UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — [Dame Cheryl Gillan in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20th June 2018.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 9:30 am, 20th June 2018

Good morning. I have some technical announcements to make before we start the debate. First, gentlemen may remove their jackets, because the air conditioning in the room is not functioning properly and the temperature may rise. I am sorry, ladies; I cannot really say the same to you! It could get quite warm in here.

We have a few technical failures, in actual fact, I think because there is no one who can put a fuse into the fuse board. We do not have the screen to my right operating, or the screen behind me. We rely entirely on that screen over to my left, although of course my Clerk has a screen here with him. If anyone wants to ask a question about timing or anything else, I shall certainly entertain that.

Without further ado, as the mover of the motion is present, I call Rosie Duffield.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury 9:31 am, 20th June 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Government’s response to the UN report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Thank you, Dame Cheryl. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship in my first ever Westminster Hall debate.

This is an issue of great national importance and, indeed, embarrassment. What I am raising today is something in dire need of urgent and effective remedy. I am referring to the United Nation’s assessment of the UK Government’s ability—inability, I should say—to protect the rights of our disabled citizens.

As I am sure most people in the Chamber are aware, last August a UN report by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found that the UK was in serious breach of international human rights law. The report found that the UK was lacking in enforcing or upholding equality legislation in sectors including education, justice and employment.

The beginning of the report offered some praise for recent Scottish and Welsh legislation, but it went on to make 80 recommendations for further action by the UK Government and the devolved Parliaments to implement. As important as I believe it to be to do so, unfortunately, I shall not have enough time today to consider all 80 UN recommendations in my opening speech, although I hope that colleagues will afford focus to some areas that I shall sadly have to miss.

I shall focus on those aspects of disability and equality rights that are the most repeatedly brought to my attention by my disabled constituents and disability rights groups throughout the country. Those are: poverty, inequality in employment, and substandard, illogical and poorly enacted access to welfare provision. As such I shall concentrate on articles 27 and 28, and draw some attention to articles 7, 13 and 21.

Let me begin by painting a picture of the situation in the UK. Right now, about 4.2 million disabled people live in poverty across the country. In fact, more than half of those living in poverty are either disabled or living with someone who is. In the UK, half of all disabled people are still unemployed and, even when they do attain employment, not enough provision is in place for them to maintain it sustainably in the long term.

The report on article 27 of the convention made four key recommendations, which have yet to be implemented. The Government have not yet offered an effective employment policy for disabled people.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing her first debate in Westminster Hall, and what an important subject this is. On employment specifically, may I invite her to attend or even join my all-party group on youth employment, which looked at this very subject—those furthest from the labour market—and in particular to look at the report, which drew on organisations such as Leonard Cheshire Disability, highlighting a really important body of work in this area?

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

I shall do, thank you; that will be interesting.

I suggest that access to legal aid and information on accessing it should be made much more readily available, so that disabled people can challenge employers and potential employers on inadequate access arrangements. According to observations of the report on article 13, regarding rights to justice, the UK must:

“Provide free or affordable legal aid for persons with disabilities in all areas of law”.

I ask the Government: what consideration of the legal aid system has been made to facilitate and enfranchise the legal challenges of disabled people on any of the convention articles or the recommendations in the UN report?

In order to access good legal representation and advice, disabled people also need quality digital information services that take account of customers’ disabilities in their design. On article 21 of the convention, the UN committee recommended that the UK improve statutory accessibility standards for all digital information services, including those offered by Her Majesty’s Government.

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Shadow Minister (Education)

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of that commitment is access to information? Since 2010, 478 libraries have closed and we have lost 8,000 librarians, so access to information is yet another blockage to disabled people going into work and gaining their human rights.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

Absolutely. I have heard from my own constituents about the assumption that they have access to a computer, and many people use public libraries for that service.

On top of all of that—as if existing barriers to disabled people maintaining sustainable income and accessing information and help were not already high enough—the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities rapporteur concluded that UK Government cuts have disproportionately impacted on disabled people, amounting to “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of persons with disabilities.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Going back to the point that the hon. Lady made about helping disabled people get into work, my experience in my constituency is that a huge number of projects are going on that do help disabled people to get into work. Clearly, every individual is different, and some people need different levels of support, but will she join me in saying, “Well done,” to the 600,000 disabled people who have moved into work in the past four years? Great progress is being made, and we should congratulate them.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Order. Before the hon. Lady resumes, may I remind people that we like interventions to be short—slightly shorter than that?

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

What Vicky Ford said sounds fantastic—really good news. However, in my constituency, the lack of jobcentres—they have closed recently—severely impacts on the sort of access that I am talking about. It would be great if that did not happen.

The Centre for Welfare Reform found that austerity has been targeted at disabled people nine times more than the general population, and at severely disabled people 19 times more. Such statistics are shocking. The targeted austerity measures put in place by the Government are clearly unusually cruel in that regard.

The UN recommendations under article 28 state that UK law should ensure that welfare policies protect the income levels of disabled people and their families— the key word there is “protect”. I want to know what the Government think they are doing to protect such income levels and to protect disabled people from having to beg for help from friends, families and food banks in order to stave off poverty, dire need and hunger.

The Government must also ensure that that local authorities have enough funds to support disabled people. Also under article 28, the UN committee’s report is critical of how the squeezing of local authority funding impacts on disabled people. I only need to think of the shocking state of some social housing provision for people in my constituency. For example, one woman who is a full-time wheelchair user—I shall call her Janet—came to my office for help. Janet had been confined to her council flat for months and months. She had been housed on a high floor of a housing block. The flat was not adapted or good enough. My office were pleased to help to secure her move when she needed our help, but for every Janet out there we know about, 10 other people are forced to make do in private with inadequate social housing.

It is important to remember that such inequalities experienced by disabled people in our community are intersectional. The UN committee expressed concern about a lack of legislation in UK law to prevent intersectional discrimination. Intersectional disadvantage means that a person experiences multiple disadvantages from different discriminations at the same time. It is horrifying enough that—according the Disabled Living Foundation—the average income of families with disabled children is £15,270, or 23.5% below the UK mean income of £19,968, but for a single mother who faces other difficulties such as the gender pay gap or limited child welfare because of cuts, those hardships will be so much worse.

On article 7, the UN committee’s report called on the UK Government to cut the high levels of poverty among families with disabled children. Will the Minister tell me what monitoring there has been in that respect? Does she feel that the Government should be proud of recent statistics relating to family poverty where one or more of the children is disabled? It is not just families who are affected; the onslaught of cuts and austerity unscrupulously enforced by the Conservative Government has left many single disabled adults, and couples in which one or more of the couple is disabled, struggling to obtain and access the bare necessities.

