Yes. One point I will come to later is the need for some form of inquiry.
To continue my point about why who runs the scheme is so important, a big criticism of the new scheme is the continuation of discretionary payments. Department of Health officials are still not listening to the concerns raised about that. The APPG inquiry uncovered huge issues with the highly conditional and poorly managed discretionary support scheme. One respondent told us:
“The whole system seems designed to make you feel like a beggar”.
I also believe that the trust’s current administrators have not fought hard enough for their beneficiaries, which legally they could have done. Instead, they saw their role as dispassionate managers and conduits to the Department of Health. They left the affected community alone to fight for themselves. If the new support scheme ends up being managed by Atos or Capita it will do nothing to address those fundamental issues, and could even make the situation much worse, adding insult to injury. I call on the Minister to do the right thing and announce that she will scrap plans for a private profit-making scheme administrator, and will replace the current scheme with a more beneficiary run and focused organisation that has no profit motive.
Will the Minister set out exactly what kind of discretionary support the new scheme will provide? It remains unclear whether any or all of the current support will continue. That contrasts starkly with the Scottish scheme, where the financial review group agreed that no one should receive less financial support under the new scheme. Will the Government urgently provide the same guarantee and publish full details of any obligations that the new scheme administrators will be subject to?
There are also issues with the current welfare benefits reassessment regime that many people are having to go through—for example, moving from disability living allowance on to the personal independence payment. Those issues need to be addressed urgently, so that individuals can be passported straightaway on to new benefits. I hope the Minister will agree that that is a sensible way forward for the people affected.
My third concern relates to the families of those affected, who need better support under the scheme. Under the new English proposals, widows and widowers will continue to be eligible for discretionary support—whatever that means; I have raised my concerns about that already—on top of a new £10,000 lump sum, provided their loved ones died at least partially as a result of contracting HIV or hepatitis C. However, many clinicians have already told me that that could mean many people are excluded from assistance simply because their partner’s death certificate does not include mention of HIV or hepatitis C, sometimes at the family’s request. The new proposals could also still be considerably less generous than the support that some widows already receive, because there is a huge question mark hanging over what discretionary help they will get under the reformed scheme.