—of course it is—but access to a blue badge with reasonable ease is also incredibly valuable.
I hope that the Government will look again at how they are introducing PIP. I will support my hon. Friends’ amendment on the withdrawal of the upper-rate mobility PIP from those in residential homes. I hope that the Minister can calm some of the fears that disabled people are experiencing. They fear that if the Government do not get this right, then instead of being able to get out of their homes and go to work, they will be stuck there and have a life that is not as fulfilling and worth while as it is at the moment.
It is absolutely right that we have a serious, considered and detailed debate on the reform of one of the most important benefits that we have, not only in relation to disabled people but within the whole array of benefits. It also represents £12 billion of taxpayers’ money, so they would expect us to have a good and detailed debate.
I do not like to take issue with Dame Anne Begg, not least because she is Chairman of the Select Committee—I had the pleasure of appearing before her this morning—but if it was easy to change the current system of DLA by simplifying the claim form, making it easier to understand and streamlining its administration, then I am rather surprised that the previous Government did not address those issues before. In fact, perhaps it is not I who take issue with the hon. Lady but Opposition Front Benchers, given their stated position. Stephen Timms has said:
“we recognise that it is right to reform the DLA and accept that it is perfectly sensible to use a medical test as the basis for assessment”.––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee,
I have to take issue with the idea of a medical test, but the right hon. Gentleman obviously has his own reasons for saying that. Margaret Curran has said:
“There is no doubt, and it has been plainly stated, that there is a case for reform. The Opposition and I are clear about that.”––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee,
I think she said that when she was in the Scottish Parliament. [ Interruption. ] She said it recently as well. There is clearly a growing consensus on the need for reform.
When DLA is not getting the right support to the right people and £600 million is being paid in overpayments, and there are £190 million of underpayments—hon. Members will be equally concerned about that—there is a clear need for some fundamental changes. I hope that Labour Members who are feeling shaky on the need for reform can remind themselves that their party has also called for it in the past. Perhaps the position has changed, but those on the Front Bench have certainly not indicated that today.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not take many interventions, because I am very conscious of the time and of the desire of Opposition Front Benchers to get through the selection list. Many questions have already been asked and I will deal with them as I go through my remarks.
Before I respond to the issues that have been raised, I will set out the three basic principles that are central to our reform. The personal independence payment will provide support for long-term needs. It is one of a wide range of benefits that are on offer. It will be based on an assessment of the impact of a health condition on an individual and their ability to lead an independent life, rather than just on the condition. Above all, it will be fair.
Amendment 43 seeks to exclude individuals from the face-to-face consultations in the new assessment process for PIP. DLA relies on a self-assessment form and I will not go through the details of why that does not work. One of my constituents had to take a four-hour course to learn how to fill out the DLA form, which shows its ineffectiveness. One of our key proposals to ensure that the benefit has a more consistent and transparent assessment is that most people will have a face-to-face consultation with a trained independent assessor. The consultation will allow the individual to play an active part in the process, rather than passively filling in a form, and put across their views on how their health condition or impairment affects their everyday life.
We recognise the importance of ensuring that the assessment process is sensitive and proportionate. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, has a great deal of expertise in that area from his work on the work capability assessment. Let me be absolutely clear that when it comes to PIP, some people will not be required to attend a face-to-face consultation. I was clear about that in Committee and I reiterate it now. For such people, the assessment will be carried out on the basis of evidence that has already been gathered. Such decisions will be at the discretion of the individual triaging the assessment as it goes through.
Amendment 43 would undermine one of the key principles of PIP. It would effectively label people by health condition or impairment, rather than treat them as individuals. The disability organisations with which I am working day in, day out on the development of the assessment and the overall benefit would feel that to be a step back, not a step forward. The impact of a condition can vary greatly. Under the amendment, somebody with a severe mental impairment would not have to have a face-to-face assessment. That is a broad category, which covers a wide range of conditions that affect people in many ways. Although we accept that not everybody who has a severe mental impairment will have to undergo a face-to-face consultation, for others it will make a great deal of sense. For that reason, I cannot accept the amendment.
I deal now with amendments 44 to 47, 76 and 77. I am grateful to the Opposition for agreeing that PIP is a long-term disability benefit, and that there should be an expectation that there will be limitations for a period of not less than 12 months. The proposed qualifying period will allow us carefully to assess someone’s ability to carry out a range of activities once their condition has settled down and potentially once the effects of treatment and rehabilitation have begun. PIP will be a valuable, universal, tax-free benefit—that is carried forward from DLA—and it will be paid irrespective of whether a person is in or out of work. I emphasise that point for Jeremy Corbyn, who conflated it with an out-of-work benefit. It is our view that the additional financial support that it brings should start only once other support mechanisms have played their part and once the financial burden becomes onerous for an individual over the long term, regardless of their income.
I can reassure Members that the Government have been listening to the arguments regarding the return to a three-month qualifying period, and we will continue to listen and talk regularly to disabled people and their representative organisations. We recognise that for some people there may be additional financial burdens at the outset, but we have to consider the matter within the ambit of the wide range of other support that is already available during the early months.