A well-known topic that adversely affects disabled people throughout the UK is the flawed roll-out and poor implementation of the personal independence payments scheme. The many statistics and stories that we regularly hear are simply gut-wrenching. As a result of PIP assessments, 80% of disabled people’s health has deteriorated because of stress or anxiety. A third of those who experience funding cuts as a result of the outcome of the test have struggled to pay for food, rent and basic utilities.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. She talked about cuts, but does she welcome the Government’s increase in the amount of the access to work fund from £42,000 to £57,200? People with disabilities can access that fund to get themselves into work. I led a debate in this Chamber on the Disability Confident scheme, and I invite her to sign up to it, as I am sure other Members have done.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, but the cap is still quite low and it is difficult for people to get beyond that.

It sounds too simple to say that problems with PIP assessments cause poverty, but it is true. Those statistics bear witness to that fact. The trauma caused by the PIP assessment process and the ramifications of losing welfare provision are even more infuriating, because 69% of decisions made by PIP assessment bodies are overturned by our courts. I hear about this every single week from my constituents. If 69% of decisions are challenged and later found out to be wrong, the original system is not just broken; it is wholly inadequate.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I agree that for some people the PIP assessment has been severely challenging, but only 4% of cases are now being appealed, because the process has improved. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Lady agree that continual improvement is needed, and that we should work to have PIP assessments recorded, when the claimant wishes, so that the claimant can have greater confidence in the process?

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

I thank the hon. Lady for her point, but as my colleagues are saying, people often give up on the process because it is simply too distressing and stressful. I have not heard any success cases in my surgery. People are really distressed by this.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Shadow Minister (International Development)

In Liverpool, when a constituent tries to appeal one of the rulings of an assessment centre, there is a nine-month wait at Liverpool tribunal services. The case that I raised with the Prime Minister of my constituent Anthony has been resolved individually, but thousands of constituents are affected.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

I have heard of similar waiting times, too. It is really distressing and adds to all the trauma that has been going on. I will give an example: Julius Holgate, who is a double leg amputee, won an appeal. The Department for Work and Pensions told him that he was fit to work because he could

“climb stairs with his arms.”

Because he lost his benefits, Julius resorted to selling his belongings in order to survive. The DWP claims that this was a clerical error, but in reality, it was an error caused by a lack of humanity.

Article 28 of the UN recommendations calls on the UK Government to ensure that all eligibility criteria and assessments for PIP, employment and support allowance and universal credit are in line with the social model of disability. When is that being done? Despite the repeated, serious and notorious assessment failures by Atos and Capita—the outsourced companies that conduct the assessment—the Government have renewed their contracts to run the assessment process for two more years. These organisations have repeatedly failed to meet their target of 97% acceptable tests, and 100,000 people have won appeals against their assessments. How much is this flawed system costing the Government? If we ignore the human element just for a second and question how much each reassessment and court challenge costs, surely we can agree that this money would be better spent on rolling out decent provisions for the disabled and on remedying those affronts to human rights by introducing a holistic, bespoke assessment service that includes a home visit.

The PIP assessment system is highly traumatic and often misassesses; in January of this year, it was ruled by our own courts to be severely in need of remedy and review. In January this year, the High Court ruled that the PIP system is “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions. That criticism is echoed by many mental health and disability organisations. I am sure we all appreciate that not all wounds and maladies are necessarily physical and observable. A single-day assessment is therefore a ludicrous way of properly gauging whether a person is in need of financial assistance because of mental health conditions.

It is high time that this Government turned their focus away from tax breaks for bankers towards a system of disability welfare that is, at the very least, in line with basic human rights outlined by the UN. The convention needs to become part of UK law. The UN committee noted last year that there had not been a full review of the UK’s laws and policies in the light of the convention. There is not enough information on what the UK is doing to stop disabled people being negatively affected as the UK leaves the EU. A statement by Inclusion London explains that

“Disabled People’s organisations are seriously disappointed by the Government response and its failure to adequately take on board any of the UN inquiry recommendations. This response brings into question the Government’s commitment to the progressive realisation of Disabled people’s rights.”

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

The hon. Lady is being generous with her time. She has used phrases such as “targeted austerity” and “lack of humanity”, but will she not join me in welcoming the fact that disability benefits spending is at its highest level ever, and that it will continue to be higher than it was in 2010 every year up to 2022?

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

We all know that in real terms that is not the case, because the cost of living is constantly rising. I do not hear from my constituents who struggle to pay the bills that their lives are any easier—in fact, the opposite is true. We have to disagree on that one.

Since the committee’s investigation in October 2015, further measures have been introduced that have or will have further adverse impacts on disabled people. They include the cut to ESA for those in the work-related activity group that is due to come into force in April 2017 and further cuts to local authorities’ social care budgets.

I call on the Government to develop and implement a plan of action that abolishes any laws, regulations, customs and practices that discriminate against disabled people. Imagine losing your livelihood as a result of a flawed assessment that is not your fault. Imagine going hungry, living in poverty and being under so much stress that it severely affects your wellbeing. Most of us in this room will never have to experience that, but most of us are not already living with the challenges of disability.

I call on this Government to begin taking seriously the poverty and discrimination experiences of disabled people and those who care for loved ones with disability. I call on this Government, as a bare minimum, to honour their commitment to human rights, by accepting and acting on the recommendations provided by the UN inquiry. The protection of human rights is a sacred function of the state and we are in breach of that function. It is not the time to deny facts, ignore inequality and dismiss the well-documented experiences of our citizens. It is time to act. I urge the Minister to do just that.

I thank hon. Members for listening. I am sure many colleagues wish to speak because, as I said at the beginning, there are so many recommendations that we could cover in this debate. Each recommendation and article is important and each is deserving of its own debate.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 9:48 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl. I congratulate Rosie Duffield on securing an important debate.

The hon. Lady mentioned the problems created by the closure of jobcentres. There are other similar cases. For example, my own constituency has no jobcentre at all—the jobcentres are in neighbouring Oxford, Abingdon or Reading—but rather than moan about that and point out the difficulties that that creates, I have been working with the Secretary of State to try to put in place a solution to overcome it. That solution is a system of mobile jobcentres, the model for which is the way the Post Office runs its mobile post offices around the country. I envisage a situation where, in areas where a jobcentre has closed or there is no jobcentre, jobcentre vans turn up on certain days—they would have to be regular days—to provide the services and advice that many people want. I am happy to recommend that model to hon. Members—as I said, I am already working with the Secretary of State to try to get it ready.

