I congratulate Gillian Keegan on bringing forward this debate. It is an important issue; I told her I would make it my business to be here at the right time.
I have made my reputation as a councillor, a Member of the Legislative Assembly and an MP based on my constituency work, which I am very proud of. I used to fill out the disability living allowance application forms myself, and attend appeals for constituents. I do not have the time do that now because I am over here most of the time, but also because the number of applications and the help needed have increased so much. I have a full-time staff member who is allocated to PIPs and benefits, although I still carry out that work whenever I can when I am at home.
Benefits is the biggest issue in my office, but the question is not why so many people are claiming—I have always had large numbers in my area who are disabled and who claim. People are so desperate for help and they deserve help and attention. The Minister is always very responsive to anything I ask her—I thank her for that. I have seen people with serious illnesses being turned down for PIP.
I have a constituent with a long list of ailments who is at pains always to be dressed well, be washed and look the part. That is only possible because his ex-wife comes every day to make sure he gets out of bed and is washed and dressed. He was turned down. Like the example Derek Thomas gave, he went to an appeal and was not even called in, because the panel looked at the notes and said, “You know something? This man should get it,” and he got it in 15 minutes. Why did that happen? When someone goes out to assess someone and looks at their circumstances, they will say, “He looks terribly well,” or, “She’s dressed well and her hair is combed. She’s okay, she has no illness.” But they need help.
I have said this to the Minister in correspondence and I will underline it: one must question how much a physiotherapist knows about the intricacies of ulcerative colitis and the side effects of the medicine. How much does a paramedic know about the restriction on the movement of someone with multiple sclerosis? Someone with expertise needs to assess the circumstances, and GP notes should follow that up. Four out of 10 PIP candidates do not appeal as they cannot handle the stress. Do we really believe that half of the people who are claiming do not deserve it? I do not. As far as I am concerned, those people are telling the truth and they should not be looked upon as liars.
There must be a written review. We must start again for the sake of those people who are living beneath the poverty line, because they do not possess the mental fortitude to fight for what they are entitled to. Today, other hon. Members and I fight on their behalf and ask for fairness, a level playing field and an assumption that not all people are telling lies.