Disability Benefits and Social Care

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:56 pm on 20th June 2012.

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Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 3:56 pm, 20th June 2012

I am delighted to welcome the contributions to this afternoon’s debate of my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran), for Islwyn (Chris Evans), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) who just spoke so powerfully, for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Westminster North (Ms Buck). They all made their contributions in their own distinctive ways. We have covered some of the areas identified in the motion.

I kick off by talking about the social care crisis, identified by Matthew Hancock and highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North. I hope that we are now at a point in discussion where we can reach a cross-party consensus on social care. Both those Members identified the major difficulties. I think we should remember that it was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who invited the Government to come into those cross-party discussions, having had a pretty bruising experience prior to the last general election when we thought we might have had a basis for moving forward. I certainly welcome the fact that we are treating this issue with a seriousness and urgency that it deserves. However, my image of the contribution of the hon. Gentleman is that he goes around working out how much people’s bottoms and legs can be insured for. He is not normally prone to humour, but I thought that was a bit of light-heartedness on his part.

The Minister with responsibility for disabled people paints a picture that, frankly, bears no relation to the reality of the lives of disabled people and their families and carers. When I heard her contribution, I wondered which world she was living in. She is a quiet and impressive speaker, although she showed today that she can sometimes be provoked. She somehow gives the impression that it will be all right on the night and that tens of thousands of people out there can be expected to say, “Well, that’s fine, Minister for Disabled People.

We know that we are suffering”—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington identified—“but we do not know what is in front of us; we have been vilified in the press, not just by media reporters, but by some ill-considered briefings from some politicians.”

The words of the Minister do not chime with the reality of what people are feeling out there. Over the past couple of years disabled people have been undermined and their confidence shattered, and they are living in a climate of fear. There has been an increase in hate crime. According to a recent report by the University of Glasgow for Inclusion London, the amount of negative reporting of disability in the print media has increased dramatically. People out there who are not claiming disability benefits now think that everyone who is claiming a disability benefit is a skiver. I hope that one day the Secretary of State will rebut the comments that are being made in some tabloid newspapers.

Let me dispel one or two of the myths that have been perpetrated here today. One is that lifetime and indefinite awards will never see the light of day again. In fact the lifetime award was replaced in 2000, because we recognised that it conveyed a mixed message. There has also been a dodgy use of statistics on all sorts of disability benefits, particularly by the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, Chris Grayling. He said that 75% of incapacity benefit claimants were fit for work, but when the position was examined properly, the figure proved to be as low as 37%.

An image or background has been created to justify a welfare reform programme that is flawed, at least in its implementation. We talk in general terms about disabled people and those who receive disability living allowance, but hundreds of thousands of people who have arthritis, learning disabilities or psychosis rely on the additional cost payment provided by DLA for their everyday lives.

Let me deal very briefly with Remploy, which has already been dealt with extensively today. Yes, we had to wrestle with some of the difficulties—I am certainly not going to run away from that—but the Minister gave only part of the picture. Any Member who was in the House before the last modernisation programme for Remploy knows that we engaged in an extensive and lengthy consultation. All Members of Parliament had all the figures in front of them from the moment that we embarked on that modernisation programme. What we did not do was organise a 90-day consultation involving people who were already feeling vulnerable because of all the other stuff that was going on around them, and embark on a factory programme without building elements of support into it.

Particularly important is the cumulative impact, which has not been addressed today. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said in its report:

“Given the breadth of the current reforms, the Government should publish a unified assessment of the likely cumulative impact of the proposals”.

The Government replied:

“The ability to undertake cumulative analysis is limited because of the complexity of the modelling required”.

So a Government who have tens of thousands of civil servants in the DWP are telling disabled people that, despite all that expertise, they cannot put together a cumulative assessment of what is happening to their lives. I think that it is to the shame of the Secretary of State that he is not prepared to put the big picture out there in front of people. The Joint Committee also said that we were in danger of breaching our commitment under the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities by posing a threat to their right to independent living.

Let me put a very brief cumulative impact assessment before the House. The DWP’s own analysis concluded that the benefit cap would have a disproportionate impact on households containing a disabled person, which were

“more likely to be affected”.

The Prime Minister has always dodged and weaved on this, but the reality is that the sum will be reduced by half under the new universal credit. The “Counting the Costs 2012” report by Contact a Family found that it costs three times more to raise a disabled child, and 73% of its respondents said they believe welfare reform will make them poorer. Mencap says 32% of local authorities have cut day care services in the past three years. The cumulative effect is growing. Some 57% of people with a learning disability currently receive no services at all, despite being known to their social care departments. Disability Rights UK has highlighted how losing DLA will impact on disabled people’s opportunities to get a job.