If he will undertake a cumulative impact assessment of the effects of the Government’s welfare reforms on sick and disabled people.
The Treasury regularly produces analysis of the cumulative effects of the coalition’s changes, including to welfare, but even the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that there are no real results that can be broken down and are reliable enough to show the effect on disabled people.
My constituents Natasha Wilson and Katie Lyson are young women with cancer. With support from CLIC Sargent, they applied for personal independence payments seven months ago. Last week, Natasha finally got her money, but Katie is still waiting. Does the Minister agree that a seven-month wait for payment for a young cancer patient is simply unacceptable? Will he look into Katie’s case as a matter of urgency?
I fully agree that that length of wait is unacceptable, and I have been working on this with the two suppliers since I came into office, as did my predecessor. I will personally look into the case and if those involved would like to come to see me, I would be more than happy to meet them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that although we must always be sensitive in our handling of cases involving the disabled, many people who are extremely disabled welcome the opportunity to be encouraged on pathways to work? The fact that all of us know severely disabled people who work suggests that the broad thrust of Government policy is going in the right direction.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Interestingly, about 70% of people on the previous benefit, the disability living allowance, were put on it for life. They were, in effect, written off, and this Government will not do that.
A constituent of mine, aged 52, had worked all her life despite having congenital bone disease, until her condition worsened last year. She has to go into hospital next week to have both hips replaced, just at the time that Jobcentre Plus has declared her fit for work and stopped her benefit. When will the Minister ensure that people with disabilities get adequate support and are not treated in this completely harsh and cruel way?
Assessments were brought in by the previous Administration—admittedly, in relation to the work capability assessment. So assessments are nothing new for this Administration, because the previous Administration introduced them. They did not do that very well, but we agree with assessments. Of course if someone is unfit for work, they can have a sick note put in while they are waiting for an appeal to go through—should that happen—and they will be entitled to jobseeker’s allowance. I completely agree that anyone who has gone into hospital cannot be fit for work at that time, but let us hope that the hon. Lady’s constituent is fit and well soon, and can return to work.
Does the Minister agree that the emphasis on continuous improvement in the Litchfield and Harrington reviews shows that any cumulative assessment is either impossible or meaningless? Is it not better to rely on the robust statistics on fulfilling potential as the measure of whether the Government’s policy is being successful in this field?
I completely agree with what my hon. Friend says, and that is exactly what our plans are; that is what we want to try to do, and I look forward to working with him on this project.
How can the Government justify removing all phone lines to local jobcentres such as the one in Neath? How are people, especially disabled and sick people, supposed to cope with the fiendishly complex benefits system, or get into jobs, without personalised help and advice? Does the Minister not understand that the most vulnerable people often cannot get online, afford costly daily travel to jobcentres or hang on for ages on expensive 0845 lines?
The 0845 numbers came in when the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister, and we are eradicating them now. Advisers are in place all the time. Most work is done online these days, but the advisers are there to help people, which is why we have been so successful in getting people into work.
Last Saturday, a constituent told me that her husband has throat cancer and is able to breathe only as a result of a laryngectomy and nebuliser treatment. He was found fit to work by Atos and is concerned about the six-week reassessment of what seems to be an inexplicable decision. Will the Minister assure me that there is a direction to improve and get people’s acts together as well as to make the appeals process quicker?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue with me before we came into Question Time. This looks like a case where something should be done. I will wait for the medical professionals to do this; it is a paper-based assessment, not a face-to-face one. I will look into it and come back to my hon. Friend as soon as I can.
While the UK Government have resisted calls for a cumulative impact assessment of their welfare reforms, the Scottish Government have undertaken such an assessment. It showed that, overwhelmingly, the £4.5 billion-worth of cuts are falling on disabled people and mothers. Does the Minister accept that the reason he will not carry out such an assessment is because he is scared that it will expose his Government’s priorities and their willingness to punish the poor?
Although I respect what the Scottish Government do, our own Treasury and our own independent forecasts are saying that it is not possible to do that accurately. What I can say to the hon. Lady is that in every year of this coalition Government funding for disabled benefits has gone up, and it will continue to go up through 2015-16—more than was left by the previous Administration.