I know that the member wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, last month on the issue. For too many, the PIP assessment is already a stressful experience, and I fully agree that it is not acceptable to compound that with a requirement—in the case that Mr Lochhead raised—to make a round trip of about 100 miles, with the additional difficulty that such travel involves.
Mr Lochhead will be aware that we have repeatedly called on the UK Government to halt the roll-out of PIP in Scotland. The roll-out has been beset by delays. Many people have had to undergo stressful assessments, and many have lost entitlements, including access to the Motability scheme and linked support to carers allowance and other benefits, with devastating consequences.
I find it difficult to express the distress that some of my constituents have been put through, given that people sometimes find it uncomfortable leaving their home or travelling anywhere, never mind to Inverness for a PIP assessment that might determine their income for the foreseeable future. I have had a response from Michael Hewson, chief client executive of Independent Assessment Services, who told me in response to my concerns that it is going to reduce the number of people who have to travel to Inverness for their assessments and that it will instead offer home consultations.
Given the distress that that journey is causing, does the minister not agree that the answer is for Moray to have its own assessment centre full stop? I have heard of people taking time off work to help others—at their own expense—go through to those assessments, because of the stress that that causes.
I am of course pleased that, as a result of Mr Lochhead’s representation, the situation in his constituency might be alleviated. However, it is of considerable concern to me that the Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that it does not even trouble to know how many people across the country are affected in the way that Mr Lochhead has outlined. Minimising that, which includes conducting assessments at home where appropriate, or as close to home as possible, is exactly the route that should be gone down.
I agree with Mr Lochhead that, for as long as the DWP continues to have responsibility for that benefit, an assessment centre in Moray would be the right way to go. However, we will not be going down that route—we will not be using private contractors to conduct assessments. I am particularly pleased about that, given that Monday’s DWP statistics show that very few of its contractors have met its quality standards over a considerable period of time—indeed, since January 2014.
We will reduce the number of assessments that are needed, using evidence at first decision in order to minimise that approach, and where assessments are necessary, we will provide them locally, in an individual’s own home or in local premises, and they will be conducted by people with experience of the condition that is being assessed. The long-term answer is, of course, for Scotland to have control of social security.