My second point is about PIP. In a number of cases—I say this quite openly—PIP has been delivered appallingly slowly. Again, I have been working with the Secretary of State to look at how those payments can be sped up and at how information can be better integrated into how PIP is delivered, so that we do not continually knock the system but try our best to improve it.

My motivation for speaking in the debate was to highlight the excellent work done in my constituency by the Ways and Means Trust and its Greenshoots nursery, which provides excellent help to people with a whole range of disabilities, including mental disabilities, on how to do work. It provides lectures in various areas to try to give people a basic intellectual grasp of what they need to do, and it provides people with the physical work experience to be able to take that forward. I am sure that everyone looks forward to Christmas, for a range of reasons, but I look forward to it in particular because it means I can go to Greenshoots to get the wreath for my front door—they are made there in a particularly spectacular way.

Photo of Bill Grant Bill Grant Conservative, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution to this important debate. Does he agree that we have moved on since the UN report, which the Government refuted? Does he also agree that it is good that through the Disability Confident scheme 600,000 disabled people have secured employment and the dignity it brings? That must surely be a good thing—and that has happened in the past four years.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

My hon. Friend is quite right—it is very important to mention that. I will say something about the Disability Confident scheme in a moment.

Let me finish what I was saying about the Greenshoots nursery, because it is important. My hon. Friend highlighted the importance of dignity in employment. That is important for people who might otherwise be disadvantaged from taking employment. From what I have seen, Greenshoots delivers a tremendous boost to people’s confidence, wellbeing and ability to provide for themselves.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

Prior to coming to this place, I was the main development worker for Social Firms England, which supported enterprising charities, such as the one the hon. Gentleman describes, to support disabled people into work. Social Firms England was decimated by cuts. Social Firms Scotland and Social Firms Wales were active and well supported, but I was the only worker for Social Firms England, and I worked one day a week. That was it—that was all the support it had. Social firms are going to the wall. That is what is happening to disability support. Remploy was also cut. Support for getting disabled people into work has actually been decimated in the past eight years—it has not moved forward.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Order. I remind Members that interventions really must be short. I have been very generous, but I will not remind you all again.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not accept that there has been that level of cuts to charities in my constituency, or that cuts are having such an appalling effect on people with disabilities, who are continuing their work.

A wide range of companies and organisations are involved in providing these services. We have the likes of Microsoft and Glaxo, we have slightly smaller companies that are nevertheless household names, such as Sainsbury’s, and we have a range of individual organisations, such as the Greenshoots nursery, Leonard Cheshire and indeed Mencap, which provide assistance to people with disabilities in my constituency.

To pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend Bill Grant, more than 6,500 employers are involved in the Disability Confident scheme, and that is to be celebrated. I am pleased to say that all main Government Departments have now achieved Disability Confident leader status, which is to be welcomed.

Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the number of disabled people in work. It is important that we give our constituents the facts. Opposition Members have used very emotive language. I know from having a family member who has been disabled and from the number of cases that my office works through how disruptive PIP assessments can be. We need to cut through to get to the facts and look at turning the screws on Atos and the other companies that deliver these services. It is not a genuine intention of the Government to be inhumane, but there has been a failure of administration by some of the companies that we have employed to deliver services.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I am sorry, Dame Cheryl, for allowing interventions to run on, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. He is right that we need to cut through the haze and give the figures, so let me repeat one: 600,000 disabled people have been moved back into work in the past four years. That is something that we should be proud of and hang on to.

Like my hon. Friend, the problems that I have found have been with the implementation of PIP, not with PIP itself. It behoves us to work closely with the Department and the Secretary of State to ensure that we get those things right, and I am pleased that I have been able to do that.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Of course—provided my hon. Friend is brief.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

This time last year I got a lot of cases from constituents who had problems with the PIP assessment process, but it appears to have improved. I fundamentally believe that it would be better if it were easier to get those assessments recorded. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would put more trust in the system?

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I do—my hon. Friend has got this right. We can all help with that. I will not claim responsibility for the improvement in PIP, but I think that all of us who have worked with the Department and the Secretary of State to do that can claim some responsibility for the improvement in the process. We need to do more to make that work.

With those remarks, Dame Cheryl, I will sit down and allow the debate to move on before anyone else intervenes at length.

Photo of Fiona Onasanya Fiona Onasanya Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:59 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl. I apologise in advance that, because I have some parliamentary business to attend to, I may not be able to stay for the winding-up speeches.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield for introducing such an important debate. The points that have been made have been both interesting and troubling. I say that because, while I understand the facts and figures presented, the reality experienced in my constituency is very different. I will tell some of the stories that constituents of mine have shared with me, giving first names but not surnames.

I was approached by a constituent called Hugh, who has T-cell psoriasis in his hands and feet. He struggles to dress himself without great discomfort, and when I met him he could not lift a cup of coffee with both hands. Walking can be difficult for him. He was found to be fit for work.

Gloria is 71 years old, with arthritis in her legs. She lives on the second floor of a building with no lift and struggles with stairs. She lives with a grown-up son who has learning difficulties—although he has a job. With regard to her housing, she was told that she cannot be moved to any higher band as her son works, so they consider him to live independently.

Victoria has severe mobility issues and sepsis in her legs. At her first assessment, the disability element was reduced as she could prepare her own meals and wash herself with installations at home. Her condition has since get worse, but she was refused PIP and the PIP assessment at home. She was granted an assessment only when my office intervened.

Harry was working in the Navy. He sustained a brain injury so is not able to work. He suffers from severe depression and anxiety as well as the brain injury. The PIP assessor said in his assessment that he was “too aggressive” and ignorant of his mental health conditions. PIP was declined as a result. Those are just a few of the people I come across, so warm words or advising about more money that can be accessed is not helpful at all.

I was tearful when I spoke with this last person. She explained that she had had four strokes—four strokes. She was expected to do a work capability assessment, and because she touched her face during the assessment, the assessors said she was able to work; in fact, they did not believe that she was as paralysed as had been said. That is what we come across as Members of Parliament.

We are not standing here to say that this is unfair just to represent the Opposition and be against what the Government have set out, but the fact remains that it is unfair. The disabled people I represent believe they are “the forgotten class”. Where are they when we look at assessments? I agree with Vicky Ford that assessments should be recorded, because the way in which assessors put questions across is bad. For example, assessors say, “Can you walk 50 metres?” but how far is that? We do not look at that. Another of my constituents, who has Asperger’s, was told, “You can walk 50 metres, can’t you?” so he said, “Yes,” not understanding the impact that would have.

