Personal Independence Payments - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:18 pm, 23rd January 2018

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 the High Court judgment on PIP—personal independence payment. The Statement is as follows:

“After careful consideration, I took the decision not to appeal the High Court’s judgment on this case. I informed this House of my decision immediately by tabling a Written Statement on Friday last week. This Written Statement set out my decision and the steps my department will now take to implement the judgment. I repeat once again my commitment to implementing this judgment in the best interest of our claimants and through working closely with disabled people and key stakeholders over the coming months.

The Department for Work and Pensions will undertake an exercise to go through all affected cases in receipt of the personal independence payment and all decisions made following the judgment in MH to identify anyone who may be entitled to more as a result of the judgment. We will then write to those individuals affected and all payments will be back-dated to the effective date in each individual claim.

In accepting the outcome of this High Court judgment, the department does not agree with some of the details made in the judgment. The 2017 amending regulations were introduced in response to an Upper Tribunal case that broadened the interpretation of eligibility for Mobility 1, which is the ability to plan and follow a journey. Our intention has always been to deliver the original policy intent through clarifying how symptoms of overwhelming psychological distress should be assessed. In order to provide certainty to our claimants, we are not appealing the outcome of the recent High Court judgment.

Our next steps will build on the positive work this Government are already undertaking, including the following. Spending on the main disability benefits—PIP, DLA and attendance allowance—has risen by £4.2 billion since 2010 and real-terms spending on disability benefits will be higher every year to 2020 than in 2010. The Government have commissioned two expert-led reviews and invested a record £11.6 billion into mental health services. The Access to Work mental health support service has been expanded with a two-year trial of targeted support for apprentices with mental health conditions. We have also accepted all the recommendations in the independent review by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and Paul Farmer, including establishing a framework for large employers to voluntarily report on mental health and disability within their organisations.

With regard to the next steps following this judgment, the Department for Work and Pensions will write to those who may be entitled to a higher rate of PIP. Where relevant, all payments will be backdated to the effective date in each individual claim.

PIP is a modern, dynamic and fairer benefit than its predecessor, DLA, and focuses the most support on those experiencing the greatest barriers to living independently. At the core of PIP’s design is the principle that awards of the benefit should be made according to a claimant’s overall level of need, regardless of whether they suffer from physical or non-physical conditions. This Government are committed to furthering rights and opportunities for all disabled people and we continue to spend over £50 billion per year to support people with disabilities and health conditions”.

Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Opposition Senior Whip (Lords) 3:22 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Answer. I remind the House that these regulations were rushed through after the tribunal specifically to deny the higher-rate mobility component of PIP to people who were claiming on grounds of psychological distress, affecting people with Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia or various other mental health conditions.

In the High Court judgment, Mr Justice Mostyn said that these new criteria were “blatantly discriminatory” against those with mental health impairments and that they “cannot be objectively justified”. Ministers should have known that. On 27 March this House voted for a regret Motion in my name objecting to these regulations precisely because they discriminate against people with mental health conditions. I then wrote to Damian Green, with the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Baronesses, Lady Browning and Lady Bakewell, asking him to conduct a review mandated by that Motion. He declined to do so, so we ended up in the High Court.

I am glad that Ministers are not appealing the decision, but it leaves many questions, of which I can ask only two. First, will there be an appeal process for PIP claimants who are not contacted by the department but who believe they should receive back payments? Secondly, will applicants be entitled to a reassessment if they were given only the standard rate of the PIP mobility component after the regulations came through, where the cause of the claim was “psychological distress”?

If Ministers had, once again, only listened to this House, this confusion and distress for claimants could have been avoided. I dearly hope they do so next time.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I shall respond robustly to what the noble Baroness opposite has just said by making it absolutely clear that this Government have been far more generous in supporting people with mental health conditions than the previous Labour Government, who put off any changes to disability support, particularly in relation to mental health conditions, until after the general election of 2010, which by then was too late.

This is not a policy change. We are going back to the heart of the policy intent and relates to those in psychological distress. We have accepted the Stevenson/Farmer recommendations, which shows that we are committed to supporting claimants with disabilities. We are also working with a range of disability charities to implement the judgment in the best way. We will look at appeals, to which the noble Baroness opposite made reference, but we want to make sure that we get the process right. We have already spoken with the charity Mind on how we implement the judgment. The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work in another place talked only yesterday with a disability charity consortium to discuss the decision and to hear its views on implementation. We will reach out to claimants and look at every one of them.