Will the hon. Lady forgive me if I do not give way now? Perhaps if I do not cover her point, she can intervene on me later.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen South has tabled amendments 76 and 77, about how we treat fluctuating conditions. That is absolutely an important part of ensuring that we have a successful assessment. The use of the term “every time” in the Bill has caused some concern, I believe unnecessarily. I hope that I can allay her concerns about it.
Our approach will be to have two main components to the assessment. First, we will consider whether an individual is able to carry out an activity, and whether they are able to do so reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner. If they cannot, it will be considered that they cannot complete that activity at all.
Secondly, the assessment will not be a snapshot of any one day, as I am sure the hon. Lady would expect. It will consider an individual’s ability to carry out activities over a period of time—we suggest a year. It will consider impacts that apply for the majority of the time. We will determine whether somebody has met the required period condition by considering whether they would be likely to meet the requirements of the assessment if they were assessed at any point over the period in question, which will effectively create hypothetical assessments across that period. We envisage that the assessment will not consider the effects of a disability on just one day, because the same principle will apply across the whole period. That means that we will consider an extended period of time, and that we will still apply the “majority of time” test. I think she will be reassured by that. As such, individuals will be able to meet the required condition even if their disability fluctuates over the specified period. We intend to include the treatment of fluctuating conditions in the next iteration of the assessment regulations, which is due to be published in the autumn. I hope that provides some reassurance.
I turn to amendments 66, 41 and 42. We have already announced that we will not remove the mobility component of DLA from people in residential care from 2012, as originally planned. We have also said that we will re-examine its position within the personal independence payment, which is precisely what we are doing. When that work is complete we will make a final decision, in the context of the full reform of DLA and the introduction of PIP.
Perhaps the hon. Lady can let me finish and see whether I have covered her point.
We will treat care home residents in exactly the same way as any other recipient of DLA. The views that have been expressed during, and in the lead-up to, today’s debate have been vigorous and made people’s positions clear. That is why we are not introducing the change in 2012 and are undertaking a review of the practical issues on the ground. We will not produce a review report, because we are not undertaking an official review. We are simply collecting information about the implementation of the policy at the moment, as I am sure Labour Members did when they were in government to inform their policy decisions.
It is very important that the Minister clarifies exactly what is intended. Does she still intend at some point, perhaps after a review or some information gathering, to treat the people affected as a group and decide whether they are entitled to the benefit, or will each individual case be assessed? If it is the latter, how will the information be gathered?
If the hon. Lady will listen to my full remarks, I hope that she will be satisfied. We have made it clear that we want to remove overlaps, and that we do not ever want to limit severely disabled people’s ability to get out and about, so we will not do what she describes.
Will the hon. Lady forgive me if I try to complete my remarks? I will give way if I have not answered any questions. I will ensure that when we introduce PIP from April 2013, disabled people are treated absolutely fairly, regardless of their place of residence. We do not intend to undertake what Sheila Gilmore was talking about.
Obviously we are looking at whether an individual has access to support, not at whether a care home has access to it. I could not make it plainer than to say that we do not intend to remove somebody’s ability to get out and about. That is a plain and categorical statement, and the hon. Lady can interpret it as she chooses—I know that I interpret it as a plain and clear statement. Support for disabled individuals should be available in the social care packages that are available on the ground. If that support is not in place, there is no overlapping benefit.
Will the hon. Lady forgive me for moving on and making some more comments?
Opposition Members will not be surprised to hear that I feel strongly that the Government have made our position clear on this matter.
I cannot understand this. If, as the Government say, they are not removing the DLA mobility component from people in residential care, why do they need the Bill to give them the power to do so?
We are not doing that. We are reviewing the situation. As the hon. Lady will of course know, we need provisions in the Bill to take account of other areas of overlap within PIP—it was the same under the previous Administration—so that we do not pay certain elements of the benefit to people in various types of accommodation. Any change or refinement will be dealt with in regulations, which she will be able to view for herself.
My hon. Friend will know that we are looking at this matter in some detail, and at the evidence on the ground. If we do not feel that an overlap is in play, we will take the appropriate action. He can rest assured that any further action that we take in that regard will be defined in regulations and subject to further debate.
Amendment 73, to which my hon. Friend Jenny Willott spoke, would require the Secretary of State to produce a report on the impact of regulations made under clause 83 within a year of their being laid. In the light of the explanation that I have just given, considering whether to produce a report on the impact of regulations made under the clause could be premature. I therefore hope that she does not press the amendment to a Division.
Similarly, on amendment 74, on regulations, I repeat my assurances that we take extremely seriously the concerns expressed earlier about care homes, and we are committed to responding to them in the right way. The House would expect the Government to look at the facts of how a policy would be implemented before they move forward with it, which is exactly what we are doing. The amendment would make regulations applying to the payment of the mobility component of PIP subject to the affirmative resolution in the first instance. We spoke at length about that in Committee, and I do not want to debate again whether a resolution should be affirmative or negative. We are subject to the scrutiny of Parliament in this. I would like to return to the commitment that I gave the hon. Member for Glasgow East in Committee when I said that I would reflect on whether other regulations should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I am happy to reiterate that, but at the moment I do not think that we need to go further.
