I wish to speak briefly about four issues, the first of which is Remploy. Only 46% of disabled people are in employment, compared with 76% of non-disabled people, so there is a huge problem that must be addressed, but I think we have to ask ourselves whether an organisation that employs 2,800 people, compared with the 40,000 currently looked after by Access to Work, is the right answer to the question being asked. Furthermore, Remploy’s latest report, for 2010-11, shows that the DWP spent £68.3 million supporting Remploy that year, which equates to £25,000 a head, as I mentioned earlier, and that is £5 million more than in 2009-10, and more than 20% of the total budget available to help disabled people back into work. With the average cost of an Access to Work award at £2,900, as I also mentioned earlier, surely this differential is not sustainable.
We have already heard that Labour announced the closure of 29 Remploy facilities in 2008. I think it knew then, as I think it knows now, that this model is essentially unsustainable. The real issue is that money is much better spent on access to employment and the social model, as has been recommended by not only the Sayce review but many mainstream disability groups. We have to acknowledge that a scheme designed to help disabled ex-servicemen after the second world war is no longer fit for purpose in the modern environment.
What is so surprising about the motion is that it does not seem to recognise that the Government are simply continuing work that the previous Administration put in train, in addition to protecting the £320 million budget for specialist disability employment support.
Turning briefly to the work capability assessment, again we need to recognise some facts. WCA was introduced in 2007 as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2007 under John Hutton. It was then implemented over the following four years by three further Secretaries of State: Mr Hain, James Purnell and, finally, Yvette Cooper. In fact, in the previous nine years there had been eight different Secretaries of States for Work and Pensions, which does not suggest the greatest grip on the portfolio. None of those four
Secretaries of State since WCA was introduced sought to change it. There were internal reviews in November 2007 and October 2009, but the Government did not implement then, although the current Government have done so.
Professor Harrington has been commissioned to advise on changing WCA. I am going to quote from the foreword to his second review, published in November last year:
“Even without Incapacity Benefit reassessment, the changes I proposed to the WCA system would have presented a big challenge… DWP rapidly adopted my proposals as policy and DWP Operations set about the necessary changes with energy and commitment. Atos, who are contracted to DWP for their part of the WCA, fulfilled their contractual requirements.
I have seen these improvements in the day-to-day running of both DWP Operations and Atos. This has taken time and some observers have told me that they have seen no change. I advise patience. The process of improvement is happening, but is not yet in evidence everywhere. It will take time to have the desired impact and the year three Review will closely monitor the impact of the changes and ensure there is continuing progress in improving the assessment.”
It is a clear, long-term commitment to making WCA work, and the observations from within say it is the right process. Again, we see that the Government are carrying on with a programme introduced by the previous Government and succeeding in improving the outcomes from it.
What about the replacement of disability living allowance with personal independence payment? DLA was introduced 20 years ago and the world has changed enormously since. A great deal of credit has to go to the Opposition for some of those changes. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 secured rights for disabled people, which were strengthened greatly by the Equality Act 2010 and a good deal of legislation and effort from the Opposition when they were in office. However, much has been changed in the past 20 years, including attitudes. The materials, machines and many other facilities available to disabled people have improved markedly, but DLA has not changed, and undoubtedly that is a mistake. It needs to change.
There is no objective way of assessing entitlement, no systematic reviews and there are significant over and under-payments. More than 70% of the DLA caseload has an indefinite award. PIP will be fairer and more objective, will deliver more consistent benefits and will be sustainable for the future. Support will be focused on those with the greatest need and a higher proportion of individuals will receive the highest rates under PIP than under DLA. It is odd that even the motion before us recognises that change to DLA is required, so what exactly are we supposed to be debating? I am increasingly puzzled.
Finally, I will say a word or two on carers. I acknowledge the enormous contribution that they make to our society. They are an absolutely vital part of the machinery that keeps this country ticking, and the Government recognise that. As I mentioned in an intervention, carer’s allowance will remain outside the assessment of universal credit. There will also be a carers element within universal credit which will not require the carer to be entitled to carer’s allowance. That is a welcome change. The Government have said that any carer who has regular and substantial caring responsibilities will be entitled to the extra carer amount.
The Labour party has not opposed the change to universal credit or, as far as I know, suggested any changes to the measures that apply to carers within it, so once again I find myself somewhat puzzled by the words of the motion. I am afraid that as I sit and sum all this up in my mind, I reach one inescapable conclusion: the motion is not so much something to be debated but a press release in search of an audience.