Session 2010-11
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Welfare Reform Bill

Welfare Reform Bill


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Mr James Gray  , Mr Mike Weir 

Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con) 

Bebb, Guto (Aberconwy) (Con) 

Buck, Ms Karen (Westminster North) (Lab) 

Curran, Margaret (Glasgow East) (Lab) 

Elliott, Julie (Sunderland Central) (Lab) 

Ellison, Jane (Battersea) (Con) 

Elphicke, Charlie (Dover) (Con) 

Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab) 

Gilmore, Sheila (Edinburgh East) (Lab) 

Glen, John (Salisbury) (Con) 

Grayling, Chris (Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions)  

Green, Kate (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab) 

Greenwood, Lilian (Nottingham South) (Lab) 

Hollingbery, George (Meon Valley) (Con) 

McVey, Esther (Wirral West) (Con) 

Miller, Maria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)  

Newton, Sarah (Truro and Falmouth) (Con) 

Paisley, Ian (North Antrim) (DUP) 

Patel, Priti (Witham) (Con) 

Pearce, Teresa (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab) 

Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow Central) (Lab) 

Smith, Miss Chloe (Norwich North) (Con) 

Swales, Ian (Redcar) (LD) 

Timms, Stephen (East Ham) (Lab) 

Uppal, Paul (Wolverhampton South West) (Con) 

Willott, Jenny (Cardiff Central) (LD) 

James Rhys, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Column number: 765 

Public Bill Committee 

Tuesday 10 May 2011  

(Morning)  

[Mr James Gray in the Chair] 

Welfare Reform Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House

WR 58 Vincent Greenwood 

WR 59 Sam Barnett-Cormack 

WR 60 Rethink Mental Illness 

WR 61 British Property Federation 

10.30 am 

The Chair:  I am sorry that I missed the Committee’s extended sitting on Tuesday, but I was with you in spirit. Last night, the House agreed an instruction to the Committee that it has the power to make provision to establish the social mobility and child poverty commission. The proposed remit of the commission would have been beyond the scope of the Bill, but the House’s instruction enables the Committee to consider such a provision. 

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab):  On a point of order, Mr Gray. I welcome you back; we missed you during our extended sitting. Towards the end of the sitting on Tuesday morning, when you were in the Chair, I asked the Minister of State: 

“Can the Minister tell the Committee what proportion of those who go into the work-related activity group he expects to be back in work within one year?” 

He replied: 

“At the moment, we do not have a specific answer to that”.––[Official Report, Welfare Reform Public Bill Committee, 3 May 2011; c. 651-2.] 

It turns out that that reply was incorrect. The Minister’s Department had an answer to my question. We know that now because on the same day the Minister sent me a written parliamentary answer. I had asked: 

“what estimate has been made of the proportion of contributory employment and support allowance recipients in the work-related activity group who will be affected by a one-year time limit”? 

The reply was: 

“It is estimated that in steady state, without time-limiting, around 77% of contributory ESA claimants in the Work Related Activity Group or Assessment Phase would have duration of 12 months or more.”—[Official Report, 3 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 722W.] 

I received that answer the morning after our debate, but it was sent to me on the day of the debate—3 May. We know that the Department had that figure at the time I asked my question in Committee. We can also safely assume, unless the— 

The Chair:  Order. I think we have the general drift of the point of order. 

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The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling):  Further to that point of order, Mr Gray. I am delighted that the Department was able to respond so quickly to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. I assure him that I will do everything I can, as will my colleagues, to make sure that he has information in as timely a way as is possible for the rest of the debate. 

Stephen Timms:  Further to that point of order, Mr Gray. I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance. I suggested that fewer than a quarter of people would be out of ESA and— 

The Chair:  Order. That is not a point of order for the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. He has put the point on the record and the Minister has responded to it. 

Clause 75 

Personal independence payment 

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill. 

Margaret Curran (Glasgow East) (Lab):  May I reiterate the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham? We missed you very much on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Gray, and I am sure that you are deeply disappointed to have missed our extended sitting. 

I am keen, as others will be, to participate in the stand part debate on clause 75. It marks a critical stage in our proceedings, with the introduction of the personal independence payment, which is a substantial part of the Government’s programme. The payment will replace disability living allowance, and payment rates are outlined in subsection (2) under the headings of daily living and mobility components. I therefore thought that it was important for the Committee to have the opportunity to discuss the handling, key principles and concerns behind part 4. 

There has been much focus on this part of the Bill. Disability living allowance reform has attracted much attention and provoked much controversy. It has perhaps not made the political headlines on the scale of the Health and Social Care Bill, but thousands of people will take to the streets around Westminster for the rally tomorrow. That may well trigger a wider debate on the reform. These changes are causing enormous concern among disabled people and their families, as well as among wider disability organisations. 

There have been many debates, questions and representations, and it is incumbent on us to address them. I am sure that we have all read reports this week that Jobcentre Plus staff have been sent guidelines on how to deal with claimant suicide threats. It is quite extraordinary that they have to tackle that. We cannot underestimate the strength of feeling out there among some of the most vulnerable people on these big changes to the welfare system. Their feelings and concerns must shape our debate today. I hope we keep that in mind as we go through the various amendments in part 4, which is substantial and important. It is important that we place that discussion in the right and proper context. 

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Fundamental concerns need to be addressed in the framework of clause 75, including the objectives and outcomes of the personal independence payments—I will refer to the personal independence payments as PIP. How have the Government gone about that fundamental change? What is the Government’s approach to including important representations made by disabled people themselves and by their representatives? 

A great many people will be affected by the reform, with the latest estimate from Disability Alliance projecting the figure to be some 800,000. Perhaps the Government will, at an appropriate point in our deliberations, address that figure so that we may understand it. Who will be affected by the daily living component, by the mobility component, and by a combination thereof? Who will gain, and who will lose? What is the Government’s objective in introducing the reform? 

There is no doubt, and it has been plainly stated, that there is a case for reform. The Opposition and I are clear about that. How we go about making that change is important, and its underpinning principles need to be clarified. We need to understand the drive behind the reform. If we get that right, we could move towards more effective and long-lasting reform. 

As I understand it, part of the Government’s argument is that there is a problem with the increasing uptake of DLA, but the Government have failed to look at the reasons for that increasing uptake. Undoubtedly the Government have an argument to make, and I will listen to it constructively. Disability living allowance was introduced in a different time, well before the Equality Act 2006 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. There have been various health and social care measures, education Acts, and other new legislation that have shaped our understanding, and shaped the principles underpinning our understanding, of disability. 

Before we embark on fundamental change, potentially to the detriment, it is alleged, of so many disabled people, it is reasonable to argue that we should look at the evidence, the facts, the context and the grounds on which reform is based. What factors have led to an increase in the uptake of DLA, which has led to the argument for change? It could be changing demography. People are living longer with longer-term conditions. We have a better understanding of existing conditions and a greater appreciation of new illnesses and new disabilities. Mental health issues are emerging much more frequently now than they did 20 years ago. Our understanding of conditions such as autism is much improved. 

Reflecting on the legislation, the definition of disability is changing and social care services are evolving. How do those changes interact and grapple with benefits? How do different benefits interact? It is reasonable and legitimate for the Government to say, “We now need to take stock. We need to look at how all these benefits interrelate and how we pay for social care services.” How does all that factor into a grand narrative? That would have been a much better and more effective basis for reform. 

The Government have yet to make that argument—we certainly have not heard it. We believe that reform of DLA is necessary. Such reform is the next logical step in welfare reform after the reform of incapacity benefit, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham played a significant role. 

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It is imperative that we learn the lessons from incapacity benefit reform and ensure that they are built into our current deliberations on DLA reform. Again, we are not at that stage yet. Particular lessons need to be learned from the work capability assessment, to which I do not doubt we will return when we discuss the details of the new assessment for PIP. 

What could the principles of reform be? How do we introduce a proper system of entitlement and review? How do we avoid unnecessary and duplicate assessment processes, about which disabled people tell us they are deeply concerned? How do we gather evidence to make decisions on awards? That is critical to how we take the reform forward. How do we learn the lessons of the Harrington review, extrapolate them and apply them in a different context? That could have been the basis of reform. I would argue that, if one engages constructively with the disability organisations, many of them also see the need for reform. They will argue that DLA reform is necessary, but they would argue strongly that one should look at the evidence and the facts. That should be the basis of reform. 

I am sorry to say that the Government’s approach, as illustrated in clause 75, has fallen far short of that method, and has alienated wider elements of the disability movement. That has sadly undermined the case for reform of DLA, and now many people have rolled back from that argument, because they are so terrified of the prospects. 

Clause 75 is essentially the accumulation of a large consultation process entitled disability allowance reforms. I shall say a few words about that consultation. The period for it was cut short; it fell short of the 12-week recommendation for Government consultations, and the consultation period included the Christmas holiday and the new year break. Rushing such a fundamental reform is unforgivable. It was completely unnecessary to cut off a couple of weeks. It was particularly provocative to disabled people; anybody with engagement in the disability field will understand that. Those people need longer to go through standard consultation procedures, because they often need extra assessment and aids to go through the documents. Assistance is needed to submit recommendations and so on. I was particularly concerned about that. I know that the Minister has had his ears pinned back about that several times. 

More significantly, the Government published the core of their welfare reform legislation while the consultation process was still under way. The process was not even closed when the Government said what they were going to do and what their proposals were. Of course, when the Government produced their response to the consultation, there were few changes from the original proposal, despite the fact that the Department acknowledged that it was one of the biggest responses to a Government consultation in recent years. We also know that a strong case for change was made during the consultation process, because many of the organisations published their consultation submissions. We know that many substantial questions were raised during that process. The fact that the Government produced their response—largely unchanged from their original proposals—before the consultation closed, was again provocative to disabled people. The Minister has had his ears pinned back about that, too. 

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That undermines the Government’s claim that they want to listen and work with disabled people. The organisations will tell hon. Members that they do not feel that they were listened to. I argue that there are some principles in the Bill that we want to engage with and look at. There are some big arguments, but it is not complete and there are big gaps. There are still fundamental questions to be asked, implications to be spelled out and the need to understand the impact on some of the most vulnerable members of the community before we go ahead. I am sure we will do so as we look at the amendments in detail. 

10.45 am 

We need to consider the underpinning issues. Some guiding principles are beginning to emerge in the Government’s approach, which we need to explore and extrapolate, to see how the argument goes. The Government are now clear that PIP will be available only to those with the greatest need. It is vital that we address the implications of that proposal for the current case load. We need to work out who will be the losers. Will the Minister spell out the underlying principles? For example, who currently gets DLA but will not get PIP? What kind of group are we looking at? The shift in prioritising PIP for those with the greatest needs raises fundamental questions about the Government’s overall approach to disability. It is of course an attractive argument in a time of scarce resources, but we always live in a time of scarce resources; that will always be the argument about welfare spending. There is never enough money to spend on welfare, so we are always trying to manage limited resources. 

People will always say that of course such benefits should go to those with the greatest needs, but we will have to be clear about the implications of that. Does that mean that the Government intend to concentrate resources on those with the most severe disabilities? That term is used time and again in documents and papers, and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) has used the term again and again in her contributions and announcements, but it has caused concerns. Does it mean that there will be a hierarchy of disability? Where should the line be drawn in that hierarchy? How will “severest needs”, “severest disability” or “those in the greatest need” be defined? 