We are not producing a report to consult on. What we will do is make our position clear, and then there will be the opportunity for people to give us their views on that.
Finally, I would like to speak to amendment 60. I believe that the intention of the amendment is to ensure that the new assessment for PIP is working effectively before it is used to reassess the existing disability living allowance caseload. I can reassure the hon. Member for Glasgow East that it is our intention to do that. But I can go further than that—the Government are committed to ensuring that the new assessment is working effectively before it is used for any individuals, new claimants or not.
Related to that point, although it is slightly different, I wonder whether the Minister can allay the fears of people with Motability cars. Some of them could sign a new lease this month and be reassessed for PIP before the end of that lease, so they might lose the mobility element of DLA and therefore lose their car. What would happen in such cases?
I had a meeting with Motability yesterday to talk about these issues, which was one of many meetings that I and officials have had with it. We will look at the issue in great detail. Motability provides a fabulous service to disabled people and we will ensure that the issues that the hon. Lady mentions are addressed.
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, we are running very short of time.
Amendment 60 would have the unwelcome effect of allowing the automatic transfer of existing DLA claims on to PIP without any review of entitlement. PIP is a new benefit, with new entitlement criteria and a new assessment of individual need. To transfer people to PIP automatically without first determining whether they are eligible for the benefit would be inherently unfair and would perpetuate the failings of the current system. I cannot therefore accept that amendment.
I hope that I have started to give hon. Members a flavour of the scale of work that is being undertaken by the Department in putting forward a new benefit of this scale. I hear the loud reiteration of many of the arguments that I have had with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations over the previous months in hon. Members’ comments today. I am sure they will be reassured that disabled people and disabled people’s organisations are at the heart of the development of our assessment, which is now fully available for people to look at and comment on online. Some of the amendments proposed today are wholly inconsistent with the principles that I have set out for our reform of PIP, while others are unnecessary. I hope therefore that the hon. Member for Glasgow East will withdraw the amendment.
I will be brief because many other hon. Members wish to speak, and under the timetabling motion we have to conclude by 6 pm, which is very inadequate given the seriousness of the issues. I shall speak specifically to amendments 43, 76 and 77. Amendment 43 was tabled by my Front Bench colleagues and I am happy to support it. I have added my name to it and I hope that they have noted that. Amendments 76 and 77 were tabled by my hon. Friend Dame Anne Begg.
This morning, I was at a commendable place known as Centre 404 in Islington, which provides support and activity for those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties, as well as support for their carers and families. It has been going for 60 years and is a very successful and effective organisation. The large numbers of people there this morning were discussing the introduction of PIPs and the issues surrounding carers week. Before we go into the details of the amendments, we should think for a moment about the enormous amount of work done by carers, who are inadequately recompensed and save the economy vast sums of money. If they were they not doing this work and giving up their careers and lives to care for those who desperately need their help and support, that care would simply not be provided and the costs to the state would be far greater, so we should recognise the economic contribution they make in a decent and humane way.
The Minister said that I conflated the question of jobseeker’s allowance interviews with PIPs. In a sense I did, because I was drawing attention to how people were dragged in for interview. For example, a lady told me—she is a much respected member of the community active on these issues—that her doubly incontinent adult daughter, who has learning difficulties, was told to go to a jobcentre for a jobseeker’s allowance work interview. It is expensive, unpleasant, wasteful, stressful for everyone concerned and an utter waste of time, and considerable damage and humiliation is caused to the individual and their family. That is why amendment 43, which would exempt those with prescribed medical conditions, would be a sensible, important and useful change to the Bill.
The Disability Alliance described to me how PIPs are likely to come in and how the assessments will take place, and the word that kept recurring was “continual”—continual prompting, continual help, continual assistance, continual support—which is interesting, because a person with a sporadic mental health difficulty does not need absolutely continual help and support, yet they do need help and support on a continuing basis. Do they then lose out on PIPs?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that definition also perfectly describes people with multiple sclerosis, which is a fluctuating condition? Someone with multiple sclerosis might need very little support one day, but literally within 24 hours might require substantial support.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South pointed out that there are some conditions that although not terminal or immediately life threatening are nevertheless very debilitating. MS fluctuates in its intensity and the intensity of care and support needed.
People with a long-term, continual and severe disability should be exempt, and should not be forced to go through this interview process. In an intervention on my hon. Friend Margaret Curran, who sits on the Front Bench, I raised concerns about the costs of taking people in for interview, refusing them and then putting them through an appeals process, only for them to end up, months later, exactly where they started—with lots of costs, lots of time, lots of humiliation and lots of waste at the end of it. Amendment 43 would make a pretty appalling Bill very slightly better by recognising that those with permanent and long-term conditions should not have to go through this process. I therefore hope that the House will recognise the amendment’s importance and be prepared to pass it today.
