Employment and Support Allowance: Underpayments

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 3:41 pm, 25th February 2019

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

On 21 February, the Department for Work and Pensions published a statement saying that 210,000 ill and disabled people could have been underpaid vital employment and support allowance after a grave error by the Department dating back to 2011, when it wrongly migrated them from incapacity benefit on to contributions-based ESA, denying them essential social security, such as the severe disability premium, to which income-based ESA would have entitled them.

The Government initially estimated that 70,000 ill and disabled people were underpaid. In October 2018 that number increased to 180,000 people, and now it has emerged that up to 210,000 ill and disabled people were underpaid, on average, £6,000 in social security. How can we trust that the number will not increase?

Thus far, 20,000 people have died before receiving the social security to which they were entitled. That is 20,000 people who will never be repaid what they were owed by the DWP. The Department estimates that more than £1 billion will be spent to rectify this catastrophic error, and we have now learned that it will employ up to 1,200 staff to do so.

How many people have been pushed into rent arrears, council tax arrears, debt and destitution? Will the Department listen to Labour’s demands and pay compensation to those who have been pushed into debt? What support will the Department provide to the estates of the 20,000 ill and disabled people who tragically died before they received their payment?

Given the scale of the issue in transferring to ESA, how will the Government avoid repeating this error when they transfer ill and disabled people from legacy social security on to universal credit? Given that there are currently seven reviews into ill and disabled people being underpaid, how much of the Government’s total expenditure is spent on underpayments? Finally, will the Minister apologise to the additional 30,000 disabled people, and their families, who have been denied thousands of pounds in social security, and to the 20,000 people who died before justice was done?