As my hon. Friend said, the four recommendations on article 27 have not been taken on board. We talk about facts, but how many of the recommendations have been implemented? How many people have to go under the radar, unnoticed and unhelped, and fight, going for appeals with no deadline or timeframe for how long they will wait for their appeal to be heard? They are supposed just to get on with life.

It is not enough to say, “We are trying to encourage disabled people into work.” That is applaudable and honourable, and I agree with that when they can work, but many disabled people cannot work and are penalised not only for having sometimes a physical disability that prohibits them from working; we say, “We know you need financial assistance—this welfare—but we’re not going to give it to you until you can prove to us how disabled you are.” Something is wrong there.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

The hon. Lady is making a passionate speech cogently. Does she accept that the vast majority of disabled people do want to move into work? While welcoming the 600,000 who have already done so, does she agree that that is just a start and that we should look to close the disability employment gap in its entirety?

Photo of Fiona Onasanya Fiona Onasanya Opposition Whip (Commons)

Let me be clear. It is good that disabled people want to get into work, and this is a start. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. Where we differ is on disabled people who are not able to work who have to fight to prove that. I do not agree with that. It is not correct; it is against their human rights.

I am not saying that those who can work should not work but that we should listen to what those who cannot work are saying. They are going through assessments. I have a constituent who had four strokes and is physically disabled, yet because she touched her face she is told she can work. Something is wrong there. Something is wrong with a double amputee being told they can climb the stairs with their hands. That is what needs to be addressed.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

My hon. Friend is making an incredibly passionate speech with which I am completely in agreement. The assessments really need reviewing. My constituent wanted a home visit because he struggles even to leave his house. On the first appointment, he fell outside his door, so he could not get there. For the second appointment, which the assessors agreed to give, he struggled to get the buses—transport was slow and delayed—but he got there. They refused to see him because he was three minutes late. He did not get his assessment. The system urgently needs changing.

Photo of Fiona Onasanya Fiona Onasanya Opposition Whip (Commons)

I agree that the system needs changing. My concern is that if there are recommendations that could make a process better or even more streamlined, why would they not be adopted? I do not have the details of my hon. Friend’s constituent’s situation, but I do not understand why his assessment would be refused for being three minutes late.

We are all in agreement on seeking to help those who need assistance, but why are recommendations that would make the process easier and more streamlined not being taken on board? Why are we not looking at people’s rights? We are all one race—the human race—so why are we not looking at people and saying, “You need assistance.”? It is a bit like a body: if in a big society—to coin a phrase from the Government—something is not functioning correctly, why do we not stop and rectify it? Why do we just say, “Actually, don’t worry about that,” and carry on? That is how it comes across to our constituents.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Has the hon. Lady ever taken part in a work capability assessment? I had one acted out for me to allow me to understand the process, which was enormously helpful. I would recommend that other Members do that. One can either sit through an assessment or have the process demonstrated. It was really helpful to aid one’s understanding.

Photo of Fiona Onasanya Fiona Onasanya Opposition Whip (Commons)

Sorry, Dame Cheryl, I realise that time is short, so I will be quick. I have not been to a work capability assessment, but one of the people I work with who was a barrister goes to many assessments to advocate on behalf of disabled people, because the assessments are not very clear and the way in which questions are asked can be quite misleading. That is how I was able to give the analogy about the distance in metres.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

The hon. Lady is making a good speech with many good points. I believe the Government have been listening, and the Minister is very much aware of some of the shortcomings in the assessment process and has worked incredibly hard to try to rectify them. Is she willing to acknowledge that the Government have listened to the concern of Members across the House and improvements are being made to the process?

Photo of Fiona Onasanya Fiona Onasanya Opposition Whip (Commons)

No, I do not agree. The Government are hearing, but they are absolutely not listening. If they were listening, they would implement the recommendations.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 10:10 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Gillan, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield on her excellent speech.

I will be brief because several Members still wish to speak. This debate is about the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and the UN committee that investigated the UK regarding breaches of those rights. This started back in 2015, when I was the shadow Minister with responsibility for disabled people. I was interviewed by the committee, and its first report stated that there were “grave and systematic violations” of the convention. The findings published in 2016 charged the UK Government with failing to uphold the rights with which we as a signatory to the convention from 2009 had agreed to comply. The judgment was based on facts, testimony and evidence. We have been saying that we should judge things on the facts, and this judgment did just that. The Government must accept responsibility for the devastating impact of their austerity policies, which have had the biggest impact on disabled people.

For eight years, we have seen cuts to social security support—that has already been mentioned—but the convention’s judgment goes far beyond that. There have been cuts affecting disabled people who need social care and cuts to specific support for disabled people in the NHS. There have been cuts to support for those with special educational needs and disability in schools and to allowances for disabled students. The list goes on and on. We have recently debated trains, but there have been cuts to the Access for All programme that seeks to improve accessibility to train stations. There have been cuts to supported housing, legal aid and much, much more. What disabled people are going through is absolutely horrendous.

I would like to focus on a few points from the UN report. In August 2017, the UN committee met to consider whether any progress had been made since the devastating report of 2016, and unfortunately it said, “No, there is no progress. You are not a global leader on disability rights.” In the recent debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, there has been a fundamental disagreement about upholding rights, because of the failure to support the charter of fundamental rights that gives more protections under domestic law to disabled people.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I am sorry, but I will not give way because my colleagues still wish to speak.

The UN committee stated that cuts to social protection in the UK were “a human catastrophe”—a catastrophe! The UK’s human rights watchdog stated that the examination by the UN had seen a “disconnect” between the UK Government’s replies and the “lived experiences” of disabled people. That is what we are hearing, despite Government Members saying that everything is hunky-dory. In conclusion, the rapporteur stated that the committee was

“deeply concerned about the lack of recognition of the findings and recommendations of the conducted inquiry”.

The Government have said that they will not act on that report, but it is not the only such report. Indeed, the Council of Europe has also stated that it has significant concerns regarding upholding the rights of disabled people.

The Minister has said that the Government will set up a new inter-ministerial group to co-ordinate work across the Government and seek to reinvigorate our engagement with disability stakeholders to help shape our plans. Will she confirm what that engagement will involve, including which deaf and disabled people’s organisations will be engaged, as repeatedly recommended by the UN? Will she published details of the membership and terms of reference for that group and say whether it will extend to the Department of Health and Social Care? There are real concerns that the consultation on the Green Paper on adult social care, which includes support for disabled people, is failing to engage with DDPOs.