What are the implications for people with autism, for example? Some people would say that those with the severest disabilities are essentially those with a physical disability, but most members of the Committee know that that is not adequate and that we need to move beyond that. Where does one draw the line? For example, one of the big questions that has emerged and is causing great concern is whether people with mild learning difficulties will essentially no longer receive financial support in recognition of the extra cost of their disability. We need to be honest and have that debate. 

We need to look at the full implications of subsection (2). For example, how do we interpret the daily living component? How do we interpret mobility? Significant representations have been made about the Government’s proposals concerning aids and adaptations, because they seem to imply that if a person has some aids and adaptations that facilitate their daily living and mobility,

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perhaps they no longer need PIP or financial support. If that is the Government’s argument—it is a reasonable argument—let us debate it and look through the implications thoroughly. People will ask, as they have asked me, whether they will no longer be eligible if they have a wheelchair that helps them to get about. 

What if someone has a guide dog? I know that the Department has given us some briefing on that, which we will discuss later, but there is still some ambiguity. Like it or not, many people who have severe visual impairments are deeply worried that they will lose their benefits because of the Government’s proposals about aids and adaptations. If someone has a carer, will they still get PIP? We need some clarity about what circumstances will be included, what criteria will be used, and who will be affected by this. 

We know that even if some aids and adaptations are assessed as necessary—when an assessment has clearly been undertaken and it has been recognised that a person needs and should get an aid or an adaptation—they will not necessarily be provided. Sometimes a local authority has agreed a person’s eligibility but does not have the resources to allocate to the necessary aid or adaptation. We know that that is happening more and more with cutbacks in local government. If people are cut out of benefit and they still do not get their aid or adaptation, they are in a particularly serious position. What happens if they get their aid or adaptation and they are cut out of PIP, but their aids and adaptations are affected by cutbacks in local government? They might not get the ramps or the necessary adjustments in their house, for example. Would PIP be reinstated in such circumstances? 

In conclusion, there are fundamental issues about the principles behind clause 75. During our debate on the Bill, we will advance a number of detailed amendments that reflect the broad concerns that I have highlighted. We have concerns of substance about this reform, such as the six-month wait and the end to automatic entitlement. In this clause stand part debate, we have to highlight that there are fundamental concerns about the speed and scale of this reform. There has been no pilot and there will be no proper tiered approach to the assessment, so many people feel that they will have to go through this process reasonably quickly and are unsure of the outcome. Overall, the principle of reform is one for which support could and should have been garnered. It is an opportunity that the Government have lost. 

There is a need to modernise benefits, and I would always support that. We need to address the current gateway, but I strongly argue that we could have mobilised and galvanised more support if we had taken an evidence-based approach, paced the reform properly, and worked alongside disabled people and disability organisations. The basis of the reforms should have been consulted on properly, and the gaps in the existing legislation could have been addressed. Sadly, I do not think that the legislation in front of us today is full and proper. 

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab):  One of our concerns about the introduction of PIP is that the background to it seems to be legislation by assertion, rather than by evidence. A number of assertions have been made, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s response about what the basis of the evidence for those assertions is and what further research would hopefully be ongoing to back them up. 

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For example, it is frequently stated that—it was said in the consultation paper and it was repeated in the response to the consultation—DLA is out of date, that it needs to be modernised, and that things have changed since 1992. However, 1992 is not 1892, or even 1952. It is not so very long ago, and it is not clear in what way things are so different from 1992 that we need a fundamental overhaul of the system—not just an updating of parts of it or a modification of it. There is the idea that it all has to be thrown up in the air already, and I did not see anything in the consultation paper that ever really supported that. It was an assertion without evidence. 

Clearly, people are concerned about the increased numbers of claimants and, therefore, about increased expenditure, but are we probing the reasons for those developments properly? We need to understand why those changes are happening, because a number of things can happen. First, people may lose benefit who need it, because there is an underlying assumption that if the numbers have gone up, it is not justified, and that in some way, people are getting benefit who do not need it. That comes through several times, certainly in the wording of the consultation. Secondly, if we have not probed why claims and expenditure are increasing, we might find that the same thing happens again with the new benefit, because there is actually a real need out there. 

A number of things have happened, even in recent years, and they are still happening. There has been the de-institutionalisation of many people with disabilities. In my city, and I am sure in many other areas, for some 20 years, a programme of closing down large institutions and enabling people to live in the community has been ongoing. That has many advantages for individuals, and I think that we all accept that. In the bad old days, people, whether they had mental health problems or physical health problems, would be sent to the equivalent of Gogarburn in Edinburgh and would spend the rest of their lives, more or less, in that hospital setting. That was not good for them, or for society. 

Although the term was always used in a rather negative fashion, the “reprovisioning” of such places—moving people into the community and enabling them to live independent lives—has depended in part on such things as DLA. If that financial support had not been available, it would have been far more difficult to set that up. It is not the only thing that has helped; many people have a whole spectrum of practical support that comes from the local authority, although that has a cost, too. However, the financial support from such measures as DLA has been very important in enabling people to live independent lives and to help them pay for the costs of doing that. That is just one aspect of why there may be more claimants now than there were at a time when people lived very differently. That was a cost, of course, to a different budget—the health budget. When people were institutionalised in that way, it was an NHS provision, so we have shifted that cost, but we need to understand why that has happened. 

I stood down from my council in 2007, but in the years before that, we were becoming increasingly concerned about the number of young people who were entering adult life with disabilities. That was because of huge advances in medicine, predominantly. Increasingly, children who would not have lived out of infancy were living. There are conditions that used to be seen as so life

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shortening that children would be unlikely to live into adulthood, but they are now able to do so. That means that there are individuals who need considerable support to lead independent lives. That is another, growing, group that did not really exist before. That concerned us as a council because it presented a cost which previously we did not face. It was seen as a major pressure on our council budgets and we expect that pressure to continue into the future. 

Additionally, people are living longer in both adulthood and into older age. Some people with DLA will continue to receive it, even after they reach the end of their normal working lives. People are able to live longer, but longer life is not always healthier life and gives rise to issues about people’s health and disability needs. Those are the challenges we face. It would, therefore, be useful to be clear about the reasons for increases in expenditure and factor in such increases and new and increased real demands. That is not necessarily to allow a budget to overrun or to let people who do not deserve it make claims. Throughout this process, upon first reading the consultation paper, I have had concerns, which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East has referred to, about the increase in concentration on— 

The Chair:  Order. I have allowed a fairly general Second Reading-type debate, this being the first debate in part 4. Nevertheless, we are discussing clause 75 stand part. I wonder if the hon. Lady might come back slightly to the particular points. After all, there will be plenty of other opportunities in the remaining clauses in the part to discuss other matters. Perhaps she could focus her attention entirely on the issues in clause 75. 

Sheila Gilmore:  Thank you, Mr Gray. I would conclude by saying that, although the benefit will be called a new name and is put forward as a substantial change in clause 75, it is clear that in some respects there is not a great deal of difference. That poses the question of why the whole matter needs to thrown up in the air and reviewed. Daily living component and ability component are not very different from DLA. It remains to be seen, as we have discussed in the remainder of the clauses, how far they really are different and will make a substantial difference, and whether the entire reform, in the way it has happened, is justified. 

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab):  Nobody would suggest that the existing disability living allowance benefit is perfect, but it is absolutely vital for many disabled people in terms of their quality of life and their ability to participate fully. In seeking to make changes, we must not underestimate its importance and the need to protect its achievements for disabled people. Therefore, I support the concerns my hon. Friends have raised this morning about understanding the Government’s purpose in introducing the changes. I welcome the clarity in clause 75 that DLA continues to be replaced by a benefit in PIP that is to meet daily living and mobility needs, but we are entering into unknown territory. 

Will the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke, address specifically a few issues about the philosophy and purpose of PIP and offer reassurances, as I hope she can, to disabled people today? We need to be clear that this is a benefit that will continue to be provided to disabled

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people as a proxy for meeting the extra costs that they face in living with their disabilities and to enable them to fully participate in society as those of us who do not to experience disabilities are able to do. I would like absolute clarity from the Minister that it remains the philosophy of the Government, in introducing PIP, that this is a participation benefit and no other sort of benefit and that it is on that basis that the changes are being introduced. 

11 am 

I say that in the context of the recent introduction of the work capability assessment, which was introduced by the previous Labour Government and which had many teething problems, as we all accept. It is to the Government’s credit that they have commissioned a review of the introduction of that test, which was required under the Welfare Reform Act 2009, and that they have committed to making the changes recommended by Professor Malcolm Harrington. We also welcome the fact that he is conducting further reviews to improve that test. 

There is significant confusion in disabled people’s minds, however, between the work capability assessment, including the many difficulties that they have experienced or heard about, and the forthcoming gateway test for disability living allowance. It is imperative that Ministers allay those fears and confusion and that they make it absolutely clear to disabled people that the personal independence gateway assessment is entirely different from the work capability assessment in purpose and, therefore, in design. 

As we discuss the personal independence payment clauses, I hope that we will understand exactly how the Government intend to implement the gateway assessment, because there is certainly considerable concern about the potential for confusion in disabled people’s minds. An example of that might be the way in which the two tests need to look at the same person and their circumstances in different ways. A blind person might be able to pass the work capability assessment, because, with the aid of suitable adaptations either to the equipment that they use or to their workplace, they can work in paid employment. We have many encouraging examples of blind and partially sighted people who are able and keen to be in paid work. That is different, however, from saying that that person does not necessarily need financial support for their wider social participation. We need to be absolutely clear that the PIP gateway test is about that wider social participation and that failing to pass, as it were, the work capability assessment does not get bound up with or predispose an outcome on the PIP gateway test. 

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con):  Does the hon. Lady share my concern that the current 50-page assessment is extremely complicated and that many recipients of the DLA do not understand that it is not a means-tested award and that it is not an out-of-work benefit? 

Kate Green:  The hon. Lady has highlighted some important concerns about the DLA, which have existed for several years and which the previous Government

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sought to address. A number of reforms and extensive consultation took place on exactly the issues that she has raised about take-up, particularly among people in paid employment, complexity of claiming and so on. Although many of the organisations that participated in the review three or four years ago were positive about the way in which the then Government engaged with them, I must say that, in terms of complexity of claiming, it actually led to a lengthening of the form. That was because the nature of the information that is needed to carry out a satisfactory, comprehensive and well-informed assessment requires that we gather all the relevant evidence. There is a real challenge, which I am sure that Ministers will be thinking about, about how to ensure that, on the one hand, information is appropriately collected from disabled people and, on the other hand, that it is not too burdensome or bureaucratic—insofar as that is at all possible. 

How will the clarity that this assessment is different from and has a different purpose from any other assessment around work capability or otherwise be guaranteed and communicated to disabled people, to those who work with them and to their families? How, in due course, will the assessment process sit alongside other assessment processes, so that disabled people do not find themselves being constantly tested and retested for different benefits in a way that could cause them great stress if it is not handled well? 

The second issue that I want to raise in this stand part debate concerns the introduction of the new benefit and the lessons that can be learned from the early months of the work capability assessment or employment and support allowance. I highlight the need for very clear communication to disabled people, their families and the organisations that work with them about when they are likely to be affected by the new assessment. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire and I were present in the Select Committee discussion the other day, in which we heard that a timetable of when assessments would affect different disabled people would be very much welcomed, particularly by those with mental health conditions, autism, learning difficulties and so on, who are likely to be anxious in a period of uncertainty. 

