Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 6th March 2023.
What steps his Department has taken to support disabled people with increases in costs.
Six million people receiving an eligible disability benefit received a £150 disability cost of living payment last year, and they will receive a further £150 payment this year. Those on a qualifying means-tested benefit will also receive up to £900 in cost of living payments.
People in Bosworth will be grateful for the disability support they have, but a key challenge that I saw as a GP was getting people who are disabled back into work. We know that work is good for their welfare and their wallet, so what more can we do to create a conducive environment, from diagnosis all the way through, for those suffering from a disability to get back into the workplace?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. We are committed to supporting people into work and, importantly, to retain roles once they have them. We recognise, working across Government, that for many disabled people work is a determinant of better health outcomes. No doubt we will continue to take on board feedback about what more we might do in that space, and I would be delighted to have a conversation with my hon. Friend, based on his experiences, about the support we already provide and where we might go from here.
On benefits, I am delighted to hear that some things are being done, but, from a Scottish perspective, I really do not think that it is enough. 38 Degrees has done polling across all our constituencies, and 70% of respondents in Stirling agreed that this UK Government
“do not understand the impact the cost of living crisis is having on people”.
Do Ministers accept that vote of no confidence?
Certainly not, and I am delighted that I actually have a far more constructive working relationship with the Scottish Minister responsible for these issues than the question from the hon. Member suggests.
Many families with disabled children are struggling with energy costs right now. The £150 for those receiving personal independence payment is clearly welcome, but if someone is dependent on a machine, such as a powered wheelchair, a ventilator, an oxygen concentrator or a ceiling hoist, the cost is more like £150 a month, not £150 a year. What more can the Department, and the Government more widely, do to ensure that those families do not turn their machines off and put their children’s health at risk?
It is fair to say that none of us would want to see people putting their health, or their relatives’ health, at risk. We of course have a comprehensive package of support in place, as my hon. Friend is aware. There is also discretionary support provided through the household support fund and administered by local authorities, as well as the energy support that Ministers elsewhere in Government are leading on. However, I am very mindful of the need to future-proof people against those costs, and that is work that I am currently looking at.
This might help the Minister, who is very aware that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people and are particularly vulnerable to the cost of living, as has been demonstrated by colleagues. Legacy benefit claimants, many of whom are long-term sick or disabled, have been unjustly denied the additional uplift that universal credit claimants got during the pandemic. Will the Minister commit to remedying that injustice by reintroducing the universal uplift, increasing it to £25 a week and giving it to all legacy benefit claimants?
I thank the hon. Lady for her suggestion of new policy. As a Government Minister, I am not in a position to create new policy on the hoof. What I would say, however, is that there are significant cost of living support measures in place, and individuals will be able to access the support that is appropriate for them.
My hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova and I have asked numerous written questions about the shocking 461% increase in the number of personal independence payment claims disallowed for the non-return of the AR1 review form between 2017 and 2021. The Minister, sadly, has no idea why the increase has happened, or by extension whether vulnerable people are being left struggling to manage, as the Department does not collect information on the reasons for the non-return of the AR1 form. So I ask the Minister again today: when will he take action to investigate this issue?
There may be many and varied reasons why individuals choose not to return the forms. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will allow me to answer the question, that would really benefit the House. The bottom line here is that there may be many and varied reasons why people do not return the forms, including their circumstances changing materially, but I am very happy to take the point away and look at it further.