The response to a question that I asked in the debate on social care on 25 April shows a complete lack of understanding about article 19 of the convention and what is meant by independent living. Last year, the UN disability committee brought out a general comment on article 19, in which it referred to how institutionalisation can occur in people’s own homes. People can become isolated and separated from society if they are not given that basic support, and we are effectively seeing the re-institutionalisation of disabled people due to current cuts to social care. Waiting until autumn to see the Green Paper on adult social care, as has been suggested, is not good enough. Some £7 billion has been cut from social care, and 1.2 million people, including disabled people, are not getting the support they need. To their shame, the Government’s failure to recognise and act on the social care crisis is affecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Finally, will the Government consider producing a cumulative impact assessment of all their policies on disabled people and their impact since 2010, as recommended by many organisations? It is time for a different approach, and that is summarised in the manifesto that we developed with and for disabled people: “Nothing about you, without you.” I know my hon. Friends are building on that commitment, which includes scrapping current disability assessments and replacing them with a holistic, person-centred approach that is based on the principles of dignity and inclusion. We have already committed to incorporating the UN CRPD fully into UK law—something that was rejected by this Government. We believe that, like the NHS, our social security system is there for every one of us. Nine out of 10 disabled people have become disabled—their disability has been acquired. We should recognise that that could happen to anyone and ensure that the support is there. It is time for things to change, and I hope the Minister will reassure us that that will happen.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham

Order. I would like to start the winding-up speeches at 10.30 am, so if hon. Members can bear that in mind I would be absolutely delighted.

Photo of Mike Hill Mike Hill Labour, Hartlepool 10:17 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield on her excellent speech.

I wish to focus on the effect of universal credit on disabled people, and others. As we know, the National Audit Office has released a report ahead of the roll-out of universal credit, stating that the new benefits cost more to administer than the previous system of the six benefits it replaced, which include jobseeker’s allowance, tax credits, housing benefit, personal independence payment, and employment and support allowance. The spending watchdog also said that it was uncertain whether universal credit would ever deliver value for money. The report proves that the assertion by the Department for Work and Pensions that everything is going well is false, as many of my constituents in Hartlepool can testify.

Hartlepool was one of the early implementers of universal credit. My office is informed about issues with universal credit on a daily basis, and many people in the town have become accustomed to that unjust and arbitrary system. Some have not just experienced hardship, but suffered near destitution through delayed payments or through sanctions that affect all six benefits, not just one, which mean that they experience a drop in the level of benefit that they receive compared with the income derived from previous benefits.

Hon. Members will be aware of the recent High Court judgment on the roll-out of the new payment system. Two severely disabled men, one of whom is a constituent of mine, experienced unlawful discrimination when their benefits were significantly reduced after moving from one area to another, and subsequently on to universal credit. My constituent, who can be identified only by the initials AR, is 36 years old and moved from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool in 2017. AR has severe mental health problems and was forced to move because he could no longer afford the property where he was living, because of the bedroom tax. Unfortunately for him, he moved to an area where universal credit was already being rolled out and was therefore required to make a claim under the new scheme. Both my constituent and the other complainant were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change. However, they experienced a monthly drop of £178 under universal credit. Following the judgment, their solicitor Tessa Gregory from Leigh Day said:

“Nothing about either of the claimants’ disability or care needs changed. They were simply unfortunate enough to need to move local authorities into a universal credit full service area. The Government need to halt the roll out and completely overhaul the system to meet people’s needs, not condemn them to destitution. If this doesn’t happen, further legal challenges will inevitably follow.”

Universal credit has taken significantly longer than intended to roll out and it may cost more—as determined by the NAO—than the benefits system it replaces. Also, the DWP will never be able to measure properly whether it has achieved its stated goal of increasing employment. On the contrary, thanks partly to the fact that universal credit covers a broader span of claimants who are required to look for work—such as the disabled—than jobseeker’s allowance does, the count of the number of unemployed people in “full service” areas has been inflated. Because of that, my constituency currently holds the unenviable record of having the highest rate of unemployment in the country. The total number of unemployed claimants there in May 2018 was 4,080, which is 9.6% of the economically active population of the town. The UK average is 2.8%. I am confident that when universal credit is rolled out across other constituencies, we will lose that unwanted title, particularly as I am proud to say that our figures for youth unemployment are among the best in the UK.

The NAO report concludes that the DWP has not shown significant sensitivity towards some claimants, and it does not know how many claimants are having problems with the programme or whether they have suffered hardship, as in the case of AR. In 2017, about a quarter of new claims were not paid in full or on time. Late payments were delayed on average by four weeks between January and October of that year, with 40% of those affected waiting for 11 weeks or more, and 20% waiting for about five months. Never mind the able-bodied—just imagine the effect on disabled people. The report is talking about my constituents and a system that renders people homeless, destitute and desperate. It is simply unacceptable—chaotic and catastrophic. I pity those in other areas who are about to feel its full force.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Shadow Minister (International Development) 10:21 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl. I congratulate my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield on securing such an important debate.

My hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams hit the nail on the head in her speech: the report is a condemnation of the Government. It cannot be emphasised enough just how damning the 2016 UN report is. Conservative Members can talk all they want, with weasel words, about the system getting better, but we know that that is not the case—certainly not in constituencies such as mine in north Liverpool, which is one of the most deprived in the country. I want to tell John Howell that we have had our two jobcentres closed. The council has worked so hard—tirelessly—to develop co-location plans and put any proposal in front of the Government to save those jobcentres, to absolutely no avail. I wish him better in Henley, but it certainly has not worked in north Liverpool.

The chairwoman of the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities described the Government’s treatment of sick and disabled people as a “human catastrophe”. That is not poetry or a rhetorical flourish; that language is used deliberately and precisely, based on the weight of evidence behind the report. That report came to the conclusion that the Government’s welfare cuts have resulted in “grave and systematic violations” of the human rights of disabled people. It is a national scandal, and one that I see in my surgeries every single week. I am going to talk about a few cases that I have had to deal with in recent months. The situation should be a wake-up call to the Government, but they learn no lessons. My constituency casework is loaded with complaints relating to personal independence payments. Instead of supporting people, the process is dehumanising and inaccurate, and it exacerbates the health conditions that my constituents suffer from.

It is no surprise that there is widespread distrust of the assessment, when 68% of PIP decisions that are taken to tribunals are overturned. As I said earlier, that means a nine-month wait to get the right decision and, often, to get the original decision overturned. In that time people lose their mobility vehicles—at what cost to Government, when they must return them? Something that I have seen happen in the system—and I wonder whether it is systematic—is people going from a low rate of care with high mobility to a high rate of care with low mobility. That seems to happen in case after case, because if someone’s care rate goes up they get a couple of quid extra a week, but if they lose their high-rate mobility they lose their car and their ability to leave the house—they lose their ability to exist.