I hope that the Minister will discuss communicating the process of transition and change. If she cannot do so in the stand part debate, I hope that she will discuss at a later stage of our consideration the nature of the assessment, the descriptors and characteristics that will be used to determine whether somebody is entitled to the new personal independence payment and the level of the payment. I hope that she will say something about the decision-making process, because there are some powerful and important lessons for us to learn from the experience of the work capability assessment. 

I warmly welcome the changes that Ministers have introduced to the process of the work capability assessment as a result of the Harrington review. In particular, Ministers have put extra so-called touch points into the process, where a Jobcentre Plus official will be in direct personal contact with the claimant as their claim proceeds, and their entitlement taken, assessed and reviewed. Will the Minister tell us what sort of decision-making process, and design around that, has been carried out so far? What lessons are being learned about designing an appropriate decision-making process from the work capability assessment, though it is different in purpose?

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Will she assure us that excellent decision-making processes will be in place; that staff will have the necessary training; that it will not be the sort of tick-box exercise that, regrettably, the work capability assessment has been in its early months; and that there will be absolute clarity that there will be a Jobcentre Plus decision, as there is now? 

Those issues may come up in other clauses as we debate the personal independence payment, but I think that they are broad, ground-setting issues, on which I hope that the Minister will reassure us this morning. I look forward to her response. 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller):  I join the hon. Member for Glasgow East in saying that this is an important stage of the debate on the Bill. It is also important that we have a measured debate, because, as the hon. Lady has said, this measure affects many, many thousands of people, and they will be looking at the tone of this debate to take a lead in how they respond to the issues put forward. 

I want to set out from the start that the Government remain committed to providing unconditional support for disabled people who are unable to get into work and have problems with the costs that they incur in daily life. The DLA and its principles remain at the heart of what we are trying to do. 

Many of the issues brought up today will possibly arise under more specific amendments further on, and I do not want to risk incurring— 

The Chair:  Order. It is perfectly in order to answer the general points that have been raised, bearing in mind that we should not get into detailed debates on the amendments that are coming up later this morning or on Thursday. 

Maria Miller:  Thank you, Mr Gray, for you guidance. I will try to stick with it. 

Stephen Timms:  May I pick up the Minister on the “principle” point that she was just setting out about the purpose of the new benefit? The DLA was always about helping to meet the additional costs of disability, as my hon. Friends have said; is that still the purpose of PIP, or is it slightly different? 

Maria Miller:  The right hon. Gentleman is right to pick up on that. There is a slightly different purpose; PIP is not simply about the additional costs of being a disabled person, but about trying to identify how we can help disabled people to participate in society. It is important to make that distinction, because that drives the assessment criteria that we are putting forward, and it goes to the heart of why PIP will provide stronger support for disabled people than the DLA, which is because it recognises that participation is what disabled people want support with. One of the key weaknesses of the DLA is that it does not pick up those participation issues, particularly around people with sensory impairments and learning difficulties. Rather than going into the detail of that now, however, perhaps I can draw back to some of the broader points. 

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All the main parties accept the need to reform the DLA. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), said in Prime Minister’s questions in October that the DLA is an important reform and that it needs to be done. Clearly, the debate we will have in Committee will be about the type of reform undertaken and the framework for that reform. I am sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow East and others will take the opportunity through amendments to set out their approach to reform. 

Margaret Curran:  Will the Minister answer the specific point that I have raised? If I were Minister with responsibility for disabled people, I would not have closed the consultation early; I would not have published the response to the consultation before I had received all the submissions; and I would have engaged with disabled people. Will she directly address those comments? 

Maria Miller:  I intended to address the hon. Lady’s concerns in a moment. I will do so after I have set out the broad parameters. There must be a misunderstanding, because the consultation did not close early. 

I hope that, where there is agreement between the Opposition and the Government, we can work together. Given the premise that there is a need for reform and that Opposition parties have had to grapple with the matter over the years, we will look to work together where we can. 

Core to the Government’s principles and approach is that PIP remains the support that disabled people need to participate fully in society. It remains a non-means-tested, non-taxable benefit, not related to work. Hon. Members have said that there is confusion; there is confusion, particularly among some of the media when they conflate the role of DLA with some in-work benefits. I hope that today’s debate will provide clarity. 

Kate Green:  I am grateful for the Minister’s assurances that the purpose of the benefit is to assist people with daily living. Will she explain how she expects an objective assessment properly to understand and appreciate the particular pressures that an individual may face, and the adaptations that they may need to make to their daily living circumstances? 

Maria Miller:  The hon. Lady has drawn me into some of the details of the assessment criteria, which the Committee received last week. It is difficult to assess each individual’s needs on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, the assessment criteria are inevitably used as proxies for some of those barriers that people face. Rather than being drawn into a detailed debate on assessment criteria, I will refer to the broader principles outlined in clause 75. 

Our philosophy is that PIP remains to support disabled people in their participation in daily life. It is equally important to treat disabled people as individuals, so that they are not labelled by their condition. Each person requires an individual approach. Disabled people are experts in their own conditions. We will continue to make that the core of our philosophy, and we will focus on giving disabled people the support they need to live more independently. Disability is one word with many meanings. I challenge the Committee to keep that

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complexity in mind as we try to agree the architecture of a benefit that will successfully meet a multitude of needs. That is complex and difficult, but it must be tackled. 

11.15 am 

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston set out an important challenge: communications. As with so much that we do in government, the way that we communicate with those affected is most important. I assure the hon. Lady that the task of communication is already under way. We are working in co-production with disabled people and their organisations on the design and architecture of the proposed benefit. For many months now, we have had a specialist group working with us on the design of the assessment, to make sure that we get that right from the start. We are doing some testing now, and there will be further testing during the summer. I am sure that we will talk more about that as we move forward. 

The hon. Lady is right to emphasise that communication about what changes are being made, how they will affect people and when they can expect those changes to come into play, is most important. I hope that we can work with her and other Labour Members and disabled people’s organisations to make sure that those communications are strong and clear, because it is in the best interests of disabled people to know the facts, rather than some of the assertions that have been made in recent months. 

The hon. Members for Glasgow East and for Edinburgh East questioned the evidence that is being used to shape reform and, indeed, whether there was evidence of the need for reform. There is clear evidence that the current structure of DLA is simply not working in the way that is in the best interests of disabled people. First and foremost, my key concern about DLA is that it fails to recognise many of the problems faced by people with sensory impairments and learning disabilities. It took some 10 years of debate and changes to primary legislation make a simple change to recognise that people who are blind have considerable mobility problems that were simply not picked up in the current architecture of the benefit. That shows how DLA is flawed at its heart and lacks the flexibility to adapt to the changing way that we want benefits to work to support disabled people. 

Secondly, I cannot believe that the hon. Ladies think that a benefit that has no inbuilt method of reassessment is right for the 21st century. Why? Because we leave disabled people at risk of either being over-rewarded or under-rewarded. I certainly feel deeply uncomfortable about their condition not being regularly reassessed. 

Kate Green:  On that specific point, what are the Minister’s intentions in relation to people who currently have a DLA award for life? 

Maria Miller:  The hon. Lady makes an important point, which I believe was dealt with by one of my predecessors, but perhaps I will come back to her with the exact details. As the previous Government set out, there was some misinterpretation of the idea that an award was given for life; indeed, it was only ever the case that an individual would receive a benefit as long as their condition continued. I understand the point she

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makes, though, and perhaps it comes back to her earlier communication point: we have to be clear with people about exactly what we mean. Perhaps some looseness of words in the past led people to believe that they were given a benefit that would not be subject to review. 

Perhaps the hon. Lady makes my point for me: if we have an inbuilt review, disabled people can be confident that they will still receive that benefit if they require it, and that if their condition has deteriorated, that will be acknowledged. The Committee might be interested to know that 130,000 people who were awarded DLA in 1992 have not had their benefit either reviewed or reassessed since then. It is difficult to believe that absolutely nothing has changed for those people in the intervening period. 

Kate Green:  For absolute clarity, can the Minister confirm that every working-age adult currently in receipt of DLA will be subject to the new gateway assessment? 

Maria Miller:  The Government’s intention is to move working-age adults from DLA to the personal independence payment. Obviously, we are not currently looking at children and individuals who are past retirement age. 

To return to the questions about why we believe reform is needed, I have already touched on the problems DLA poses for people who are blind, but I also draw the Committee’s attention to the problems faced by people with learning disabilities in terms of obtaining recognition of the barriers they face and the necessary support from DLA. The failure to recognise the very real problems that people with learning difficulties have with mobility should be of deep concern to Committee members. I hope they feel reassured that PIP will start to address some of those issues through its new, much more robust assessment criteria. 

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD):  I have a further question of clarification: how does the Minister believe that the assessment process will deal with intermittent conditions such as ME, where the degree of disability experienced one day might be quite different from that experienced on another day? 

Maria Miller:  I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, because I am sure many members of the Committee are concerned about people with fluctuating conditions. I assure him that ensuring that the assessment deals well with fluctuating conditions and picks up on them will be an important part of the development process. I am sure that we will discuss that further. 

The purpose of clause 75 is the introduction of the new personal independence payment, a more transparent and sustainable benefit for the 21st century. The DLA system we inherited has become very confusing and complex, as members of the Committee have pointed out. Who qualifies can be unclear and the decisions about qualification can be deeply inconsistent and subjective. I am sure that none of us wants to leave those problems unresolved. 

Margaret Curran:  On the question of qualification and further to the point I made earlier, how will the Government’s commitment to giving the benefit to those with the greatest needs be demonstrated in the distribution of the benefit? 

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Maria Miller:  The hon. Lady is jumping ahead to the more detailed discussion. As we set out clearly in the papers given to Committee members, we are in the process of establishing the assessment criteria which we believe will give the best analysis of an individual’s need for support. The criteria have been developed not by the Government but by an independent group of experts to try to provide a proxy for the problems that disabled people face. As we test the assessment criteria, we will look at how they affect different people, and I assure the hon. Lady that a great deal of testing will be done before the arrangements are finalised. 

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con):  Is it not an incredible example of neglect that, since 1992, 127,000 or so people simply have not been seen? We do not know whether they still need DLA or their conditions have improved. Is that not fundamentally wrong and a betrayal of taxpayers’ trust? 

Maria Miller:  I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. As well as taxpayers, that is a betrayal of disabled people. We are leaving some of the most vulnerable people in our society in a situation in which they may believe that they are still entitled to a benefit, but in fact they require more support than they are receiving, or indeed less, and there is no inbuilt means of reassessment. We believe that the PIP will be quite different from its predecessor because of its objective assessment and its transparency in how people’s needs will be assessed through the daily living or mobility criteria. 

Stephen Timms:  May I ask again about the difference between DLA and PIP? The DWP website points out that DLA is to help with the extra cost of personal care, supervision or getting around. Is it correct to say that PIP is there to help with the extra cost of participation? Is that the purpose the Minister has in mind? 

