Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:18 pm on 17 May 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Liberal Democrat 5:18, 17 May 2022

My Lords, I declare that I receive disability living allowance. I shall make just one point, but it is an important one for disabled people and must be looked at in the light of the cost-of-living crisis. It is the unacceptable delay in the waiting time for PIP—the personal independence payment—which helps people with long-term conditions manage their day-to-day living costs and get around. The delay I am talking about in the whole application process is now about six months and is particularly tough with the cost of living rising so fast.

PIP is a most welcome benefit as it is not means-tested and not taxed. It is an in-work as well as out-of-work benefit. Put simply, it helps to enable thousands of disabled people to keep going. To apply for PIP, either by phone or online, an extensive form must be filled in. An assessment is then undertaken by one of the DWP’s outsourced companies, usually either face to face or by phone. A DWP decision-maker then reviews the claim and either awards the benefit for a certain time or turns it down. At the height of the pandemic, there were understandable delays in this whole process, but it is not acceptable that the delays seem to be getting worse rather than better.

Making an assessment is not always straightforward, and this is especially true for those with fluctuating conditions, who must be affected more than 50% of the time to qualify for the benefit. At this point, I welcome the new Bill, which extends the right of those at the end of life to apply for disability benefits in a fast-track procedure. But for those who have a progressive long-term condition, such as a muscle-wasting disease, this is not a fluctuating condition but one that will progressively get worse. However, even those with progressive conditions are having to wait a very long time to receive an award.

Being disabled is very expensive. As well as perhaps needing extra heating or special food, many disabled people have appliances such as a hoist, an electric bed, a stairlift or a through-floor lift, all of which need power. As for help getting around, a Motability vehicle would be available if a claimant received the enhanced rate mobility element of PIP. Yet thousands of PIP claimants are waiting six months for a decision and cannot lease a Motability vehicle until the award is given.

I urge the Government to take immediate action to address the delays in the system. Why is it getting worse? Has the DWP recruited enough staff to deal with PIP assessments? Are there any plans to deploy DWP staff instead of using outsourced companies? We know that the population is getting older, so more people are likely to need disability benefits in the future. But we need to be sure that the whole process is working properly, which it clearly is not at the moment. I look forward to the Minister’s reply or a letter if that is more appropriate.