At Prime Minister’s questions on 25 April, at column 879, I challenged the Prime Minister on a specific case—that of Anthony, who has a chronic, debilitating illness. After his PIP assessment he had a nine-month wait. Once that was raised in Parliament, the DWP intervened to overturn the decision. However, I see that every week—the Prime Minister is asked about this issue, and it is always an individual case. Well, it is not an individual case—it is built into the system. I should like to know what work the Minister is doing with the Ministry of Justice about tribunal waits. Is she working on that? There must be investment in the court system if the problem is to be resolved. I do not see any work being done on it at all.

The Government’s contractors, Atos, Capita and Maximus, have consistently failed to meet basic performance standards. One of my constituents was asked by an assessor about her cerebral palsy—a lifelong condition from birth. She was asked how long she had had it and whether it would get better. What on earth is going on, and what do the Government do when such cases are brought to light? Several other people have told me that the information in their assessment report was inaccurate and did not reflect what was said in the assessment, but for some of my constituents even getting that far is a challenge. My office has been inundated with reports of the unsuitability of assessment centres for disabled people. The range of problems includes a lack of suitable parking, no drop-kerb for wheelchairs and no disabled access button to open doors. A report released this month by Muscular Dystrophy UK found that two in five respondents had been sent to an assessment centre that was not accessible for disabled people. You could not make this stuff up. It is not a matter of individual cases, one by one. There is a systemic problem at the heart of the Government’s policy, and until they wake up to that fact nothing will improve.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Shadow Minister (International Development)

I will not.

The pointless reassessments of people with severe, long-term or progressive conditions are cruel, and an absurd waste of resources. I have a constituent with Down’s syndrome whose payments stopped after she was transferred to PIP, as did those of another constituent, who has multiple sclerosis. I welcome the announcement this week that the Government are preparing to end such unnecessary reviews of people with severe or progressive conditions, but that should not have taken the determined effort of disability campaigners. The Government need to understand that what they are doing is already debilitating for the people in question. Having to be part of national and local campaigns just to get basic human dignity in the assessment process is outrageous.

In any case, it is it is simply not enough to tinker around the edges. The truth is that all the problems are not glitches in the system. They are the system itself. Research published this month by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that almost 650,000 people with physical or mental health problems were destitute in the UK last year. That means being so poor that they cannot afford essentials such as heating, regular meals or basic toiletries. The systematic impoverishment and denial of basic rights highlighted in the UN report and others are part of what we now know to be a “hostile environment”, not just in one or two Departments but across the board. If a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, what does that say about ours?

We must treat disabled people, and the vulnerable or dispossessed, with dignity, and it is absurd to think that we can do that when we have a programme of austerity and cuts in local authorities and across the board. That is what the report signals. Not only does the Government’s austerity agenda harm communities and society; it hits the most vulnerable and the poorest hardest.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health) 10:29 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl, particularly given all the excellent work you have done over the years for people with autism and on the all-party parliamentary group. I thank Rosie Duffield, who made an excellent, detailed and thorough speech. The empathy she feels for her constituents and the hard work she will do in the constituency on their behalf were clear. I particularly thank her for bringing this important debate to be heard today.

I thank all the hon. Members who contributed by reminding us that some progress is being made, particularly in employment and with the Disability Confident scheme, and that further employers are signing up. It is important that we make progress with that scheme, but I would caution that I am aware that an employer can sign up and, I believe, reach the full level without employing anyone with a disability. Further progress is required in that regard.

I also thank all hon. Members who contributed for outlining the widespread failings in the system, giving constituency case examples to show the impact on the people they are trying to help, and highlighting where the issues lie—not simply to berate the Government, but to suggest areas where we need to work collectively to take things forward. We must work collectively to improve the lives of people with disability across the United Kingdom, to ensure that they reach their full potential.

We are all aware that the reason we are here is that the optional protocol allowed the United Nations committee to investigate a state party if it received “reliable information” of “grave or systematic violations” of the convention. The UK is the first country to be investigated by the UN under this convention. I believe that brings great shame, but it is also a warning and a call to improve where we are. We must grasp that and stridently take it forward. The report published on 6 October 2016 found that reforms have led to grave and systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities, emphasising in particular changes to housing benefit entitlement, eligibility for PIP and social care, and the ending of the independent living fund.

I am aware that the Government have challenged the veracity of the report, but it must be said that it was based on thorough research, with visits across all four nations of the United Kingdom, interviews with more than 200 people and the collection of more than 3,000 pieces of documentary evidence. Where facts were disputed, they were cross-checked with collateral sources, including national statistics and parliamentary inquiry reports. Although hon. Members may wish to challenge the report, it is thorough and detailed. While the Government have not conducted the cumulative impact assessment on disabled people to challenge the report, we have to take it and its findings and view them very seriously, and ensure that the system is overhauled in a positive way that changes the lives of people with disability.

The subject of welfare benefits has been thoroughly covered today, so I will just touch briefly on it. The Access to Work fund is a good scheme, but it requires much further publication to increase awareness. Many people in my constituency and beyond, who I have spoken to through the all-party parliamentary group for disability, were not aware of it. Where a scheme has the potential to assist people, we should ensure that they can access it.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and her point about Access to Work is absolutely right. Of the 4 million disabled people who want and are able to work, 25,000 have had support through Access to Work on a yearly basis. It is just not adequate.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health)

Perhaps, where things are assisting, we need to look at rolling them out and generalising them to ensure that those who need that system can access it. It is an irony indeed that people cannot access Access to Work.

I will speak briefly on the need for medical collateral information to be accepted and routinely sought in welfare assessments. I feel that often those assessments are conducted in a way that perhaps does not lend itself to getting the adequate information. People may not be aware that they can bring that information, or they may not understand the system properly, but it is crucial. Often people who come to be assessed are anxious and stressed; they may not be able to explain in the best way the extent of their difficulties, but having that collateral information can be valuable in ensuring that an accurate assessment is undertaken in the first place and the individual does not have to go through the stress of appeals processes, which have such a devastating impact.

The Scottish Government intend to place dignity and respect at the heart of the welfare system. That is obviously in transition, but it is a great aspiration and something that we should aspire to across the four nations. I ask the Minister to look at the “Ahead of the ARC” inquiry that the all-party parliamentary group for disability completed last year. It points out a number of important areas, including access to training in job sectors, particularly those that will be sectors of the future and where jobs are likely to be found. The Government have made some movements on apprenticeships, and I am grateful for that, but I think much more can be done.