Maria Miller:  Yes, although the two things are described in slightly different ways. In revising the assessment criteria, I am trying better to reflect the reality of disabled people’s lives. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the current assessment of the need for mobility assistance, for example, he will see that it is focused on the physical needs or the physical problems that people face in terms of being able to walk a certain distance, whereas PIP is designed to pick up on the other mobility problems that disabled people frequently face, particularly in being able to plan a journey between A and B. Even if one can walk a certain distance, if one cannot plan that journey and undertake it independently one’s mobility is as severely undermined as that of an individual who cannot physically walk. That is a clear example of the deep flaw in DLA as it stands. In response to the hon. Members who challenged whether DLA needs to be reformed, I would assert that that is one of the many challenges that we face in reforming DLA to ensure that it is fit for the 21st century and how we understand disability now. 

Stephen Timms:  That is a helpful answer, but I want to confirm that PIP is about meeting extra costs. The Minister is defining the extra costs in a slightly different way—they are about participation rather than the things that the DLA was about—but it is about meeting extra costs that disabled people incur. 

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Maria Miller:  It would be difficult to analyse every single extra cost that a disabled person might incur. The administrative system required would be complicated and difficult to implement if we looked at every single extra cost. By definition, we have to look at proxies for some of those extra costs, which are set out in the assessment criteria. 

I will make a little progress before I am waylaid again and asked for further detail. Entitlement to DLA depends on the extent to which somebody needs help with personal care, needs supervision or has difficulties walking. PIP will consider the impact of an individual’s impairment or health condition on their daily life, as I have outlined to the right hon. Gentleman. PIP will take account of changes in individual circumstances and the impact of disabilities, as well as reflect wider changes to society that have taken place since 1992—for example, our understanding of conditions such as autism and learning difficulties was not as well developed in 1992 as it is today. 

Sheila Gilmore:  As I am sure the Minister knows, a large number of applications for DLA are unsuccessful, albeit some appeals against the decisions are successful. The Minister has given examples of people who may not currently be eligible for DLA but who may be eligible for PIP. Is she satisfied that that will not lead to an increased demand? If it does, what effect will that have on her Department’s financial planning? It appears to me that we are talking about people who are not currently eligible. 

11.30 am 

Maria Miller:  I am sure that the hon. Lady expects me to take a principled approach in the reform of any benefit, which is what we are doing. We will be led by what is right in terms of the support that needs to be put in place but, as with every other benefit, we will be mindful of our other budgetary requirements. Every Minister in every Government has to contend with that balancing act. 

To return to PIP, I assure the Committee we will prioritise support for those individuals who face the greatest day-to-day challenges and are therefore likely to experience the highest costs. It will be non-contributory and non-means-tested, and the aim is to help people to live more independent lives in their community. PIP will not be linked to an individual’s impairment, but will focus on an individual’s ability to carry out a range of activities that are necessary for day-to-day life and the extra costs that arise as a result. It will be payable to people who are in work as well as those who are out of work. 

Measures to deal with many of the issues that will arise are set out in the Bill. For Members who are interested in the challenges that we have to deal with, tests of residence and presence will be similar to those used for DLA and they will be set out in regulations. We intend to introduce an habitual residence test to bring PIP into line with other non-contributory benefits, instead of the ordinary residence test, which applies for DLA. Entitlement to PIP will be determined by a new objective assessment, which will enable us more accurately and consistently to assess individuals to determine who will benefit most from additional support. 

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The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston asked how what we propose will differ from the work capability assessment. The new test is a completely different way of assessing people. The two tests assess things differently. It is important to be clear that the personal independence payment will focus on the ability to carry out key everyday activities, whereas the work capability assessment looks at the capability to work, so any direct comparison between the two assessments is not strictly possible. 

As the hon. Lady would expect, however, we are seeking to learn from our experience of delivering the work capability assessment. As part of that, we are looking at the findings of the first review carried out by Professor Harrington to see whether we can ensure that the design of the PIP claim and assessment process is as good as it needs to be. We recognise the need to ensure that the processes are transparent and empathetic, which is an important finding of Professor Harrington’s work. We are considering the scope for using mental, intellectual and cognitive champions to support the assessments for PIP, as Professor Harrington recommended for the WCA. 

The hon. Member for Glasgow East asked about aids and adaptations. I am sure we will return to that later in our deliberations, but I want to make it clear—the hon. Lady mentioned guide dogs—that we do not intend that guide dogs be considered an aid or an appliance, nor do we intend to take them into account in the assessment process. Guide dogs do not help people to complete the activities considered in the assessment. 

On the hon. Lady’s more general comments on aids and appliances, our approach is that support should be targeted at people who are least able to take part in everyday life. We believe that the assessment should take account of the successful use of aids and appliances, which can lessen the impact of health conditions. We recognise, however, that some aids and appliances, such as electric wheelchairs, that help individuals also attract significant costs. We have attempted to reflect that in the detail of the descriptors, and we will also seek to do that in the associated point scores. I assure the hon. Lady that we will get that right before finalising the assessment criteria and full testing will be carried out. If she has had an opportunity to look at some of the notes we have issued in support of our approach, she will be reassured that the aids and adaptations we are talking about are things with which she would feel comfortable. 

The hon. Lady also touched on the consultation on the provisions before the Committee today. The consultation, which is the second largest that the Department has run, ran from 6 December to 18 February and some 5,500 responses were received. Importantly, in parallel to that we held a number of meetings with disabled people and their representatives and organisations before, during and after the formal consultation. We ensured that people had the opportunity to comment not only in the consultation, but in more detail in those discussions. I strongly refute the allegation that we somehow rushed the consultation and pre-empted its outcome. A response to the consultation was published in April and provided an explanation of our approach, which takes into account the views from the consultation. 

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Margaret Curran:  For the record, will the Minister confirm my clear recollection that the Bill was published before the consultation on that particular element was finalised? 

Maria Miller:  The hon. Lady well knows that the Bill provides a very broad framework for the reform of DLA, and in no way goes into the detail on which the consultation sought responses. I absolutely assure her that our response to the consultation was developed and published subsequent to the consultation’s closing, and will strongly inform our approach, as she knows that it already has. To imply in any way that we were not running that consultation properly was probably not her intention, but I hope that that sets the record straight. 

Charlie Elphicke:  My understanding of the consultation is that it was to inform secondary legislation on the detailed design of the benefit, including requirements for the new assessment. It was not about the primary legislation—the bookcase—but the detail that is to follow. Is that not the case? 

Maria Miller:  I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and of course he is absolutely right; we will set out this sort of detail in secondary legislation. I am sure that Opposition Members who have been involved in the reform of benefits will know that we are well down the track in developing draft regulations and policy advice notes, and that a great deal of detail is available to hon. Members. Of course, there is still much more work to do, but I am sure that hon. Members are grateful for the amount of detail that has been set out and very much informed by the consultation that we ran. 

Kate Green:  We expect a very extensive set of regulatory measures to implement the Government’s intentions. Will the Minister assure us that there will be every opportunity to scrutinise them appropriately? Has she given any consideration to seeking the advice of the Social Security Advisory Commission? 

Maria Miller:  I can assure the hon. Lady that we would expect all regulations to be available for scrutiny in the usual way. Perhaps we can cover that in more detail when we reach the relevant parts of the Bill. 

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP):  Does the Minister accept that any consultation launched in the jaws of Christmas always raises suspicion that there is a deliberate attempt to make sure that three or four weeks of consultation are not actually usable, because most people’s minds are elsewhere, and that suspicion means that this consultation has not actually been long enough? 

Maria Miller:  I might understand the hon. Gentleman’s point if we had not received 5,500 responses to the consultation, of which only 500 were from organisations, and 5,000 were from individuals. It is clear that perhaps people who are interested in issues around disability do not find Christmas such a distraction. 

Ian Paisley:  I am surprised that there were only 5,000 consultation responses. I would have expected the figure to be tens of thousands of responses, given the tens of thousands of people that this affects. 

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Maria Miller:  I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I did say that this was the second largest response to a consultation ever, and perhaps if he were to look at other consultations he might see that the responses are often in the hundreds rather than the thousands. 

Margaret Curran:  Will the Minister outline three issues raised in the consultation process that went on to change the substance of the Government’s proposals? 

Maria Miller:  I think that the hon. Lady would expect me to deal with that sort of detail in the context of amendments, rather than the clause stand part debate. To ensure that we get to those very amendments so that we can discuss things more fully, I encourage the Committee to support the clause. 

Question put and agreed to.  

Clause 75 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 76 

Daily living component 

Margaret Curran:  I beg to move amendment 208, in clause 76, page 54, line 33, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

The Chair:  With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 209, in clause 76, page 54, line 37, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

Amendment 210, in clause 77, page 55, line 17, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

Amendment 211, in clause 77, page 55, line 23, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

Amendment 213, in clause 78, page 56, line 5, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

Amendment 214, in clause 78, page 56, line 7, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

Amendment 215, in clause 78, page 56, line 9, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

Amendment 216, in clause 78, page 56, line 11, after ‘condition’, insert ‘or communication needs’. 

Margaret Curran:  The amendments focus on communication needs, which we have already emphasised this morning, and the whole Committee has recognised their importance. This group of amendments would ensure that the communication needs of claimants are taken into consideration as part of the assessment for the daily living and mobility components of PIP at both the standard and enhanced rates. 

The amendments seek to put an individual’s communication needs on an equal footing with the barriers that disabled people face in relation to their physical or mental condition. The amendments, which number 208 to 216, span clauses 76 to 78 and ensure that, with regard to both the daily living and mobility components, the communication needs of the individual are taken into consideration when assessing the barriers that they face in living a fully independent life. The amendments would ensure that any Government commitment to take the communication needs of a disabled person into consideration in the application of PIP, as has been suggested in the Government’s narrative,

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is turned into a clear commitment in the Bill. That is the substance of the issue that I am bringing to the Committee this morning. 

I have the support of the Disability Benefits Consortium in promoting this group of amendments, and it stated the following in its briefing: 

“For some disabled people, it is communication barriers rather than personal care needs that lead to additional costs.” 

The Minister has indicated that, to use the vernacular, she gets that. The briefing continues: 

“Without adequate recognition of this, individuals can become isolated and cut off from their local communities. Communication needs affect individuals’ ability to carry out the activities that are expected to be included in the assessment for both components of PIP. For example, communication needs affect an individual’s ability to take part in ‘planning and buying food’, where someone faces difficulties in communicating with others and understanding what is available. Additional costs could therefore be faced by needing human support or an accessible home delivery service.” 

Some supermarkets do not provide that, and there is need for communication with customers to support that purchase. As the Minister has used in examples: 

“Equally communication is essential to mobility. For example, communication will be crucial for the activity of ‘planning and following a journey’. Individuals will face significant communication barriers in asking other people who do not know them for advice when following a journey. Strangers may not be able to communicate effectively”. 

The amendments are especially important given the clear shift that the Government have decided to make in targeting PIP on those with the greatest needs only. Those with a physical or mental disability may appear in great need of support, but it is imperative that, if we introduce a new modern benefit to meet the demands of the 21st century, our understanding of disability develops according to the times that we live in. Disabilities are not just those that can be seen or those that have no obvious physical dimension, and there can, of course, be an overlap between physical and mental communication difficulties. By putting this commitment in the Bill to ensure that individuals’ communication needs are taken into consideration during their assessment for PIP, the Government have the opportunity to do just that. 

