Personal Independence Payment Applications

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 17th June 2015.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 4:57 pm, 17th June 2015

As I was about to say, I had a meeting with Mind yesterday. One of the people in attendance said that he is due to have his PIP assessment tomorrow, and he is absolutely terrified. About a third of respondents to a survey of more than 4,000 Parkinson’s sufferers became financially worse off after they were diagnosed; for a quarter of them, money concerns are having a negative impact on their Parkinson’s. Those impacts are compounded by the process and their experience of PIP.

Dame Anne got it right two and a half years ago, and it is a shame that the Government did not listen at the time to her and my other former colleagues on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, Sheila Gilmore and Glenda Jackson. It was not until the February 2014 National Audit Office report described “poor early operational performance” and “long uncertain delays” for new PIP claimants, and until the Public Accounts Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee pointed to the unacceptable delays, that the Government finally took action. At that time, the average wait was 107 days, and in some cases many months more, whereas there was a 74-day target for completion. For terminally ill claimants, claims were taking 28 days on average when they should have taken only 10 days.

Last year’s report by the Work and Pensions Committee made a number of recommendations; in particular, it suggested that penalty clauses in the contracts for assessment providers be used to recoup money when the providers fail to deliver value for taxpayers’ money. What moneys have been recouped? I am pleased that we are now seeing progress, for the sake of claimants and the taxpayer, but we are still not getting it right, as the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness has shown. Some 42,000 people are waiting more than 42 weeks, and four out of 10 people are still waiting for their PIP claim to be processed.

I heard from a woman whose partner has cancer and is waiting for radiotherapy. They have been living on £113 a week since they applied at the beginning of April, and there is also an effect on passported benefits such as carer’s allowance, disability premiums and concessionary travel. I have also heard about the case of someone who received a full PIP award last July but has been told by the Department for Work and Pensions that she has to go through the process again. That beggars belief.

I recognise that the median waiting time has been coming down, and I am pleased about that, but I am concerned about the measures that have been used to bring it down. We have heard about people having to travel considerable distances to remote assessment centres. One person with Parkinson’s was required to get to a 9 am appointment in Deptford from Crawley, which exacerbated their condition. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that paper assessments can be undertaken instead of face-to-face assessments? On the training and skill of assessors, what steps has he taken to ensure the use of skilled assessors who are able to interpret clinical evidence for a range of clinical, physical and mental health conditions? Given the recent capacity issues, will the Department be revising the roll-out of PIP to a further 1.7 million DLA claimants in October?

My final couple of points are about the independent review of PIP that was published last year, which recommended that there be a full evaluation. I have already mentioned the concerns about the effectiveness of the assessment process, and it was recommended that the Government put in place a rigorous quantitative and qualitative evaluation strategy. When might we expect to see that strategy? Finally—this is definitely my final point—we know that the Chancellor will be announcing further cuts to social security in next month’s Budget. What cuts are being considered to disability and associated benefits, including through taxation? Will the administration of those benefits also be affected? Given that the introduction of PIP did not have an impact assessment, which was a big failing, will the Minister guarantee that any changes to disability benefits will have the necessary impact assessment?