Public procurement should reward businesses that provide inclusive employment opportunities, to ensure that procurement contracts are not just awarded on cost, but look at equality legislation and inclusion wherever possible. We also need to be mindful that when we think of people with disabilities, the stereotype is often that they are unemployed or work for someone else; we need to also think about maximising skills and potential and looking at further opportunities for entrepreneurs who have disabilities. That could offer a flexible work pattern, which might suit many people, but it would also harness the skills and abilities of many people who perhaps are not already in the workplace, and who wish to take that forward, employ other people and contribute greatly to our economy. Let us try to change the rhetoric.

In the minute I have left, I make a plea to the Minister on Motability. People are losing their Motability cars; is there any opportunity for people to retain their cars during the appeal process rather than losing them? I recently had a constituent who had won their appeal, but had already taken out a loan for a car, and was left with a Motability car and a massive loan at the end of the process. Surely that is not something that should be happening when the process was faulty in the first place.

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Shadow Minister (Education)

The announcement of £20 million for the Jo Cox loneliness fund is very welcome, but is it not counter-intuitive that on the one hand the Government are offering this sort of money to combat loneliness while on the other hand they are taking away mobility cars?

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health)

Yes, we must ensure inclusion and that people can be independent and live as independently as possible.

The final point I will make before sitting down is that with the closure of banks right across the United Kingdom, many people feel vulnerable going to mobile banks. When I spoke to the Royal Bank of Scotland, I was told that it does not even have ramps for its vans, so the mobile vans are not accessible. Is that something the Minister could have a dialogue about, with RBS in particular and with other banks? People with disabilities have told me they feel vulnerable getting money from a mobile van in an open setting, even when they can access it, and they are fearful that it may place them at risk. Those are some of the practical issues we need to take forward to improve people’s lives.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 10:39 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, first for securing this important debate and secondly for the incredibly powerful speech she gave. She was right to highlight that no Government should introduce legislation that discriminates against disabled people. She rightly stated that the Government’s record is a national shame, and highlighted the dire inequalities in social security and access to justice, the increase in poverty, and the lack of access to information. There are huge difficulties in access to digital information, as my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin highlighted, and alternative formats for people living with sight loss are lacking. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury was right to call out the fact that there is a lack of legislation covering intersectional discrimination.

I also want to pay tribute to some of my other colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) and for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden). My hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams made a powerful speech. She has led the way and has held the Government to account powerfully for many years. I thank her for all the work she has done and will continue to do. She rightly highlighted that the Government chose not to include the charter of fundamental rights in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is a shame. My hon. Friend Fiona Onasanya shared the powerful testimonies of some of her constituents. I thank everybody for all their efforts. It is right to point out that this is a shame, and there is no other way of looking at it.

The UK was once at the forefront of disability rights: 48 years ago, we passed the groundbreaking Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. It was led by Lord Alf Morris, who shortly afterwards became the first Minister for Disabled People—I am honoured to be in that shadow role today. That legislation was a response to disability campaigners calling attention to the deep and pervasive injustices that disabled people face. In December 2007, we became signatories to the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which committed us to progressively realising the rights of disabled people—our rights to live independently, to be included in the community and to have access to education and justice. After eight years of brutal Tory cuts to disabled people’s social security, of increasingly cruel and degrading assessments and sanctions, and of being stigmatised by Government Ministers, disabled people know that the Government have not been defending our rights. The UN CRPD committee found that disabled people’s rights have been “gravely and systematically violated”. It is difficult to overstate the significance of that judgment.

The UK was not merely the first country to be found in breach of the convention’s obligations; we were the first ever to be investigated. Over the past eight years, we have seen not the progressive implementation of disabled people’s rights, but their unprecedented erosion and violation. The committee found that Departments are grossly failing disabled people.

The brutal cuts to disabled people’s social security have made a mockery of article 19, on the right to live independently and in the community, and article 28, on the right to an adequate standard of living. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 alone cut £28 billion from social security. Half of people in poverty are now either disabled or living with someone who is disabled. Almost a quarter of disabled people are now forced to miss meals because of economic hardship, and one in five cannot pay to heat their homes. Such drastic cuts to social security led the UN committee to find that disabled people were the single biggest group affected by Tory austerity policies.

The UN said that the systematic impoverishment of disabled people was an entirely predictable effect of the Government’s austerity policies. It was, of course, predicted by disability groups, but the Government ignored it and refused to carry out a full cumulative impact assessment of the cuts.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Shadow Minister (International Development)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is disappointing and outrageous that the Government have wasted more than £100 million on pointless appeals and on putting disabled people through a nightmare as they try to access the benefits they deserve?

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Will the Government commit to carry out a cumulative assessment of their tax and social security reforms since 2010? In addition to the devastating cuts and suspicion, disabled people have been endlessly mistreated by the chaotic Department for Work and Pensions. High Court judgments have repeatedly found that the DWP has blatantly discriminated against disabled people. Only last week, it was found that the cutting of disability premiums from universal credit was “unlawfully discriminatory”. There has been “blatant discrimination” against PIP claimants, and employment and support allowance has been continuously underpaid.

The UN report found that disabled people are being undermined not just by the social security failings, but by the lack of social care funding. Since 2009, the number of disabled people receiving social care report has fallen by nearly 30%. The UN report highlights that social care is vital, and that it allows many disabled people to live independently. Will the Minister outline whether the Government’s forthcoming Green Paper will include working-age adults? I asked the Secretary of State for Health that question on Monday but did not get a full answer.

On the right to work, the Government have not done enough to remove the barriers that disabled people face. There is a lack of high-quality impairment-specific support. The Government’s flagship Disability Confident scheme does not measure the number of disabled people it has directly helped to move into work. Access to Work must be improved, extended and better publicised. Will the Minister consider removing the discriminatory cap?

Signatories to the CRPD are obliged to promote inclusive education. Under the Government, there has been regression and an increase in the number of special school places. What is the Minister doing to encourage her colleagues to improve inclusive education? In recent months, the Government have created a cross-ministerial body that is supposed to promote disability issues across Government, but at the same time they have cut the number of staff at the Office for Disability Issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth asked, what is the group’s scope? Where are its published terms of reference?

The Government are helping to organise a global summit in July, but why should any other state take them seriously on disability rights when they are systematically violating the rights of disabled people and continue to ignore the UN’s recommendations? When will the Government publish their response to the UN’s report?