As the hon. Member for Redcar said, communication needs also fluctuate, and we need to grapple with that in the assessment, as well as how that will be taken into account in a controlled environment such as the assessment itself. Physical disability—for example, with a double amputee—is not only clear from the outset of any assessment of that individual’s needs, but is a permanent, static impairment that will not come and go. That does not necessarily apply to those with communication needs. 

Ian Swales:  Does the hon. Lady recognise that communication is a two-way process? As MPs, we often experience people who, either through a lack of understanding of the process, or fear about where an admission of incapability may lead in terms of being taken into care or whatever, have been assessed as more capable. Two-way communication is, therefore, extremely important. 

11.45 am 

Margaret Curran:  I thank the hon. Gentleman for that powerful point. In fact, I was just about to make it. I am sure that the Minister has had this experience, too:

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we have had powerful testimony, particularly from the parents of adults with autism who participate in the assessment process. They are determined to answer the questions as they are interpreted and to reveal the entirety of the disability or its impact. I appreciate that we are all trying to grapple with that to ensure that we bring it into account as we develop the new assessment.  

My drive today is to ensure that we include such communication in the Bill, because it is such a significant development in how we carry out the assessment. I do not want to go back to bookcases and those issues, but we need to be emphatic about this and make it centre stage. The best way to do that is to put it into the Bill. As I have said, it is in the Government’s narrative, but we have to go one step further. It would give a vital signal to all the organisations that are on the other side of the process and ensure that it is a two-way process. That is vital. 

I have spoken about the importance of communication needs in assessing impairment, but in emphasising the other dimensions of communications in no way do I underestimate the significance of the physical and mental dimensions of disability. The key point is to put them all on an equal footing. We are almost there in terms of an agreement to do so. I urge the Government to go that one step further to show the significance of doing so. I understand the argument that some things need not be included in the Bill, but perhaps in this case it might be worth doing so, given the step change that we are all engaged in here. 

Maria Miller:  I am pleased to respond to this group of amendments, and I should like to say from the outset that communication is more than in the Government’s narrative; it is in our proposed assessment criteria. The hon. Lady may not have seen the assessment criteria when the amendment was tabled, so I will take her through the thinking behind them. She seeks to ensure that communication needs are taken into account, alongside physical and mental impairments. I absolutely recognise the importance of communication and taking into account impairments that affect communication. That is a perfect example of why we need to reform DLA, which takes only very limited account of communication needs. Indeed, the National Autistic Society’s recent report, “Who benefits?”, highlights that any new assessment should reflect the needs of people with autistic spectrum disorders. 

Many individuals with disabilities affecting speech, language, comprehension, sight and hearing may not have received as much priority in the benefit as their needs deserved. That failure in DLA led to the introduction of the measure recognising severe visual impairment. It was a necessary workaround to ensure that blind people were fairly treated. In PIP, we want to treat people fairly and assess their needs properly as a matter of course, avoiding the need to bolt on special rules for groups of people affected by particular impairments. That lies at the heart of our philosophy. It might be helpful to say a little about the assessment and the work that has been done to develop it to this point, perhaps to reassure the hon. Lady that we are very much on the same page. 

The assessment will consider the impact of a full range of impairment types: physical, mental, intellectual, development, cognitive and sensory. It is also designed

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to look beyond the care and mobility needs considered in DLA. Although care and mobility remain essential to the new assessment, we recognise that they alone do not fully reflect the impact of disability. In particular, DLA takes only very limited account of communication needs. Last week, I circulated to Committee members a copy of draft regulations on the assessment, with a supporting technical note, to show how the assessment is likely to work. We have since published them on our website, and I urge any member of the general public who is following today’s debate to look at them and send us their comments, because that is, again, part of our ongoing consultation process. 

As hon. Members will have seen, we have set out 11 key activities that we propose to consider in the assessment. They relate to an individual’s ability to access food and drink; to manage their personal care and health needs; to get around; and importantly, to communicate with others. The activities that have been selected are not intended to cover all the activities that might be affected by health conditions or disabilities, nor all the areas that might create extra cost for disabled people, as I have outlined before. That would not be possible without creating yet another extremely complicated, time-consuming and expensive assessment. Instead, they are meant to represent the key activities that are essential to everyday life and cumulatively to act as a reasonable proxy for the impact of disability. 

The inclusion of communication in the assessment is a key development, and it was one of the things that our assessment development group felt most strongly about. As hon. Members will know from the draft regulations, the assessment will consider ability to communicate as a spectrum. We propose taking into account people who can only communicate with support, such as someone who is trained to communicate with limited communication ability—for example, lip speakers—and where people are unable to engage socially without causing overwhelming stress to themselves or others. Individuals unable to communicate with people familiar to them will receive higher priority than those who cannot communicate with unfamiliar people. As the hon. Lady will understand, we need to recognise varying degrees: the greatest priority will go to those unable to understand and communicate even simple instructions and basic needs. 

Although we have published the initial draft criteria of the assessment to support discussions in Committee, our work on that assessment is far from complete. We intend to spend the summer engaging disabled people and their organisations on the criteria, as the Committee would expect, and to seek their views on how the criteria will work and what their likely impact will be. In particular, we are keen for views on communication activity—the most radical departure from DLA. We will also be testing that in our assessment process. 

Our aim is to provide a further draft of the assessment criteria after the summer to support discussions on the Bill in the other place. In particular, the regulations do not, at this stage, include details of how much priority will be awarded for an ability to carry out activities. We intend to include those detailed weightings and the thresholds that will be used for entitlement to the benefit rates in the autumn draft regulations, once we have been able to test the initial criteria and discuss them with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations, which is important. 

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I hope that my explanation helps hon. Members to understand our approach. The hon. Lady also picked up on fluctuating conditions, and I hope that she heard my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar, when he intervened earlier. I reassure the hon. Lady that the assessment will not be a snapshot of one day, but that it will consider an individual’s ability to carry out activities over a period—we are suggesting a year—and impacts that apply for the majority of time. 

The assessment will also take into account whether activities can be carried out reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner. We will explore that area further in discussions with disabled people and their organisations. With individuals who have autistic spectrum disorders, it is vital to ensure that decision makers and assessors have appropriate training and guidance, and, as I have said, we are very much learning from the Harrington review. 

I hope that we have been able to reassure hon. Members. I should like to point out to the hon. Lady that her amendment would perhaps work in a way that she did not mean. It could involve taking into account communication needs that are unrelated to health conditions or disabilities; for example, where an individual does not speak English or does not understand it, so they cannot communicate on a daily basis. I am sure that that was not her intention, but it serves to underline why I cannot accept her amendment. I hope that I have reassured her, however, and I urge her to withdraw the amendment. 

Margaret Curran:  I thank the Minister for that substantial answer, and I want briefly to make a number of points in response. I have seen the papers from the Department for Work and Pensions; they arrived on Friday and there were quite a lot of them, so perhaps I have not quite grasped them all, but I think that I have. I and other hon. Members will return to this point during our debates: although I appreciate the pressures on the Government and staff, it would help the Committee and allow us to conduct our business more effectively if we had such information rather earlier. That is beginning to be an issue, and it reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston that we need further scrutiny by the Social Security Advisory Committee. 

I understand from those papers that work has been done on the descriptors, but some people still have concerns about them. The Disability Benefits Consortium has said that we do not sufficiently recognise the cross-cutting nature of the communication needs that will have an impact across all the activities that are being considered. Those points must be addressed. 

The Minister has indicated that she has a plan to take this work forward, and I am sure that she will work with the relevant organisations to address their remaining concerns about those descriptors. I think that that is fairly reasonable. The range of work that she has said will be carried out over the summer, before the Bill goes to the other House, indicates that in this whole policy area so much work still remains to be done, and I return to my earlier point that the Bill is rushed. It is important that Members such as myself who have such an interest in the subject should have the opportunity— 

Maria Miller:  May I remind the hon. Lady that we are discussing the broad principles of the Bill, and it is

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entirely in accordance with the way in which the business of the House is conducted to look at more detailed issues as we progress to regulations? I suggest that in being able to give draft regulations and detailed policy notes to the Committee we are well ahead of other legislation at a similar stage. I take her point, however, about ensuring that the Committee receives such documents in a timely manner. 

Margaret Curran:  As a general point, I accept that, but some of the things that we are dealing with impinge on the principles of the Bill. We cannot test properly whether those principles are being correctly applied, because we do not have the supporting evidence. I am not saying that every bit of secondary legislation or every regulation should be in front of the Committee—I understand how legislation works—but I think that there are significant gaps. It strikes me that this is different from my normal experience of legislation. The Minister should not dismiss that quite as lightly as she does, because I am not the only one saying so; it is quite a widespread view. None the less, although I am not sure that I agree with the Minister about how the amendment would work and some of the unintended consequences, I will not argue with her about that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. 

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.  

12 noon 

Margaret Curran:  I beg to move amendment 207, in clause 76, page 55, line 11, at end insert— 

‘(7) In section 70, Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, for subsection (2) there is substituted—

(2) In this section, ‘severely disabled person’ means a person in respect of whom there is payable either an attendance allowance or a personal independence payment by virtue of entitlement to the daily living component at a rate prescribed in regulations, or such other payment out of public funds on account of his need for attendance as may be prescribed.”.’.

We come to another substantial area of discussion. I will refer to the information that the Government have provided, and I am sure that we will discuss some of the detail as well as the text of the amendment, which would make a small but vital change to the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, to ensure that a clear link remains between carer’s allowance and the main disability benefit in the United Kingdom. I will address some of the further information we have had from the Government but, as it stands, part 4 of the Bill contains no explicit reference to linking the new personal independence payment to carer’s allowance. The amendment would change that to ensure that the personal independence payment was a new passported benefit to carer’s allowance. 

Under current legislation, an individual who cares for a disabled person who receives either the middle or higher rate component of disability living allowance is entitled to claim carer’s allowance. Carer’s allowance is respected and understood by carers throughout the country, and it is important that the main disability benefit—the personal independence payment that may replace DLA—continues to be a key passport to receiving carer’s allowance. According to Carers UK, there are 6 million carers in the United Kingdom and, as of April 2010, 530,000 of them were in receipt of carer’s allowance. A further 44,000-plus have an underlying entitlement to

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the benefit, implying that they may be entitled to other means-tested benefits. Even those families choosing not to receive carer’s allowance for whatever reason have an interest in the wider reform of disability living allowance. Indeed, families who care for a disabled person but do not receive carer’s allowance greatly rely on DLA payments to help them meet the extra costs associated with caring for a person living with a disability. 

When we discuss DLA reform and the impact it will have on parents, it is important to consider not only parents who receive carer’s allowance but those who do not receive the benefit, despite being eligible under the current rules, and those who are not eligible but have substantial caring responsibilities for others in receipt of disability living allowance. All those groups are entitled to clear and succinct information on how the eligibility criteria for carer’s allowance and the Government’s plans to support carers more generally may change in the light of such big changes to the welfare system, especially with the introduction of PIP, which is a very significant and substantial change to people living with a disability. 

The Government have decided to keep carer’s allowance outwith universal credit—a decision that we have welcomed, as has, I am sure the Minister knows, Carers UK. As it has said, drawing carer’s allowance into the new system would result in hundreds of thousands of carers facing a means test on their household income and savings, and the risk of losing the right to £233 a month in carer’s allowance and a key recognition of their contribution to society. However, we welcome the clarity of the Government’s position regarding carers and universal credit. The position of carers in the wider reform of DLA has not been subject to the same clarity, and particular elements remain uncertain. 