Whether or not amendment 43 is needed, I am quite sure that the officials and others who do the assessments would not expect people with those conditions to be able to go to work. I do not think that this would be a great problem in practice; however, there is always a problem at the boundary.
When I was getting on the Jubilee line this lunchtime I met a young man in a wheelchair—in fact, he turned out not to be that young, because 20 years ago he was helping to build the Jubilee line. He said, “What do you do?” “I work at the House of Commons”, I replied. “Are there any jobs there?” he asked. “650”, I said. “They come up every five years.” He said, “I’m a cook.” “There’s no reason why a cook can’t be a Member of Parliament as well”, I said. I did not ask him whether he lived at home, in a hospital or in a residential care home, or whether his residence was in a home with others.
Earlier this afternoon, I spoke indirectly—I will now speak directly—about St Bridget’s in Rustington, the place mentioned in the first line of the second verse of “The Gnu Song” by Michael Flanders. For those with long memories, “The Gnu Song” comes when he is talking about someone parking a car across his dropped kurb with “GNU” on the registration plate. There are people in Rustington who live in their own homes, and others who also live in their own homes, but who share it with others. The definitional problem is just as great as it might be at the Princess Marina home—again in
Rustington—which is a Royal Air Force benevolent fund home that is dual registered. Part of it counts as a hospital, part of it counts as a home and part of it counts as a residence. Incidentally, “residential homes” are not defined in the legislation; rather, it talks about “care homes”.
In Worthing, in the other part of my constituency, there is Gifford house—the Queen Alexandra hospital home—which is not just for former service personnel, but for many others. Although I have not had representations from them, I do not want to exclude them from consideration. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for kindly coming to St Bridget’s—the Leonard Cheshire home—among her many visits. I pay tribute to the people who live there, their families and my hon. Friend the Minister, because it was one of the best meetings that I have seen for a long time.
I trust my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Minister and those working with them to come up with the right answer. My preference is for amendment 42 to be agreed to, and then for the Government to come forward with their solution to the problem after they have received the result of the review. They can then come back, either here or in another place, and make an adjustment if they choose to do so. At the moment, however, the way I read the Bill is that someone whose residence happens to be in, say, St Bridget’s—this is not exclusive to St Bridget’s or Leonard Cheshire homes generally—could easily be excluded.
“such other services as may be prescribed” to be covered, nor shall I go on about subsections (5) or (6), which would allow almost anybody to be divorced under their provisions. However, I believe that we can trust the Government and that they are setting about this in a way that is rational. However, unless the legislation is amended or we receive other assurances, this is not a Bill that this House ought to pass.
Dorothy Sayers, in her book “Unpopular Opinions”, distinguishes between the English—by which she meant the British—and, say, the French by saying that whereas they believe in equality, we believe in fairness. There are currently three issues where fairness concerns me, and this is one of them. Another is the question of those women born in the mid-1950s losing more than a year’s pension, and another is overseas pensioners in the old dominions or elsewhere who cannot get pension increases. We have to take those issues one by one. I believe that the Government will solve the problem of the extra unfairness for those women born in the 1950s. I want the Government to find the solution to the problem that we are discussing in this debate, and later we can come to the overseas pensioners.
On the subject of this debate, why should we necessarily risk solving the so-called overlap by taking away the higher-level mobility component, rather than taking away what the county council might otherwise provide, which is a far smaller amount? I met a woman in a wheelchair, like the man I met on the underground—he said that he was interested in politics, so I gave him yesterday’s Hansard to cheer him up—who wanted to go to her father’s birthday party and then attend a college course. Those two journeys by themselves, at the subsidised rate of the St Bridget’s minibus, would have exhausted her money if she had not had the mobility allowance.
Obviously people’s circumstances vary, but rather than make a long speech—we have heard rather too many of those this afternoon—let me end by saying that if amendment 42 comes to a vote, I shall vote for it. I trust that the Government will come back and make things plain in the Bill, rather than our having to rely on positive resolutions on statutory instruments or the results of the consultation or assessment that they are currently undertaking.
I very much regret that the Minister did not give way to me on the one occasion that I asked her to do so, particularly because I had planned to ask her to make an apology. I also invite the Secretary of State—if he would just listen to the debate for a moment—to join in making that apology to the 80,000 people living in residential homes who have been threatened since the comprehensive spending review with the removal of the mobility element of their disability living allowance.
I first raised this matter in a debate in Westminster Hall on
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that this review has a pre-determined conclusion? Is he as concerned as the majority of Members are that it is only paying lip service to the issues and that it will therefore not deliver what we want to see happening?
I hope to come to that point later. I welcome the fact that hon. Members from Northern Ireland have played such an excellent part in these debates, both on
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the huge disappointments of the process is that, despite the fact that hon. Members as well as people outside the House and local charities initially supported the principle of welfare reform, they are still unable to support the Bill, even at this late stage, because of the lack of detail and assurance that it offers?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point.
