Personal Independence Payment: Regulations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 29th March 2017.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:44 pm, 29th March 2017

Absolutely, and I know that my hon. Friend has first-hand experience of that in a professional capacity.

I have been contacted by so many people telling me their stories of living with a severe mental health problem and how it affects them, including men and women from the armed and emergency services, so I would like to share Bob’s story. Bob started off in the police service in Liverpool, and then went into the Prison Service. After 20 years or so, he said he started to experience the need to escape from the cells and inmates by locking himself in the rest room for a few minutes. Over the years, this graduated to cluster headaches and then full-blown anxiety and panic attacks.

After a period of sick leave, Bob left the service, but the attacks continued and he eventually sought psychiatric treatment; he was then declared disabled by virtue of his debilitating anxiety attacks. The degree of disability fluctuated, but it was so severe at times that he would literally run from a shopping centre into his car, just to feel safe. Bob said that he wanted to work, but when he went for a job interview, he had an attack in the car, and by the time he got home, he could barely function at all: he was hyperventilating and completely unable to move. It is people such as Bob who will be denied support through these new regulations.

These changes to PIP have come on top of significant cuts to our social security system, with support for disabled people being particularly targeted. Scope has estimated that the Welfare Reform Act 2012 alone will have meant nearly £30 billion in cuts to support for 3.7 million disabled people. Next week, as we have heard, another £30 a week will be cut from disabled people who are found not fit for work in the employment and support allowance work-related activity group, and for those on universal credit’s limited capability for work component.

The disabled community are tired of this Government’s rhetoric; they want and need to be treated with dignity, not plunged further into poverty, yet plenty of new evidence shows that that is exactly what has happened since 2010. Will the Minister publish a cumulative impact assessment of all tax and social security changes, showing the impacts that they have had, and will continue to have, on disabled people?

For some time now, there has been growing concern about the way in which PIP is working. Wider systemic issues with PIP mean that 65% of those who appeal to a tribunal succeed. Over a quarter of all PIP assessments are challenged and referred for mandatory reconsideration, with the majority of the decisions being changed. Why can we not get these assessments right first time? More than 750 people a week are losing their Motability cars because of changes to entitlement when they move on to PIP. This is so counterproductive, because it makes it nigh-on impossible for so many disabled people to work, let alone live independently.

We should never forget that nine out of 10 disabilities are acquired; this could happen to any one of us. That is what our social security system is for—to provide support to any one of us in our time of need. Labour will stand with disabled people, who have already borne the brunt of seven years of austerity, in fighting this injustice. I do not believe that, given the choice, the British public would chose cuts in corporation tax over preventing disabled people from being pushed into destitution or worse.

It is exactly a week since the horrendous attack in Westminster, when four people, including our colleague PC Keith Palmer, were murdered, and 50 were injured. The following day, the Prime Minister rightly said that she was looking

“at what further support can be made available for victims in a wider sense, because there will be people who were not physically injured in the attack…but…for whom there may be other scars. It is important to provide that support.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2017;
Vol. 623, c. 942.]

However, because of the new regulations, support for people suffering psychological distress is being restricted. Warm words need to be backed up by action. Let there be no more cuts in support for disabled people. Enough is enough.