The briefing note that we received last Friday said: 

“It is our intention that PIP will provide part of the gateway for receipt of carer’s allowance in the way that DLA currently does.” 

It also said that 

“we are not at this stage able to confirm which rate(s) of the daily living component will be used”. 

That is very significant and will be of great interest to carers throughout the UK. The amendment seeks to include in the Bill a clear commitment to ensure that PIP is part of the passport to carer’s allowance. It also provides us with the opportunity to raise the needs of carers and make sure that we are really grappling with the impact that the change in PIP will have for them. If the Government are dealing with that, let us put it in the Bill. 

I have a number of questions about carers and the introduction of PIP. The Government will be aware that there are a series of questions about their plans for the fall in carer’s allowance, reform of DLA, and the introduction of PIP. Before the publication of the note last Friday, I had not received a response to clarify the relationship with carers’ benefits. For example, on 24 March, I asked the Minister what impact assessment had been done into the impact of DLA reform on carers, and she replied that 

“at this point the new assessment has not been finalised and the impact on carers will only be determined when this is completed.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 242W.] 

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On 28 March, when I pressed the Secretary of State for further information as to whether any carers would lose out as a result of DLA reform, he replied that 

“we are reviewing all of this.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 15.] 

Last week I received a response from the Minister to a written parliamentary question asking for information on the demographic of carers in relation to DLA, and she could only say: 

“Some early analysis has been undertaken to use additional information to link the two datasets”.—[Official Report, 28 April 2011; Vol. 527, c. 533W.] 

That is deeply concerning, given the critical relationship between carer’s allowance and DLA as it currently stands, and the wholesale reform of DLA that the Government are undertaking. 

Kate Green:  Does my hon. Friend agree that it is worrying that we are not able to assess the cost impact? The loss of both DLA—or PIP in future—and access to carer’s allowance could make family care untenable for some disabled people, which would create additional costs to social services. 

Margaret Curran:  I strongly agree with the point that my hon. Friend has made, which highlights the importance of the debate. Families with disabled members feature disproportionately in poverty statistics. We know the struggles that they face; an extra couple of pounds can make all the difference in the world. If someone is planning for their future and does not know what it holds—whether they will have that resource—it is enormously important. That is why clarity and pace are so important in the debate. I am not saying that reform is not important, but how it is done is critical. It must be managed and paced appropriately, with the information available. 

We need to explore the relationship between carers and DLA. It would have been preferable if that had been done properly before the introduction of the Bill. There are serious questions and implications as to whether sufficient parliamentary scrutiny has been allowed on the Bill. The lack of answers from the Government to my questions on carers is reflected in a wider lack of information from the DWP following publication of the Bill. For example, there was no mention of carers in the initial impact assessment of DLA reforms published alongside the Bill, nor did one appear in the quality impact assessments published during the Committee stage. According to Carers UK, 73% of carers in the country are women, so it raises significant concerns that carer’s allowance was not mentioned at all in the quality impact assessments released by the DWP, especially given the scale of reform that we are discussing today. 

That is why, as I am sure the Minister is aware, many carers have made strong representations that they have not been properly part of the process. There is growing concern that the Bill therefore lacks joined-up thinking and that there is a need for a more coherent approach. Rather than look at each component on a one-to-one basis, there must be an understanding that a disabled person and their carer are not completely individual entities, and we cannot pretend that they have no impact on each other. That is the point my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston was making, and that is why certain information in the briefing note for carer’s allowance is concerning. It says: 

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“It is only when we have fully developed and tested the new objective assessment later this year that a decision can be made on the appropriate rate(s) to be used.” 

That is incomplete, I think, at this stage. Changes to carer’s allowance should be developed alongside the reform of DLA. They should evolve together; it should not be the case that the impact on carers is only realised after the settlement of a new gateway has been agreed and after we have established the principles. Our attention to carers should be embedded in the principles of the Bill. 

I would like to highlight a case study that illustrates the point that I am trying to make. It was provided by Carers UK and serves to highlight how interdependent DLA and carer’s allowance are, and why we need a more joined-up approach to this reform. Tony gave up work to care for his wife Laura who is partially blind and has memory problems following a car accident. They have two young children. Laura needs Tony to be there to help her wash, dress and use the toilet and she struggles to prepare food on her own. Tony would love to go back to work but does not want to leave Laura on her own during the day. Tony claims carer’s allowance and Laura receives the middle rate care component of disability living allowance. The support that the family receives from care and support services is being reduced, because the local authority has just raised their eligibility criteria to critical needs, and Laura has been assessed as having substantial needs. If, following assessment for the new PIP, Laura receives a reduced amount of disability benefit—equivalent to the lower rate care component of DLA, for example—that might not allow Tony to qualify for carer’s allowance; we do not know. The family could lose almost £60 a week, over £230 a month, as a result of the reduction in disability benefits, the removal of carer’s allowance and carer premium. Tony would be forced to claim jobseeker’s allowance, even though he knows that he cannot work because of the care and support his family needs, and the fact that their social care support is also being cut. That is why we need to see these issues in their totality. 

From that, we take away two points. First, our amendment seeks to retain the independent relationship between carer’s allowance and the new PIP; secondly, we note the importance of the rates that trigger qualification for the carer’s allowance. The Government have said repeatedly that they do not believe that the growing case load and expenditure on DLA are sustainable—my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston referred to that. Do they think that the case load and expenditure on carer’s allowance will be sustainable, and how does that feature in their financial planning? 

If the personal independence payment is to be a key gateway to carer’s allowance, will the Government clarify that by supporting the amendment? If the Minister believes that PIP will be a passport to carer’s allowance, will she provide more information about whether that will apply to the enhanced or standard rates—or both—of the daily living component? Do the Government plan to allow the mobility component of PIP to be linked to carer’s allowance, or will it remain accessible only via the daily living component? Will there be an updated equality impact assessment to look at how people in receipt of carer’s allowance will be affected, given the proposed reduction in the DLA case load? Has the carer’s role been taken into consideration in the assessment process outlined in clause 78? 

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The amendment would carry the rules of eligibility for carer’s allowance, which currently apply to the disability living allowance, over to the PIP. It is not a massive change and would not require a huge step, but it would maintain our current position and provide much needed clarity and assurance to millions of carers throughout the country. 

Sheila Gilmore:  There is a tendency when dealing with carers to be supportive, but not necessarily to create the structures needed to ensure that their role is rewarded and understood. When looking at public expenditure as a whole, it is important to join up several things, but because we are looking at one Bill and particular expenditures, it is easy to concentrate only on those to the exclusion of other matters. If we take a step back during our consideration of various forms of public spending, it sometimes becomes clear where there are links and why some things save money for the public purse. Carers are one group who probably save the public purse a considerable amount of money. In their absence, many people would require various different forms of care. Some people, for example, would not be able to live independent lives without their carer, who is often a family member and saves the state a considerable amount of money by providing that care. 

It is important that carers have the security of knowing that an income source is available. They have to give up much of their time, and they may not be able to enter into or carry out paid employment because of their caring responsibilities. If the situation is not clarified, anxiety could be created for carers and those for whom they care. If the intention is for PIP to be a passport to the carer’s allowance, that should be made explicit at the outset and written into the Bill. In that case, much of the anxiety and the concerns expressed by those who have written to Members of Parliament and others about the issue would be removed, and it would be easier to enter into more detailed discussions about the reforms suggested in the legislation. 

Anxiety remains that some carers will no longer find it easy to qualify for carer’s allowance. If the PIP is not the passport to that allowance, it is not clear what the criteria will be for those who receive carer’s allowance. That could lead to the establishment of another set of tests that would be expensive to administer and unnecessary. 

12.15 pm 

As usual, when we deal with carers—it was Carers Week recently—we want to sign up to the issues and have our picture taken with whoever is present at the time. Warm words are frequently spoken, but those of us who have had the good fortune not to have to undertake such caring responsibilities have no concept of the extent of the commitment that people make and the lives that they lead. Added to the pressures on their lives, such people do not need uncertainty about whether the payments will still be available, the basis on which the payments will be available and how easy it will be to claim them. I hope that the Minister considers that in such circumstances it is reasonable for the Government’s views not only to be made explicit but to be made explicit in the Bill. 

Maria Miller:  I hope that I can provide clarity and reassurance to the two hon. Ladies. I am pleased to be able to confirm that I intend the key conditions for

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eligibility for carer’s allowance to remain as they are now. It is important to provide such clarity, and I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East for giving me the opportunity to do so. We intend the daily living component of the personal independence payment to be part of a gateway for receipt of carer’s allowance, as DLA is now. 

As the hon. Member for Edinburgh East pointed out, we need to ensure that the extent of our commitment to carers is more than benefits alone. I reassure her that the Government are committed to that in the way in which we treat carer’s allowance within the universal credit. We have an ongoing commitment to supporting carers within Jobcentre Plus. We will ensure that where carers want to stay close to the labour market, which is often an issue for many carers, they have the support to be able to do so. Our support for carers goes beyond simply ensuring that carer’s allowance is in place; it goes much deeper than that. 

The hon. Member for Glasgow East raised a case study of an individual who is concerned about whether they will receive carer’s allowance in future. Obviously, it is difficult to respond to a particular case study such as that, because the assessment criteria for PIP are yet to be finally determined, but if an individual has a disability that requires intensive support such as that outlined in the case study, clearly the individual would be eligible for PIP. With PIP being used as a gateway to carer’s allowance, I am sure that the appropriate level of support will be forthcoming. 

Margaret Curran:  I thank the Minister for generously giving way again. I may pre-empt some of the comments she is about to make, so forgive me if I do. 

The Minister used the word “intensive”, which, as I understand it, is the word used in the briefing notes that were produced last Friday. Some concerns have been expressed about that, so I am again looking for clarity. Will the Minister explain what is meant by “intensive”? She knows that my point is not only on the principle of whether there is a link between carer’s allowance and PIP, but on the level at which that allowance is paid. That is the point of the case study. 

Do the Government envisage that PIP will mean a decrease in the carer’s allowance claimant count? Do the Government have any modelling that projects such a decrease? What does “intensive caring responsibilities” mean? Answers to those questions would enhance our debate. 

Maria Miller:  I am not sure whether I can satisfy the hon. Lady on the assessment, because, as I said earlier and as she knows from the briefing notes, we will be working through the summer with disabled people and their organisations on the detail that she is looking for. 

On carer’s allowance, I intend to ensure that people who require such support receive it. It is not part of my work at the moment to look at restricting the support that we give to carers; as I said earlier, it is quite the opposite. We are ensuring that both universal credit and the support we give through Jobcentre Plus provide the support that carers need. 

The hon. Member for Glasgow East asked about the things we are taking forward from the consultation. I can reassure her that we have carefully considered the thoughts on carers that arose from the consultation.

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Indeed, that is why we have said we will take PIP forward as a gateway into carer’s allowance; that was one of the issues that was brought up within the consultation. Another thing from the consultation that we will be taking forward is recognition of the importance to disabled people and their carers of not having multiple assessments. 

I hope that my response will provide the sort of assurance that the hon. Member for Glasgow East wanted. While I do not feel that it is appropriate to specify this in the Bill, she can be assured that, in looking at the way we are setting out other aspects of the support information that we have provided to the Committee, we have a common cause, ensuring that carers have the support that they need. Indeed, there is a provision under clause 89 to make an amendment such as she suggests, and I intend to use that power to make necessary changes to PIP, if required. I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured and will withdraw her amendment. 