The people who know the most about DLA know that it is very difficult to secure. Claims have been made, if not by Members on the Government Benches then certainly by newspapers that support the Government, that the system is being abused, but the people who know about abuse are those who experience DLA for themselves. It is not a question of not dealing with that. As a result of the Government’s proposals, people who live in residential homes have experienced uncertainty, inconsistency and pledges being reneged on. Today, when we are being asked to make a specific decision on a Bill that will impact on those people, we have yet again heard a series of vague statements from the Minister that mean absolutely nothing.
No, I will not. I should like to carry on.
The Prime Minister has given contradictory statements to the House on this issue. In January, he said that
“our intention is very clear: there should be a similar approach for people who are in hospital and for people who are in residential care homes. That is what we intend to do, and I will make sure that it happens.”—[Hansard, 12 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 282.]
He has been questioned on the issue at Prime Minister’s Question Time on four or five times. On
“The short answer is that we are not.”—[Hansard, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 944.]
Despite that, and despite what we have heard again today—I repeat that I found it completely unconvincing—the intention remains in clause 83 of the Bill that we are being asked to support.
There is also the Red Book. Towards the end of the Budget debate—this has been going on for a long time, as I said earlier—I tried to intervene on the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Why did he not give way? He did not, but there is at least consistency from Ministers in that respect when it comes to me. He did not give way.
I am talking about Ministers. The Chief Secretary did not give way, because I was going to ask him whether in the Budget vote we were being asked to support the page in the Red Book that took more than £470 million away from the people we are discussing today or a section that said we were going to have a review. Answer came there none. We have had statements; we have had a Budget; we have had the Prime Minister’s comments; and we have had the Bill that is being thrown at us today—yet 80,000 people still do not know what the future holds for them. That is wholly unacceptable.
As a result of the measures, 80,000 people will suffer. People on higher rate DLA mobility stand to lose out by £51.40 a week, which will impact on their ability to exercise independence and choice—things that we are told again and again by the Government they support when it comes to community care.
No, I am not giving way, so the hon. Gentleman might just as well relax. If he had spoken to as many people in residential care as I have, he might not be so willing to defend the indefensible.
The denial of independence in this proposal means that people will not be able to pay for buses; they will not be able to go to bingo or to football matches. In my constituency, a couple will not even be able to meet each other, yet the Minister had the effrontery to use the word “fairness” in presenting her reply.
Despite what the Minister had to say, we know that disability organisations continue to express grave concerns about the proposals. Indeed, 40 organisations collaborated to compile the “Don’t limit mobility” and the “DLA mobility: sorting the facts from the fiction” reports, which not only outlined the negative impact of the measures on disabled people, but explained why the Government’s rationale behind them is simply incorrect.
On Monday, we heard the Minister refer again to organisations dealing with disability. Let us go through them: Mencap, RADAR, Scope, the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council and People First. Again and again, those organisations have sought to highlight the failings of DLA—yes, they have said that. However, if the Minister is going to quote them to justify the Government’s actions—she is entitled to use these organisations’ views—she must also be willing to accept their view that they are utterly opposed to the proposals.
I wonder what the Government think of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which is an equally important organisation. Its view was known to the Minister at an early stage. We should remember that this is a very important, heavyweight viewpoint:
“We consider the proposal to remove the mobility component from people in residential care should not go ahead. This measure will substantially reduce the independence of disabled people who are being cared for in residential accommodation, which goes against the stated aim of the reform of DLA to support disabled people to lead independent and active lives.”
Why are the Government rejecting that crucial view?
What do we know about the Government’s plans? We are entitled to ask that question when we are being asked to support this Bill at what is virtually the twelfth hour. We know that they claim that there are overlaps in funding for mobility support for people in residential care, but we do not have the evidence to back up that claim. By seeking to remove the payment of the DLA mobility component to such individuals in order to avoid any possible overlap, the Government are shifting the burden of funding those mobility needs on to local authorities. As we have heard—some of us from Scotland heard it yesterday from representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—local government simply does not have the resources. It is quite absurd to say that the Government will cut away this funding and that local councils will make up the gap, when they are telling us again and again that they simply do not have the resources.
What is more, we do not know how these needs will be properly met if local authority resources are already too stretched to cope. Given that the cost of the Government’s proposal will shift to the social care budget, will the Minister tell us what discussions she has had with the Department of Health, for example? We have not even been told that in the context of this mysterious review. It is a dangerous precedent to replace benefits with social care provision, particularly when social care eligibility criteria have been tightened so that more and more people stand to slip through the net.
Let me turn now to the much-promised review. The Government announced that they would review the proposals and it was hoped that that would offer greater clarity. Such clarity did not emerge today. The review is internal, within a Department; it is not transparent; and it has no terms of reference. There will be no reports to this House of which I am aware about what it actually does. Regardless of the review, all that has happened is a six-month delay to the implementation of the proposal. No disabled people who stand to be affected have been consulted and the findings will not be made public. What sort of review is that? Is the House seriously expected to support that?
We are being asked to decide on an issue about which we do not have the full facts. Even when the Government come to a decision, there will be no scope for an informed discussion, because the details will not be in the public domain. Although the review of the reforms in the Health and Social Care Bill was far from perfect, at least it enabled scrutiny, public participation and transparency—something that is certainly not taking place in this review.
