It is a relief that we are having this debate on the Floor of the House, and I thank you for granting it, Mr Speaker, following the application of Debbie Abrahams. It is a shame that the House has had to drag a Minister to the Dispatch Box so that the Government can be held to account on this matter after weeks of their refusing to debate it. As we have heard, 179 Members from eight different parties signed an early-day motion to annul the statutory instrument that implements the changes. The truth is that the Government have been shying away from accountability for the regulations from the start. They initially refused to comply with the upper tribunal ruling by bringing forward these changes in the first place, and then they did not even have the decency, nor the courtesy, to refer a draft of the regulations to their own Social Security Advisory Committee. If the Government are so confident that the regulations will hold up to any kind of scrutiny, why have they avoided due process by trying to sneak the changes in through the back door?
My party and other Opposition colleagues will not allow the Government to take these unfair backwards steps. Sense estimates that the changes will affect 150,000 people. Those people will lose out on PIP, which supports the extra cost of living with a disability, while the Government save £3.7 billion. That smacks of hypocrisy, given that the “Work, health and disability” Green Paper said that the Government would not seek to make any further cuts to the social security budget. Is that the real reason why they did not want the regulations to be scrutinised?
Given the Government’s attitude to PIP and the assessments, it seems fitting that they will sneak out the second independent review of personal independence payments tomorrow—the day the House rises for Easter recess. What are they so scared of that they have scheduled the release of the report so that they can face no immediate scrutiny? During the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which established the new personal independence payment system, Ministers were clear that PIP was an important step to achieve the parity of esteem between physical and mental health that we want. Ministers even talked about the descriptors for the mobility component taking into account someone’s ability to plan and follow a journey. They said that PIP was designed to assess the barriers that individuals face, not to make judgments based on the type of impairment. Personal independence payments are supposed to support people with the additional costs of disability.
We have heard about the court ruling that the regulations seek to undermine. The court ruled that people who find it hard to leave the house because of anxiety, panic attacks and other mental health problems should be able to receive the higher rate of PIP.