My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat as a Statement an Answer given to an Urgent Question in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on personal independence payments. The Statement is as follows:
“Recent legal judgments have interpreted the assessment criteria for PIP in ways that are different from what was originally intended. The department presented regulations, which clarify the original policy intent, to the Social Security Advisory Committee. I welcome SSAC’s careful consideration and we are looking closely at its suggestions.
But let me be clear: SSAC decided that it did not require the regulations to be formally referred to it and would not therefore consult publicly on them. I believe that it was right to move quickly to clarify the criteria and it is clear that SSAC is not challenging that decision.
I want to make clear again that this is not a policy change, nor is it intended to make new savings. This is about restoring the original intention of the benefit, which has been expanded by the legal judgments, and providing clarity and certainty for claimants. I reiterate my commitment that there will be no further welfare savings beyond those already legislated for. It will not result in any claimants seeing a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded by the Department for Work and Pensions”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Answer. The Social Security Advisory Committee expressed the view that outside the DWP there is indeed some confusion regarding the original policy intent of the measures, and that the department had made errors about its intent in submission to an Upper Tribunal. The committee further expressed concern about unintended operational and legal consequences arising from the changes to the mobility descriptors in the regulations that have been made. It drew attention to circumstances where multiple factors make it impossible for someone to follow a journey without help, and where it would be difficult to strip out and exclude psychological distress from other factors.
How does the Minister respond to this issue and to the recommendation that these proposed changes and those relating to managing therapy should be tested with healthcare professionals and decision-makers? Will he commit to doing this before implementation of the regulations that have been laid? Further, can the Minister explain how regarding the consequences of psychological distress is consistent with fostering parity of esteem between those with physical and mental health conditions?
My Lords, the original policy intentions were set out quite clearly during the passage of the legislation. The noble Lord will remember that far better than I do. That was then set out in the legislation—and in secondary legislation. However, as he is aware, the Upper Tribunal made it clear that there was, as I think it put it, a lack of clarity in the regulations as we set them out. That is what, I hope, we put right in the regulations we laid a week or so ago and which come into effect tomorrow.
The noble Lord asked whether there would be further consultations on that. Obviously, my honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People and others within the department will continue to keep an open dialogue with all those involved to make sure that our policy intentions are correctly applied and that these things are dealt with as clearly as possible.
The noble Lord also doubted whether there was the appropriate parity between mental and physical conditions. He alleged that there was a lack of parity, which we want to achieve. I believe that there is parity because we are looking not at the conditions but at the overall needs of individuals. In other words, it is not some specific complaint that the individual suffers from but how it affects how they get on with their lives. That applies equally—hence the parity—to those with mental and physical conditions.
My Lords, it is quite clear that more clarity is needed. Why do the Government not use the powers they already have to prevent the decisions of the Upper Tribunal from having immediate legal effect? I also know that the Government are appealing the decision from the Upper Tribunal. Why do they not wait for the result of that appeal? What about claimants whose claims are only half way through the process? What about those who have an existing award and whose condition has not changed in any way, who will be reassessed very soon? Are they to have that award taken away? In general, this committee is very supportive of the DWP and I urge the Government to use the powers they have to not bring these regulations into force until there has been proper consultation on them.
My Lords, there would be considerable financial implications in allowing the decision of the Upper Tribunal to stand. It would not be right or proper for the department to do that. For that reason, we brought forward the new regulations and they come into effect tomorrow. We then referred those to SSAC and we have received its comments on them. My honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People responded to SSAC and no doubt SSAC will want to make that letter available in due course. We believe that we have achieved parity with the new regulations—but, as I said, we are more than happy to continue consultations in the usual manner.
My Lords, the objective of PIP has always been to subsidise people who are disabled, whether mentally or physically, for the extra costs of living. Surely the answer to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is that if those conditions have not changed, there is no earthly reason why the individual should not continue to get their PIP.
My Lords, individuals will continue to get their personal independence payment and will continue to be able to apply for it in the usual way. It is just that we have new regulations that bring clarity, as I am sure my noble friend will be aware, to the lack of clarity that the Upper Tribunal complained of.
My Lords, following the pertinent questions of my noble friend Lord McKenzie, two days ago the Social Security Advisory Committee pointed out the error made by the DWP in a previous submission to the Upper Tribunal in 2015, which led in turn to the inconsistency of determinations by decision-makers on PIP. Yet the DWP has still failed to clarify the ambiguity of the psychological distress criteria for people who are concerned about travelling by themselves and cannot successfully do so. Does this not show that SSAC should have been properly consulted throughout this procedure before the revised, tougher—yet still ambiguous—regulations were issued, given the errors, inconsistency and ambiguity in the DWP’s handling of PIP in the past? Frankly, should the department not stop digging?
My Lords, I do not think the last comment was worthy of the noble Baroness. The point we are making is that the Upper Tribunal saw a lack of clarity in these regulations. It was appropriate that the department acted quickly. In a previous Statement we made it clear that we were going to act quickly and that we were going to consult SSAC on this matter. The matter was put to SSAC. SSAC considered it. SSAC then wrote to the department earlier this week and today my honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People wrote back to SSAC. The noble Baroness can see that letter in due course—she seems to indicate that she already has a copy of the letter. I have a copy, but there is no need for us to read it out to the House. The noble Baroness has a copy of the letter that deals with those matters. I believe that we have done this in exactly in the right way and that we are bringing clarity to a matter that needed some clarity, following the remarks of the Upper Tribunal.