Given what we know, these proposals are in all candour absolutely cruel and stand to the disadvantage of tens of thousands of vulnerable people. No further clarity has emerged today to suggest otherwise and one reason I shall support amendments 41 and 42 is that the Government have been given so many opportunities—from the debate in November to the Budget debate and from questions in the House to this debate today—to make their position clear, but they have failed abysmally to do so. I am therefore obliged to reach the conclusion that these welfare reforms are not meant to take us forward, they are not part of a progressive society and they are not addressing the real problems of the millennium. They are taking us back to the ’20s and the ’30s. The expression “Out of sight, out of mind” came into my head again and again during today’s debate.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and commend him for his contribution. Is not the situation he describes not even more grotesquely surreal when one considers that, whatever form the review takes, people in local government and those running care homes are being questioned by the Government not about the funding crisis undermining the financial certainty for those care homes, which has people suffocating with worry and dread about what will happen to them, to their relatives and to the staff, but in pursuit of a mythical notion that duplicate payments are being made in respect of the mobility component and contracts with care homes? Should not the Government be addressing the real crisis that is facing care homes and not the nonsense with which they have obsessed themselves?
As always, the hon. Gentleman has put his case beautifully.
As we head for the Division Lobby tonight, we are asked to choose between the interests of people with disabilities, many of whom have been in residential care for more than 20 years, the concerns of their families and the support of their communities, and the Government’s wish to rush through legislation that in all candour is completely indefensible. Tonight is a real test for the House, and by that I also mean Members of the Liberal Democrat party. I understand that they did not take part in the vote on this in Committee, but they are free to do so tonight. If the Government do what they seek to do and interfere with the lives of the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens in the way that the Bill intends, they do not deserve support and, frankly, people outwith the House, including disability organisations, will be asking about the standing of this Parliament if we allow such a monstrosity to be endorsed in the Lobby. It does not deserve support and I hope that the House will support my hon. Friends’ amendment. I hope also that the Government will think again. I hope that they will think of the shame with which they have burdened themselves and try to redeem themselves from the situation in which they alone have placed themselves.
I will be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I know that others wish to catch your eye, and so I shall not take interventions. I am reassured by what the Minister said about the mobility component, but I should emphasise that its proposed withdrawal has caused a lot of worry and anxiety in my constituency. Residents of Shaftesbury Court residential home in Lowestoft are heavily reliant on the mobility component and if it had been simply withdrawn a number of disabled and vulnerable people would effectively have been confined to Shaftesbury Court. Visits to day centres and journeys to colleges would have been a thing of the past for them, and social outings to the cinema, bingo and local sports centres would no longer have been possible.
In addition, visits to the family home would have been increasingly difficult. Not all the residents of Shaftesbury Court come from the Lowestoft area. Some come from further afield, including Ipswich, which is 45 miles away, Canvey island, which is 103 miles away, and even Kent. Such home visits invariably take place only once or twice a year and are very important to the residents and their families, and the removal of the mobility component would have made it very difficult for them to continue. I have heard it said that the local authority or the care home operator would have stepped into the gap and taken on those responsibilities, but under the existing contract at Shaftesbury Court, there is no obligation on either party to do so. Suffolk county council does not have the funds to provide those services and Sanctuary Care, which runs the home, does not have the staff, resources or vehicles to take on the role.
A further issue that needs to be considered, which the Minister touched on, is how Motability would deal with any change for people who currently use their mobility component to purchase a vehicle. This is a complex area and I do not believe that the Government intend to penalise a particularly vulnerable group of people. I am reassured by what the Minister said and I look forward to learning the results of the review, but I urge her not to let down the residents, families and carers of those at Shaftesbury Court.
I am delighted to contribute to the debate. I want to speak in particular about the review and possible removal of the mobility component of DLA, or PIP as it has become, and the extension of the qualifying period for PIP from three to six months.
I listened carefully to the Minister during the whole debate. I also attended a debate in Westminster Hall where many of the issues that came up today were raised, yet it appears that we are no further on in finding an answer to our questions. The Minister seemed to think that she weakened the Opposition’s case by saying that we agreed with the need for reform of DLA, but the point Opposition Members and our Front-Bench team have consistently made is that, yes, reform is needed but the Government have got it wrong in the Bill. I often understand the rationale and politics in some of the Government’s decisions and proposals, but I really feel that the proposals in the Bill that the amendments address are actually cruel. I thought long and hard about those words.
Constituents have contacted me from cancer, mental health and disability organisations, including the Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents 50 charities and thousands of people with disabilities and their families. Their mission is clear. The DBC document states that it is to use their combined knowledge, experience and direct contact with disabled individuals, people with long-term conditions and carers to ensure that Government policy reflects and meets the needs of all disabled people. But the Government simply are not listening. When so many people have come together, the Minister should take the time, as others in the Cabinet have done, to pause and reflect. We have seen in the movements to oppose some of the measures a unity and solidarity that has never been seen before. Is it not time to pause?
