Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 3:34 pm, 2nd July 2019

It gives me great pleasure to speak in this debate; I thank Alison McGovern for bringing it to the House and for beginning so powerfully.

I want to speak about not just the amount of money in the system, but the impact of our benefits system on a whole range of people including disabled people, people who have children, pensioners and people who are unable to work, because it seems to them that they are being punished for being poor and for being unable to work from the very start of making an application for benefits. For example, the personal independence payment form is 33 pages long and includes very cryptic questions. People know that they are supposed to answer those questions in certain ways, but they just do not have the guidance on how to do so.

People have to claim for universal credit online, which means they need to have computer skills, a computer and access to broadband to make a claim and to manage that claim on an ongoing basis—to retain control over their finances and their benefits. We have seen that a majority of people need support to make their universal credit claim and to be supported throughout the process. And it is not just an online claim form, but effectively a 10-stage process whereby the claimant has to make a phone call, complete a claim form online, go along to a jobcentre, provide 14 bits of documentation and evidence, return to sign their work conditionality agreement, and log on to their journal on a mobile phone or portable device. That is a huge amount of bureaucracy for anyone to have to undergo—much less somebody who is not used to IT systems and who, in an area such as mine, has to spend £7 each way to get a bus to the jobcentre and has to meet those costs upfront before they can even start claiming them back.

Someone applying for the personal independence payment needs to go for an assessment, and we have heard so much about those assessments, particularly those of us who are members of the Work and Pensions Committee. I heard from a group of women who were survivors of sexual abuse, who were assessed on how that abuse continued to affect them years later. They found the whole process absolutely terrifying, as they had to attend cold, informal assessment centres that were often in a tower block in the middle of a city, but away from public transport routes.