Margaret Curran:  I thank the Minister for her reply. She will be very busy over the summer; she has quite a lot of work to do. 

Maria Miller:  I am always busy. 

Margaret Curran:  I am sure that she is. There are still a number of issues outstanding, but I assume that the Minister will continue to engage in these matters, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. 

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.  

Clause 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 77 

Mobility component 

Margaret Curran:  I beg to move amendment 212, in clause 77, page 55, line 39, leave out from ‘where’ to end of the clause and insert ‘the person is in a coma or vegetative state’. 

The amendment would ensure that the power to remove PIP mobility from people who are “unlikely to benefit” would explicitly and only apply to people in a coma or vegetative state. As the Bill currently stands, subsection (7) would allow the removal of the mobility component of PIP from people who are “unlikely to benefit”. Opposition Members are very concerned about who this group could be, and I hope that this morning’s debate will address the ambiguity. I am grateful to the Disability Benefits Consortium for their assistance in the production of this amendment. This is a source of further worry among disabled people who fear that they may have their mobility component removed. 

According to subsection (7): 

“Regulations may provide that a person is not entitled to the mobility component for a period (even though the requirements in subsection (1) or (2) are met) in prescribed circumstances where the person’s condition is such that during all or most of the period the person is unlikely to benefit from enhanced mobility.” 

Subsections (1) and (2) provide that a person is entitled to the standard or enhanced rate of the mobility component if they are over the prescribed age; if their ability to carry out mobility activities is limited by their physical, mental, or—I presume we would add—communication needs; and if they meet the required condition. In other

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words, we are talking about removing the mobility component from people who may be eligible for PIP but will not necessarily receive this. We need clarity on that. 

This is not about removing the mobility component from people who do not need help with fulfilling mobility activities; I understand that. It is about removing mobility from those who are “unlikely to benefit”. I think it is important to keep that in the front of our minds as we debate this amendment. In some ways, it refers back to some of the significant principle points that the Minister and I were probably disagreeing about earlier, and I am sure that that will emerge later. 

At the crux of this debate is the phrase “unlikely to benefit” and its definition. The Minister has given some reassurance about this, but I would be grateful if she could give further assurance. She will know that disabled people who have wheelchairs, guide dogs, or a walking stick are worrying about whether this will affect their application. I think the Minister has said that if people have a wheelchair or a guide dog, that will not affect their claim. However, she said earlier that it was the intention to take account of other aids and adaptations. Will she clarify which people are unlikely to benefit, and whether this is a reference to this section of Bill? We need to get to the heart of what is meant by “should take account of aids and adaptations”. 

Is this what clause 77(7) is getting at? If it is not, I would be more than happy, but if it is, we need to be clear that this is on the table and we need to have a full and proper debate. 

It would be a substantial shift in disability benefits if we were to take into consideration aids and adaptations when calculating the level of PIP award or eligibility for a PIP award. I understand that the details of the assessment process and criteria are ongoing and have yet to be finalised. We will no doubt come back to that. I hope that in her response the Minister can shed some light on those whom she believes are unlikely to benefit. It looks as though she can do that, and I would be grateful. Could she also clarify whether this will merely affect the later debate we will have about mobility in care homes? I would like reassurance that this is not connected in any way to this part of the Bill. 

Maria Miller:  It will help the Committee if I explain that this clause carries into the new benefits similar rules to those that currently apply to DLA. We are thinking along the same lines as the hon. Lady in envisaging that this would largely apply to people who were in a coma or a vegetative state and therefore immobile and unable to benefit from the mobility component. 

However, placing these specific conditions in the Bill is contrary to the approach to PIP that I have already set out, that we do not want to be prescriptive about the conditions within the primary legislation. These conditions would fail to take into account individuals who may not be able to benefit from mobility assistance, who are not in a coma or vegetative state but in some similar state. I hope that that clarity will provide some reassurance to the hon. Lady that this is not connected with discussions that may be had on other parts of the Bill. This provision is linked to a provision in the existing legislation on DLA. I hope that, with that assurance, the hon. Lady will be able to withdraw her amendment. 

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Margaret Curran:  I thank the Minister for that. She will be aware that a number of disability organisations have made similar interpretations and wanted this clarification, and I am grateful that she has given it. It is significant that concerns are so heightened; it is for this sort of clarity that we are having this debate. As long as the Minister is telling me that it is a comparable state to coma—where people are completely immobile, they are ruled out of that—I will ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment. The Minister is indicating assent to that, so I beg leave to withdraw. 

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.  

Clause 77 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clause 78 

Ability to Carry Out Daily Living Activities or Mobility Activities 

12.30 pm 

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con):  I beg to move amendment 193, in clause 78, page 56, line 21, at end insert— 

‘(d) must provide for the assessment to be carried out in accordance with the Welsh Language scheme adopted by the Department and endorsed by the Welsh Language Board.’

It gives me great pleasure to bring this issue to the attention of the Committee today. Obviously, it is an issue which is specific to Wales. However, it is important to give some context, so that Committee Members can understand why I have raised the issue. 

The Welsh Language Act was passed in 1993 by the Conservative Government of John Major. The Act tries to ensure that public services in Wales are available in the medium of Welsh and English on an equal basis. When the services in question are being supplied by a Government Department such as DWP, the demands of the Welsh Language Act can only be implemented if the Department in question decides to take on board the need for a Welsh language scheme to be adopted. I am glad to say that the Department for Work and Pensions has adopted the Welsh language scheme and in 2010 that scheme was revised and it has been approved by the Welsh Language Board. 

The scheme is a very good scheme. It would ensure that the provisions of the Welsh Language Act applied to the work of the DWP in Wales, and that people in Wales could access services through the medium of English or Welsh, according to their choice. That choice is something that we all support. However, when it comes to services provided by a third-party agency for Departments like the DWP there is an issue as to whether they comply with the Welsh language scheme that has been adopted by the Department. 

The requirement for a third-party agency to work within the demands of the DWP’s Welsh language scheme is clear. It says: 

“Any agreements or arrangements which we make with third parties based in or outside Wales will be consistent with the relevant parts of this scheme, when those agreements or arrangements relate to the provision of services to the public in Wales. This will ensure that third parties provide those services in accordance with this scheme.” 

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Indeed, I have asked numerous questions of the Department on this issue and I have had the same response, which I welcome. However the proof of the issue is in the way in which the third-party organisation implements policy in Wales. Unfortunately, since I was elected last May I have had a number of complaints from constituents that the organisation providing services and assessment in Wales—Atos—has failed to offer a comprehensive service through the medium of English and Welsh. 

Many members of the Committee may not be aware that 600,000 people in Wales speak Welsh as their first language and communicate in Welsh, and nothing else, until the age of six when they go to school. A constituent who suffered a stroke at an early age now finds it difficult to communicate in English. She had to relearn English as a result of the stroke, but can communicate quite fluently in Welsh. Her disability was assessed by an assessor who was unable to communicate in Welsh. There is clearly a problem when someone with a communication issue is assessed on her ability to communicate in a language that she is relearning as a result of a stroke. 

The other issue about the assessment process for the personal independence payment is that we are also looking at the assessment of children. In the same way it has to be noted that there are numerous monoglot Welsh speakers in Wales, but they all tend to be under five or over 85. Again, when we look at the ability to deal with children, it is important that the provision, which is pretty clear in the DWP’s scheme, ensures that third-party organisations delivering those services can do so through the language of choice of the individual in question. 

As a result of the complaints to my constituency office and complaints that other Members in Wales have received, the Welsh Language Board instigated an investigation into DWP procedures. It is a fair summary of that investigation to say that the scheme adopted by the Department was more than acceptable, but failures were found. 

I have tabled the amendment to get some clarity and assurances. The Department has adopted a strong Welsh language policy, and there is a commitment to ensure that third-party organisations work within the scheme’s remit, but I should like an assurance that the written confirmation provided to me is what is happening on the ground now. My understanding is that as a result of the Welsh Language Board’s review, an effort has been made by Atos to recruit more Welsh speakers. I am looking for some assurances—[Interruption] but I will obviously take an intervention from a fellow Welsh Member. 

Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central) (LD):  Does my hon. Friend share my concern that it is incumbent on the Department to monitor what is being done by Atos? Having looked at the Welsh Language Board’s report, I understand that one of the concerns was that the Department was not properly monitoring Atos. Does he not agree that the Minister must take on board the fact that the Department must ensure that Atos lives up to the commitments that it made through the Welsh language scheme? 

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Guto Bebb:  That is a fair point, but the Department’s revised scheme should ensure that that failure to monitor is addressed in the future. With that, I ask the Minister to give me the assurances that I seek. 

Maria Miller:  It is a pleasure to respond to my hon. Friend’s amendment. He is an assiduous advocate for the 600,000 Welsh speakers in Wales. He not only represents a beautiful part of our country, but is an assiduous local Member of Parliament. Let me reassure him that I share his ambitions for the Department in ensuring that assessments are always available in Welsh. Indeed, the people who have helped me to prepare for this debate have given me the words in Welsh—if only my Welsh was that good. Moreover, I do not want to test Hansard ’s ability by making it decipher what I am saying. Suffice it to say that my hon. Friend and I have a shared objective. Of course, we will meet our commitments to comply with provisions in the Welsh Language Act 1993 as part of the implementation of PIP. We will ensure that when required, assessments will be carried out in accordance with the Welsh language scheme, which is endorsed by the Welsh Language Board. 

As my hon. Friend has mentioned, the scheme is already in place with regard to the work capability assessment, but there have been hiccups along the way, and my hon. Friend has made it a priority to raise them with me. I reiterate that I will happily take up any case in which the provider of services—whether Atos or any other service provider—does not provide a bilingual service to a Welsh speaker in Wales. 

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central said the pivotal point was that we should be monitoring the situation. I can reassure her that that is exactly what we do. DWP monitors compliance with the Welsh language scheme through a mystery-shopping programme that also monitors customer complaints. A quarterly return is produced as evidence of compliance, and it is forwarded to the Welsh language liaison point within the DWP. Any evidence of non-compliance is taken extremely seriously and immediately taken up with Atos. 

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy implied, this is something that he and I have been in correspondence about. I hope that he is reassured that we take the matter seriously and that we are already taking action. Atos is already taking action with regard to the work capability assessment to ensure that it has sufficient bilingual staff to provide just the sort of services that his constituents and other Welsh speakers need. Whether they are old, young or of working age, they should have access to such a service. With those reassurances, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw his amendment. 

Guto Bebb:  I am grateful to the Minister for her comments. The Department has been consistent in its support of the Welsh language scheme—I did not make that point in my opening remarks—but the implementation has not always been perfect. Given that a new Welsh language scheme was adopted in 2010 and the fact that the Minister’s comments were extremely positive, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my amendment. 

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.  

Jenny Willott:  I beg to move amendment 200, in clause 78, page 56, line 25, at end insert— 

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‘(ba) about which people, including healthcare and other relevant professionals, may provide information or evidence for consideration in determining the questions mentioned in subsections (1) and (2).’.

It is a shame that the Minister did not try out her Welsh in her last response, because we will not need her to do it any more today. 