I agree and I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution. I listened with interest to the speech Jenny Willott made about her amendment. [ Interruption. ] She is thanking me now, but she may not thank me when I have made my comments, although I shall again try to be careful. It is extraordinary that a member of the Government should support legislation and an amendment, yet time and again blatantly admit that she did not know what the Government were proposing. The hon. Lady kept pointing us in the direction of the Minister, saying that she would answer our questions. She was not in the Chamber for the whole of the Minister’s speech, so I have to tell her that the Minister did not answer the questions.
I want to make it very clear that I was here for the whole of the Minister’s contribution. The questions I referred to the Minister were about what she was doing. Clearly, as a Back-Bench Government Member, I am not privy to that.
In that case, I suggest that the hon. Lady holds back her support for the Government until she knows what they are going to do. She spoke to us about the review, but when she looks at the record she will see that she thought it entirely appropriate for disabled people not to play a part in it. The Government ask us to have confidence in this information-gathering review, but its findings will be secret, disabled people will not be part of it and there will be no consultation on it. The hon. Lady thinks those are reasons for us to have confidence. I see Members on the Government Back Benches putting their heads into their hands, and well they may. These are the facts. What is being presented to the House is clearly unacceptable.
I thank the hon. Lady for her great courtesy and generosity in taking interventions, and for her old-fashioned charm in giving way—[ Interruption. ] Her modern charm.
The issue is not about taking things from people; it is about double-counting, so that we ensure that our scarce state resources are as well directed as possible. Surely that must be the right approach.
As someone who became a Member only recently, I would rather that I was not called old-fashioned just yet. The hon. Gentleman completely misses the point.
On how people will be affected by the change to the mobility component of DLA, there is a genuine and general lack of understanding of what residential care is about and the experiences of the people living in it. I was worried that the Minister used the word “overlap” again and again, because we do not know what that will be or how it will be defined. As my hon. Friend Sheila Gilmore asked, will it be defined on a group basis or individually? We are asked to have confidence that people will have the same choice, flexibility, independence and dignity in their lives, but I do not think that I can do so on the basis of what I have heard from the Minister.
I worked for a number of years in a residential home in Perthshire called Upper Springland, which is owned and run by Capability Scotland. If hon. Members and the Minister in particular want information about what the reform will mean, I suggest they read a report that was commissioned by Capability Scotland and the Margaret Blackwood housing association called “How am I going to put flowers on my dad’s grave?”. I shall not apologise if I become a little sentimental in the next part of my speech because I want to talk about some of the people I met in that residential home.
I do not judge people for not really understanding what a residential home is about because when I arrived at Upper Springland, it was not what I expected. People had not only a front door through which staff could enter after knocking, but a back door. It was entirely appropriate that they came and went without us knowing their movements. Sometimes they did not come home at night, in the way that many of us might have done in our misspent youth, but accessing that kind of information was no business of ours. Many people—I was glad that Peter Aldous raised this point—had come from as far away as Wales to live in Perth at Upper Springland because it was such a centre of excellence. This is the point at which I need to know what the Minister means by “overlap” because I remember how important it was to Fiona, that young woman from Wales, that she could attend her father’s funeral service.
Upper Springland had several adapted buses as well as individual cars that residents could use. There were regular trips to Perth so that people could access shops and occasional drivers were on duty at the weekend. However, it did not go as far as to provide a service to Fiona that would allow her to travel back to Wales to be at her father’s funeral. Would the Minister see the service at that residential home as duplication? Would she have removed Fiona’s mobility component, meaning that it would have been virtually impossible for her to attend her father’s funeral?
I hope the hon. Lady accepts that my determination and passion about, and commitment to, people with disabilities are perhaps equal even to hers. As I have listened to the debate, and especially to the previous few speakers, I have become frustrated by hon. Members’ assumptions that everything that the Government are doing is bad and for the worst reasons. She cites the example of a funeral as if to intimate that that would not be covered. I think that is scaremongering. I ask that she thinks carefully about the language she uses.
I absolutely will not withdraw my comment. This is not scaremongering. I am setting out exactly the kind of concern that has been raised in a report commissioned by two of Scotland’s leading disability charities. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that those charities would be as irresponsible as to carry out scaremongering and to frighten the people who form part of their organisations—the people for whom they stand up—it is he who has something to answer for.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if people should be scared by anything, it should be not her question but the lack of the right answer from Ministers?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support.
Let me talk about a few of the other people who lived at Upper Springland. David had no voluntary movement of his arms and legs, and a little movement of his head. He had no verbal communication. He was completely dependent but he had an incredibly active mind. He was able to communicate through an auxiliary voice and communication system. When he asked to have some swear words programmed into his computer, it caused some discomfort for the rather old-fashioned manager of the residential home as David wandered around the corridors telling everyone to “Eff off!”
David had come from Edinburgh to Upper Springland because of its excellent reputation. He would love to return home on visits to see his family. I personally accompanied David on his last visit to his father before his father died and also to the funeral. I have genuine concerns about that. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but unless we get a definition of what the overlap means, how can we have any confidence? The organisations out there representing people with disabilities do not have confidence in the proposal, so the Secretary of State has no reason to shake his head.