When we get into power, the Labour Government will incorporate the convention into UK law, scrap the punitive sanctions regime, and replace the assessment regime with a more holistic, supportive assessment framework. It is a shame on the Government that we have to stand here today and debate this issue once again. They must take heed and listen.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 10:48 am, 20th June 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Cheryl, as you have taken a lifelong interest in disabled people and made a personal difference by introducing the first piece of legislation specifically supporting people with autism. I congratulate Rosie Duffield on securing her first Westminster Hall debate. Given the way she has approached it, I am sure it will not be the last. After the Government publish our response to the UN inquiry, I will be more than happy to come back to this Chamber to debate it with her.

Before I respond to the individual points that hon. Members made, let me say that, like everyone else in this Chamber, I want to ensure that every disabled person and person with a health condition in our country has the opportunity to play a full part in society, including at work, when they can do so. Of course, there are disabled people who cannot work, and they must be supported. However, I utterly refute the allegations that the Government have discriminated against disabled people, systematically undermined and violated their human rights and, worst of all, that we are targeting their welfare support.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I have so little time and have been asked so many questions that I will not take an intervention.

The Government are utterly committed to the convention. Britain helped to develop and shape it, and we were one of the first countries in the world to sign and ratify it, in 2009. We are one of the very few nations that also ratified the convention’s optional protocol, which allows for individual complaints to be raised and permits the UN committee to investigate allegations of violations of the convention. That is what happened, and it was the first time it had happened. We were disappointed that the UN representatives who came to the UK simply did not take on board the evidence that the Government gave them and did not acknowledge the full range of support.

When we set out our response—I will set it out in full—we will clearly make our case and rebut the allegations levelled against us. We firmly believe that a disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life, including in society or in the workplace. That is the basis of everything we are doing to try to make sure that disabled people are able to realise their potential, including at work. We engage constructively with the United Nations and we have had constructive meetings, and I will of course meet all the reporting requirements in full.

As hon. Members will know, in line with the convention, disability is mainstreamed across the Government. I reassure everyone that we have strong legislation on our statute book to protect disabled people, through the public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010 and through the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Those protections are some of the strongest in the world.

Debbie Abrahams asked why we have not performed a cumulative impact assessment of our welfare reforms. We undertake cumulative assessments of reforms for each fiscal event, because we want to be as transparent as possible on the cumulative distributional impact of Government policies, including welfare reforms, tax changes—direct and indirect—and public spending changes. To present as full a picture as possible, we publish the living costs and food survey, which includes all the information that Members have mentioned.

All that information enables me to say clearly that the proportion of people in relative poverty in a family in which someone is disabled has not risen since 2010. These allegations that we are driving people to food banks and forcing them into destitution is simply irresponsible. The proportion of people in absolute poverty in a family in which someone is disabled is at a record low, because we are spending more than £50 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. That is up by £7 billion since 2010; it is around 2.5% of our gross domestic product and accounts for more than 6% of Government spending. As a share of our GDP, public spending on disability and incapacity is the second highest in the G7; only Germany spends more. Disability spending will be higher than 2010 in every year through the spending review. There has been no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive, and those benefits are not subject to the benefit cap.

It is important that we hear the facts in these debates. Of course there is more we can do and of course I want to close the disability employment gap, but let us actually deal with the facts of the situation and stop this quite irresponsible talk that we have heard in this Chamber and that we hear in the main Chamber. Who will suffer because of what we have heard from Opposition Members today? It will be disabled people and their families, who will be frightened to come forward and claim the benefits and support available to them.

In my few remaining moments, I will touch on some of the criticisms that we have heard about personal independence payments and employment support allowance. PIP and ESA have been subject to a number of independent reviews, with the findings from the most recent, undertaken by Paul Gray, published last year, and to which I have published my response. I responded positively to each and every one of his recommendations. We are moving forward with continuous improvements to PIP.

The Work and Pensions Committee undertook a full inquiry into the assessment process, and it has welcomed my response and the series of measures we are taking, particularly the video recording of assessments. It is important to me that we build confidence and trust in that assessment process. We know from independent data that the vast majority of people undergoing a work capability assessment or a PIP assessment feel treated with respect and dignity, and that the system works. However, one person receiving poor treatment or not getting the right result is one too many, which is why we are so determined to implement all our reforms.

Those reforms stretch from working more closely with medical professionals, which was raised several times today, to making sure that it is easier for medical professionals to provide data to the process, that companions can support people in those assessments, that home visits are implemented wherever that could support people and that all the forms are in an accessible format. I actively consider implementing each and every suggestion put to me. I have a huge amount of stakeholder involvement with disabled people and people who represent them through our PIP forum and through a whole range of bodies under the Department for Work and Pensions. People are co-designing these benefit systems with us. When PIP was introduced, it was developed with organisations that support disabled people and with disabled people themselves. We want to make sure that PIP remains a modern, dynamic benefit and that the Government treat people with mental health conditions equally seriously as people with physical health conditions.

Many more people are being supported and helped on PIP than they ever were under the disability living allowance legacy benefit. As we know, the evidence shows that more people receive higher rates of support on PIP than on DLA. Some 30% of people moved on to PIP get the highest levels of support; the figure was only 15% on DLA. It is important that disabled people or people with disabled family members who listen to and follow these debates know that there is support for them and that they should come confidently forward to receive it, in the full knowledge that, when we come across problems with the system, we work tirelessly to improve it.

There has been talk about Access to Work. We are very keen to see Access to Work grow and develop. We recently announced that the support available to each person each year is double the average income—that is just under £60,000 per person per year to support an individual into work. It is a demand-led scheme, and I am pleased that it grew by 8% last year. This is one budget that we are happy to see grow, because it means that more people are being supported into work.

I welcome the comments on Disability Confident, which is a growing and successful scheme, and I am grateful to the hon. Members here who have signed up to it. I hope more will come next week to the launch of the community challenge, where we will ask leaders in communities—that is us, as MPs in our local communities—to spend time in our summer recess dedicating ourselves to visiting businesses and employers and asking them to become disability confident and to provide more opportunities for disabled people in their communities. I hope as many people here as possible will come along to that event and will join in with those activities.

So many questions have been asked that I have not been able to answer. I will write back in detail on every point that has been made, so that we can all work together to make sure that every disabled person in our country is truly supported to be the best that they can be and to play as full a part as possible.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury 10:59 am, 20th June 2018

I thank everybody here for making my first Westminster Hall debate so fantastic. The contributions by Members from across the House were really special. We heard passionate speeches, particularly from my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya), which were really moving. That is about it—I know we are out of time—so I thank you for your chairmanship and generosity, Dame Cheryl.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the Government’s response to the UN report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.