It is not usual for me to be gobsmacked, but I certainly am by that story, even though I have heard from constituents who, while not necessarily experiencing heart attacks, have had absolutely disgraceful treatment. We are also seeing a rise in the number of appeals concerning employment and support allowance, and the appeals that have been lodged are taking longer and longer to come to a conclusion. I will not go into the whole debacle of the personal independence payment, but it is simply scandalous that some of the most vulnerable people in our society, whom the DWP is supposed to be assisting, are being left in many instances with no financial support whatever. To add insult to injury, this Government have also reduced funding of local authorities. Many local authorities were absolutely central to ensuring that people with disabilities could live human, productive lives. That money has now been taken away.
I hope to bring home to the Chamber the absolute chaos out there at the moment, and to concentrate on the questioning that an individual claimant has to go through and the kind of questioning to which the Secretary of State responds. It is clear that he is burdened with delusions of adequacy, but some of his responses to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee at his most recent appearance in front of us were absolutely disgraceful.
Let me detail the experience of an individual claimant. A 71-year-old pensioner, dubbed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to be self-employed, applied for housing benefit. It has now taken 17 weeks and still there is no final cut-off point where she has been assured that she will receive housing benefit. The most recent inquiry that came to her was to detail the cost of a bill of £3.40; the second was to detail the cost of a bill of £7.47. Both of those claims took place in 2012. The mind boggles at that, when the Secretary of State, who has lost millions and millions of pounds on a failed IT system, has categorically refused to give the Select Committee any detail whatever about his newly trumpeted business plan. He has refused to discuss the costs of the plan or whether there will be any direct savings either to the taxpayer or to the overarching benefit system. It is an absolute disgrace that the Select Committee, which has been appointed to scrutinise the DWP, is being buffeted away. It seems that the Department is opting for some kind of bunker mentality, but it will not work.