There was another young woman called Joyce who was not only active—she played a sport called boccia and travelled around the world—but had a job for a few hours a week so that she did not lose her benefits, and volunteered in various organisations. To support her to do that, she needed the flexibility to be able to book her own taxi to go to work and to participate in the other activities. There was Maggie, who refused to travel in the transport available at the centre because there was a great big sign up the side of the vehicle which said “Capability Scotland” and she did not see why she should be branded, but going to church every Sunday was very important to Maggie.
These are people I cared about and people I cared for. I fear greatly for what will happen to them and what their future lives will be like if the House does not support the amendments.
I have been critical of the Minister and other Members on the Government Benches, saying that they do not understand what disability and residential care mean. I heard the Prime Minister in one session of Prime Minister’s questions talk about people in residential homes. Then, it was an anomaly between them and people in hospital. Now the Prime Minister seems to acknowledge that residential care is a social model, not a medical model. He has said that the DLA mobility component is not being removed, but the evidence in the Red Book is that it will disappear, so I am not reassured even by a six-month stay of execution.
We must ensure that people continue to have the same choices as people living outside residential care homes. I do not like to talk about people living in the community, because people who live in residential care homes are also part of our community. What evidence is there of an overlap there? Charitable organisations provide access to vehicles, so is the Minister going to assess whether there is an overlap there as well?
People in residential care make the same choices as we do. How many of us do not need a car? We could use public transport, but for those people to buy an outdoor electric wheelchair, which they would not be entitled to under the NHS assessment, makes all the difference to their lives. Why should they not have that choice? It is not just about Motability cars. It is also about people who have entered into contracts and loans to pay for those electric wheelchairs. All these months on from the Westminster Hall debate, we still do not have an answer from the Minister about what will happen to those people.
A further topic that the Minister has not addressed—the hon. Member for Cardiff Central had great hopes that she would talk about it today—is the situation in respect of the devolved Governments of the United Kingdom. If the Minister has any expectation that there will be regulation of residential care homes or a duty placed on them to provide a service to people with disabilities, if she thinks she can compel the NHS to start providing more mobility adaptations to people with disabilities, and if she believes in the universality of the benefit, how can she ensure that people in Scotland will always retain the same benefits as people in the rest of the United Kingdom? She did not clarify that, so I would like to give her the opportunity now to intervene and answer that question. [ Interruption. ] No?
Yes, we do talk with the devolved Administrations, but I say to the hon. Lady that the point everyone is making is that many other hon. Members would like to speak.
I absolutely take heed of that and apologise if I have taken too much of the House’s time, but I feel passionately about this issue. I will bring my remarks to a close by saying that I hope hon. Members will walk through the Lobby with us to vote in favour of the amendments that my colleagues and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have tabled.
I had wanted to speak tonight on my concerns about the proposal not to make any personal independence payment for the first six months, but I will speak about that later. Further to what Fiona O'Donnell has just said, my understanding of the Government’s position is that there is an overlap, and it is perfectly correct that where an overlap has been identified we ought to have a review. It is also important to stress that we are not abolishing the mobility component for people in care homes by voting against the amendment tonight; we will be voting to give the Government the power to make regulations.
I am sorry, but there is no time.
What concerns me about the Bill as it stands is that those regulations will be made by the negative procedure, which does not give Parliament the absolute right to scrutinise and vote on them. I have put my name to amendment 74, tabled by my hon. Friend Jenny Willott, which proposes that the regulations should be made by the affirmative procedure.
Given the strength of feeling on this matter, from my hon. Friend and others, I am happy to give a firm undertaking that the regulations will be made under the affirmative procedure to ensure that we get the debate that I know the House wants on the matter.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that—I wish that every time I spoke for a minute I could bring about a change in Government policy.
In the few minutes remaining, I want to talk about the proposal not to pay any PIP for the first six months. What concerns me is that that will impact severely on people who have a sudden onset of a very disabling condition, such as a stroke, cancer or the loss of a limb. Thankfully, that happens only to a relatively small number of people of working age, which means that any savings the Government would make would be very small. However, for someone in that unfortunate position the first six months is often when the costs are greatest. They and their families have to adjust to the sudden reality of coping with a disability. During those months, people are often faced with extra costs such as special aids, adaptations to their homes or frequent trips to a specialist hospital that might be far from where they live. Adaptations to the home are up-front costs that need to be paid within the first six months. Depending on their condition, those people might face many other costs.
Another relevant issue is that until PIP is awarded, other benefits such as carer’s allowance are not available. Therefore, I urge the Government to look carefully at ways of taking those circumstances into account and see whether they can find a way to make financial help available for people in that position so that they can cope with the extra costs they face in the six months after the onset of the condition.
I want to speak briefly to the question of three and six months, because the Government have said that people will be able to find other forms of assistance. What they mean by that is means-tested assistance, but many people will not qualify for it, because their partner might earn as little as £7,500 a year or have—
Debate interrupted (Programme Order,
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (