Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:03 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 6:03 pm, 26th February 2019

I totally agree. I have visited my hon. Friend in Coventry and many of the women from the so-called WASPI group who have been campaigning vigorously on this.

Although we did see a welcome increase in spending on UC in last year’s Budget, at the same time, the disability benefits and benefits for carers went down. Even though there were changes to universal credit last autumn, 3 million people will still be worse off under universal credit. Nine out of 10 low-income disabled households will not benefit from the Budget increases, alongside 640,000 self-employed households and 475,000 working lone-parent households. The effects of these social security cuts in the context of a rising cost of living are there for everyone to see. We have heard about the rise and rise of food banks. I never had a food bank in Oldham until this Government came in.

There has been the increase in personal debt and rent arrears. Eight million—the highest level ever—working households are in poverty. Two thirds of the 4.1 million children living in poverty are from working households. Four million sick and disabled people are living in poverty. Over 300,000 more older people are living in poverty since 2010. Our life expectancy is stalling—this is in the context of an increasing state pension age—and infant mortality, for the first time in 100 years, is increasing. Four babies in 1,000 will not see their first birthday.

The austerity agenda has not helped the economy one iota. Analysis used in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s model has shown that the independent effects of austerity have been to stifle economic growth by at least £100 billion in the last year alone—that is £3,600 per household. However, it is not just about that—the human toll as a result of these cuts cannot be underestimated.

Last week, we heard about Jodey, who took her own life after she was found fit for work following her work capability assessment. The DWP failed five times to follow its safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Jodey’s suicide, although it knew that she had a history of mental health issues. We learnt about 52-year-old Jeff, who won his appeal against his work capability assessment saying he was fit for work seven months after he had died. A few days earlier, we heard about 64-year-old Stephen Smith, whose emaciated six-stone body was photographed by the Liverpool Echo in a hospital bed. He had also been found fit for work. In my Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, one of the worst cases I ever had involved a man who had a brain tumour. He was refusing to have the life-saving surgery that he needed because he was scared that he was going to get sanctioned. His medical team contacted me, pleading with me to intervene on his behalf.

I have a whole list here of different constituents and the struggles that they have had with the DWP, whether that is with PIP, the work capability assessment or UC. I want to particularly thank my team for the work they have done; without them, I could not do my job.

We are the sixth richest country in the world, and it is reprehensible for us to treat our citizens in this way. We must never forget that, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, providing security and dignity in retirement and the support needed should we become sick or disabled or fall on hard times. It is a vital weapon in our fight against poverty and inequality—and one of which we should be proud, not ashamed.