To be clear, we are spending over £50 billion on disabilities. We are entirely committed to this issue—indeed, it is one of the Prime Minister’s top priorities. I can confirm that this was never a cost-saving measure. The judge in the case made references to cost saving but we do not agree with that. Indeed, we have focused on being more generous through the introduction of PIP and, as a result of the judgment, we will rightly become even more generous in supporting people with mental health conditions.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister about the process. I fail understand why, in March 2017, the Government did not have recourse to the power available to them under the Social Security Administration Act 1998 to suspend the implementation of adverse legal judgments pending further and better particulars. If they had taken that route they would have had recourse to the SSAC and a proper consultation, which would have prevented this adverse outcome from the High Court. Will the Minister learn from this and give an assurance that in such future circumstances, the Government will use the unique power the DWP has to prevent getting egg all over their face and causing adverse circumstances for many claimants who do not deserve that kind of treatment?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I hear what the noble Lord is saying. This is one of the reasons why the immediate response of my colleague the Minister for Disabled People—and indeed the Secretary of State—was not only to decide not to question the judgment but to do everything we can to help claimants. That is why we have already had early meetings with stakeholders and organisations who can help us think through how to ensure that we do not make mistakes going forward. It is important to say that the 2017 amending regulations did not represent a policy change. The distinction was based on the considered advice of highly qualified medical advisers, and the activities considered in PIP are used as a proxy for assessing a claimant’s overall level of need in daily life, which is what we were focusing on.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the Minister on several occasions used the term “generous” in describing the Government’s position. By what yardstick is “generous” measured in these terms?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The noble Lord will understand that since 2010, spending on the main disability benefits comprising PIP, DLA and attendance allowance has risen by £4.2 billion. Disability benefits are at a record high this year. Indeed, as a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than in all other G7 countries bar Germany.

It is important to focus on the components in terms of spending on PIP and the DLA equivalence, which of course was what we had under the Labour Government. As at October 2017, 66% of PIP recipients with a mental health condition received the enhanced rate daily living component, compared with 22% receiving the highest rate DLA care component as at May 2013. Some 31% of PIP recipients with a mental health condition get the enhanced rate mobility component as at October 2017, compared with 10% receiving the higher rate DLA mobility component as at May 2013. I could go on with more figures. If one compares the percentage of spending by this department with other departments within the Government’s budget, we are, as we should be, strongly focused on how we can help those with physical and with mental health conditions to do a very dynamic thing that PIP stands for: have the independence to cope with their lives, whatever their condition.

Photo of Baroness Hussein-Ece Baroness Hussein-Ece Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Equalities)

My Lords, the number of applicants who fail to qualify run into the hundreds of thousands. Can the Minister say what is being done to recruit enough staff to deal with the backlog? I have seen a report which states that it will take decades before they finally get up to date and PIP applicants will receive their social mobility claims, as they duly should. What is being done about the backlog?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I can indeed respond to the noble Baroness because only last week I had a meeting with officials who are closely focused on this issue. I cannot give her the exact numbers, but we are bringing on board many more work coaches. We are training them and continually working to improve our systems to ensure that any backlogs in the waiting time for the initial assessment and reassessment are cut down; I think they have been cut by at least half over the past year. We recognised that the number of people coming forward was greater than we had initially judged, so we are responding to that as quickly and efficiently as we can. At the same time, we have to make sure that there is continuous improvement, that the PIP benefits process is working fairly and effectively and that it offers the best claimant experience possible. My honourable friend in another place, the Minister of State with responsibility for this issue, has given me a list of the different things we are doing to improve the assessment process and deal with any backlogs in the system.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I would like to congratulate my noble friend the Minister and my right honourable friend in the other place on taking this decision. It is the right decision, although I am sure it was a difficult one and will be difficult for the department to implement. Nevertheless, it is right and I welcome it.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I thank my noble friend for supporting us in what we feel strongly was the right decision. It was a difficult one because obviously, we need to take some time—not long, but some time—to make sure that we can respond in the right way and support a fair number of people whose assessments we need to re-evaluate. We will do that to the best of our ability, but very much at the forefront of our minds is the need to work with stakeholders, including Mind and other charities, to ensure that we get this right. Again, I thank my noble friend.