The amendment is about who is able to provide evidence as part of the assessment for PIP. Given that the assessment is not designed to be medical, there are many conditions where a GP or a consultant—the people generally approached to give evidence—are not the most appropriate ones to highlight an individual’s day-to-day needs. GPs can explain a claimant’s disability, but they are not best placed to explain the effect of that disability on daily life. 

I was recently visited by a constituent whose 29-year-old son has Down’s syndrome and severe learning disabilities. He has carers looking after him day to day, who are in a much stronger position to explain not only his more obvious needs—such as feeding, changing and assistance at home—but the less obvious things, such as how he copes with roads and traffic. Those things have a serious impact on his ability to co-ordinate with other people, to attend activities, to get out and about and so on. The doctor could not provide that information as part of the assessment because he or she would not know. The carers are much better placed to identify his needs, particularly since PIP is concerned with how a person can be independent and interact in daily life, rather than with the prognosis of a condition. 

The amendment would restrict those who could provide evidence to carers, social workers and others in a formal role. It could be extended to take evidence from people, such as informal carers, parents, partners and so on, who see someone every day and know how their disability or condition affects their everyday life. Will the Minister let us know what type of assessment the Government envisage? What sort of evidence will be taken as part of that assessment process? Would the Government consider broadening the group of people giving evidence, to make the assessment more personal and specific to the impact of a disability or condition on daily life, rather than just a traditional medical assessment? 

Sheila Gilmore:  We have heard a lot about how important it is to regard the benefit as being not primarily about medical conditions, but about the social model of disability developed recently. The amendment is important in that context, as it draws out the importance of looking beyond the obvious people to whom one looks for information. 

The hon. Member for Cardiff Central showed clearly the role of carers in the social model, but other professionals are not always involved at this level: occupational therapists, for example. They are often the people called in to make recommendations if people need aids and adaptations, and they often have a good grasp of the more practical aspects of daily living with a disability. Occupational therapy has gone far beyond its original image of teaching people to make baskets. It is about how to manage daily life. 

There have been criticisms of how the work capability assessment has operated. It has been stated clearly that it is to be seen as a different form of assessment, and I hope that remains the case. However, one criticism that

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I have heard from constituents is that somewhere in the process the original intentions were not carried out. There are issues around what information is given and what is available for the decision maker, beyond the relatively brief snapshot tests by independent assessors, that can give a rounded picture and enable a good decision to be made. Many people who have had difficulties with the work capability assessment have brought that up in particular. 

Regrettably, I have had a recent experience—I hope that it was a one-off—of a constituent who assured me that she had tried to provide information for a work capability assessment, but it was not taken. Admittedly, that experience came at the end of last year—I hope that things have changed now—but it shows why it is perhaps important to bring this matter out right from the start, so that, as we go down through the process, some of the same mistakes are not made again. When a decision maker is making a decision, they should have in front of them the best sorts of information from the people who are best able to provide it. 

12.45 pm 

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab):  Does my hon. Friend agree that some GPs provide excellent information to the assessors for a reasonable charge? However, I have seen reports of other GPs charging in excess of £150 for two lines that simply say, “This person has a disability,” or, “This person has a condition.” The range of GP reports is variable, and they do not always give the correct information. 

Sheila Gilmore:  I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. From her experience, she will obviously have had cases where that has happened. For many GPs, their contact with an individual may be relatively limited. Going to a GP, even with an ongoing condition, is about being ill. It is not necessarily about having the kind of regular contact that shows what someone’s life is really like and what difficulties they are actually encountering. That is not in any way a criticism of the GP, but that is the kind of contact that they are likely to have. They will not necessarily see someone in their own home or see how they get to work or how they undertake employment, volunteering or whatever it is that the individual wants to do. There is no doubt that a GP will have had little contact with that. 

It would be useful to hear what the Minister has to say about the amendment, but this is an enhancement to what might otherwise be a narrow test. I understand that the Minister feels that people are getting unnecessarily concerned, but many of the fears that people have are because of a recent experience of a test that they feel has failed to take wider circumstances into account. They want to ensure that that does not happen in this case. 

Maria Miller:  I hope that I can provide some clear reassurances to the hon. Ladies who have contributed to this part of the debate and say up front that we do not want to be prescriptive about from whom supporting information will be sought. When it comes to the PIP assessment process, we recognise the importance of getting evidence from the individual disabled person themselves. As I said from the outset, disabled people are those who know the most about their own conditions. We will also, however, be working with them to identify

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the most appropriate additional sources of information, including professionals and those who support them on a regular basis, which may mean a GP or another individual. It is important that we are able to tailor that to the individual to ensure that we get the best possible information. 

I can reassure hon. Members that we recognise the fundamental role of evidence gathering, and we want to gather the best and most appropriate evidence and do it early in the claim to ensure that assessments are as informed as possible. The evidence-gathering process will build upon our experience of DLA, where we have found that relevant evidence and information can be gained from a wide range of sources, including GPs, consultants, social workers, community psychiatric nurses, occupational therapists—the list goes on. 

We are also seeking to learn from the experience of the work capability assessment, including Professor Harrington’s review, which highlights the importance of seeking advice from the claimant’s chosen health care adviser and from an appropriate health care professional who best knows the claimant’s impairment. We are still considering which people are best placed to provide such information, but we are designing an assessment that will treat people as individuals, so we do not want to be prescriptive about from whom, as I said up front, supporting evidence is sought. We believe that that could hinder the flexibility of the assessment process in responding to an individual’s circumstances. As we develop the detail of the operational processes, we will want to work with disabled people and their organisations to ensure that our approach to evidence gathering is appropriate. 

I hope that by setting out our approach today, I have reassured hon. Members about the way in which we are tackling this very important problem, and that with those reassurances, my hon. Friend feels that it is appropriate to withdraw the amendment. 

Jenny Willott:  I am glad that the Government are taking the concerns into account and are using a personalised approach, and I look forward to seeing some practicalities about how the assessments will work further down the line. I am reassured in particular by the broad range of professionals who might be taken into account, as the Minister just highlighted. That would hopefully mean that when the decisions are made, they are right first time, rather than having to go to appeal over and over. Therefore, following the Minister’s reassuring response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. 

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.  

Jenny Willott:  I beg to move amendment 201, in clause 78, page 56, line 29, at end insert— 

‘(d) allowing a suitable person, as defined under regulations, to participate with or on behalf of the claimant in a consultation to determine the questions mentioned in subsections (1) and (2).’.

The amendment would establish the right for somebody to take an advocate into the assessment with them. Many people with disabilities rely heavily on support, not only from parents, partners, or carers in an informal

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way, but from formal advocates, such as welfare rights advisers, and so on. That is particularly important during the assessment process, and especially for people with communications needs or disabilities, as we discussed earlier. 

At the moment, whether somebody can take an advocate into the assessment depends on the adviser’s discretion, and practice varies hugely across the UK. In some places, advocates are allowed to participate in the assessment itself. In certain areas, advocates are allowed to come into the room to sit and support in silence, but they are not allowed to say anything, while in others, nobody is allowed into the room at all. We clearly do not want to assess the advocate rather than the claimant. However, if we are trying to get the most accurate picture of somebody’s needs, and want to make a very clear assessment, putting that person at ease and having someone to interpret as necessary will mean that a better decision is made at the end of the process. Given the existing differentials across the country, leaving it to the discretion of the assessor does not work, so the amendment would clarify that everybody is entitled to have an advocate with them, if they so wish. 

A number of cases have been raised about the lack of awareness by Atos doctors about some conditions, and advocates being present in assessments could help in those instances. For example, people with some forms of autism can often be very eager to please, so they say what they think the doctor wants to hear, rather than the bare truth about their condition. If a doctor or assessor is not aware of that, has not had the appropriate training, or does not know how to interpret what they are being told, the outcome of that assessment could be very unfair. Others with mental health conditions, and particularly those with anxiety disorders, might need support to be able to cope with the assessment itself. Some people with learning disabilities may need somebody to be able to explain the questions—in effect, the questions are translated into a way that the individual can understand, so that they can respond and give the information that is being asked for. That is particularly necessary, again, if the doctor does not have the appropriate training to deal with somebody who has that condition. 

The amendment would make it clear that everybody can have an advocate in the assessment, and that the advocate can participate if it is appropriate, or if the claimant wants them to be able to do so. That would hopefully lead to better decisions, and it might reduce the number of appeals, thereby saving resources, too. The proposal would, all in all, make the process run more smoothly, and it would help people with a wide range of different disabilities feel that their assessment was fair, and that they had the best opportunity to put their case forward. 

Margaret Curran  rose—  

Kate Green:  I shall say little on this amendment. The hon. Lady makes an important case. We have seen from the work capability assessment exactly the patchiness of understanding that she describes about when and in what form advocacy or accompaniment by a friend of other supporter will be permitted if appropriate. I simply add to the hon. Lady’s excellent list that it is not simply a matter of conferring such an entitlement; as she said, it must be made absolutely clear to claimants how that

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entitlement can be exercised. I should be grateful if the Minister were to confirm that, when notifying people of the requirement to attend for an assessment, there will be absolute clarity about their entitlement to take somebody with them to that assessment and what that permission will encompass. 

Margaret Curran:  I apologise, Mr Gray, for impersonating a jack-in-the-box; I am aware that I should sit when you stand, and I apologise for getting it wrong. 

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the hon. Member for Cardiff Central on making such significant points. She has a clear grasp of the assessment process. Highlighting the role of the advocate is important in principle, and it means much to those who make use of it. Inconsistency of practice throughout the country should be addressed centrally, and the amendment is strong on that aspect. It goes some way to addressing concerns that I have tried to articulate about the process as it is currently experienced. One of the most striking aspects, as I have mentioned before, is to do with families that have experience of autism, either directly or through caring for someone else with autism; it is their experience of officialdom that people have an enormous struggle with, and the amendment would have a significant effect in that respect. It would be a great enhancement to the process, and I support it. 

Maria Miller:  May I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central at the outset that we believe that face-to-face consultation with the trained independent assessor will be an essential part of the assessment process for most individuals? Such consultation will not only provide for an in-depth look at the individual’s circumstances but, most important, it will allow the individual to put across his or her views of the impact of their health condition. That two-way engagement

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will ensure that the advice provided by the trained independent assessor to the Department reflects a full understanding of the individual’s circumstances. If an individual wishes a suitable person to attend the face-to-face assessment—a relation, a friend or possibly a professional who supports them—we will of course allow it. Such people may help them not only to articulate the impact of their health condition or impairment but to remove any personal anxiety that they may feel by taking part in the process. 

The hon. Ladies who spoke to the amendment set out very well some of the concerns that we all have about an individual’s ability to put across an accurate reflection of their circumstances. Certainly there will be many instances when additional support from someone who knows the individual well and who knows the impact of their condition will be important. The person offering that support will have an important role in ensuring that the assessment process is both accurate and fair. 

Individual circumstances vary, however, so we shall resist the urge to be too prescriptive in identifying who might attend the face-to-face consultation alongside the individual. We want to be flexible enough to respond to the varied lives of our customers and disabled people, and allow individuals to be able to choose who they believe would be more appropriate to accompany them to a face-to-face consultation. However, although we are absolutely supportive of the idea of another person attending an assessment, the hon. Member for Cardiff Central and I will have to agree to disagree about whether someone can attend in place of the disabled person. 

1 pm 

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88). 

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.