Draft Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Alison Groves, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Draft Social Security (Personal Independence Payment) Regulations 2013
We are considering a fundamental reform that quite rightly has been very closely scrutinised in all parts of the House and by the wider public. The Government are clear in their commitment to enabling disabled people to fulfil their potential and play a full role in society. Crucial to that is the reform of disability living allowance, which is an important contribution for many, but a benefit that simply is not working in its current form, as is acknowledged in all parts of the House. The Government’s reforms present an opportunity to start afresh, keeping the best elements of disability living allowance that disabled people value, but bringing the benefit up to date, and making it fit for the 21st century and today’s understanding of disability.
The personal independence payment will be easier to understand and administer, more objective and financially sustainable. It will ensure that the benefit is focused on those who face the greatest barriers to living an independent life. Throughout the development of the personal independence payment, we have been committed to undertaking extensive stakeholder engagement to inform policy development. Throughout that engagement, we have considered and taken account of the varied views expressed by disabled people and the organisations that represent them.
We have made a number of changes to address the key concerns of disabled people and their organisations. We listened to people’s concerns about the speed of reassessment and acted on them. I announced in December that our reassessment timetable will take place more gradually, allowing additional time to make sure that we get the implementation of PIP right. The peak period of reassessments will now not start until October 2015. We received feedback that the impact of visual impairment for people who use long canes was not appropriately
Of course, all the provisions will be subject to debate. However, I think it would be helpful if I focused on those issues that I believe will be of most interest to hon. Members because they are new and significant. I know that there have been concerns that we have tightened up rules regarding the physical mobility activity “moving around”. I take this opportunity to reassure hon. Members that that is not the case. The policy intent behind the activity remains the same: to ensure that those individuals who receive the enhanced rate of the mobility component are those who face the greatest barriers to mobility.
We have always intended that being unable to walk more than 50 metres should lead to entitlement to some rate of the mobility component. However, in the second draft, being unable to walk 50 metres did not automatically entitle claimants to the enhanced rate. Within the group who could walk up to 50 metres, we wanted those facing the greatest barriers to mobility to receive the enhanced rate and the remainder the standard rate. In the second draft, we differentiated by the type of aid and appliance that an individual used, but we did not do it well. We used terms such as “up to” certain distances, which meant it was not clear which descriptor applied to people. Given that such people received variable outcomes, as was demonstrated by our own case studies, the strong response that we got in our consultation and meetings with disability organisations was that the criteria were very unclear. Many organisations told us that it looked as though only those people who need to use wheelchairs could receive the enhanced rate, including the Disability Benefits Consortium, the MS Society, Parkinson’s UK and Leonard Cheshire.
In the final version of the criteria, we differentiate by distance, which we feel is much clearer. In the final draft, individuals who cannot walk 20 metres can be certain they will receive the enhanced rate, regardless of whether they need an aid or appliance. I must also stress that this has to be looked at in the context of whether individuals can complete activities in a safe, repeatable and timely manner, and to an acceptable standard. I can confirm that I have asked officials to draft amending regulations that we commit to putting before the House shortly after both Houses have approved these principal regulations.
Esther McVey: We will also discuss the precise wording with disability stakeholders to see if there is any scope for further improvement. If individuals can walk more than 20 metres, but cannot do so in a way that is safe, repeatable and reliable, they should receive 12 points and the enhanced rate.
The result is, our analysis shows, that when one compares the second and final drafts of the assessment criteria, the projected number of people who will score 12 points for the “moving around” activity will remain
I can assure hon. Members that the personal independence payment will be awarded on the basis of a fair, consistent and objective assessment, which we have taken two years to develop, consulting with disabled people throughout and making key changes as a result of their feedback. We believe that we now have an assessment that will ensure that support is targeted accurately and consistently on those who face the greatest barriers to leading independent lives. Under this assessment, over 20% of PIP recipients will get the enhanced rate of both components, worth £134.40 each week from April, compared with only 16% of those on DLA.
I am aware that hon. Members and disability organisations have been keen to learn how providers will apply the assessment criteria. We made the guidance available on the Department for Work and Pensions website on 23 January so that hon. Members could consider it before today’s debate, as was requested by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I would also like to draw hon. Members’ attention to our commitment to carrying out two statutory independent reviews on the operation of the PIP assessment. They will be carried out by a senior independent figure, and we aim to complete the first by the end of 2014. That will allow us time to make any changes arising from the review before October 2015 when the reassessment of the bulk of the DLA caseload is due to start.
Fiona Mactaggart : On a point of order, Mr Hood. I am very sorry that the Minister did not give me the opportunity to intervene with regard to the amendments to the regulations that she has promised to lay before the House. I am very reluctant to vote for regulations when we know that they will not be those that are implemented. If the Minister had allowed me to intervene, she might then have explained her position. Are you prepared to rule on whether it is appropriate for the Committee to vote on what the Minister has just said is not the final version of the regulations?
The Chair: The hon. Lady invites me to giving a ruling, and I have to tell hon. Members that there has been no breach of the Standing Orders of the House. The point is one of debate, and I am sure that the Minister will listen to the debate and respond to the points made when she sums up.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Slough that it is disappointing that the complete regulations are not before the Committee, although I welcomed the fact that the Minister at least indicated that she was prepared to move on that issue.
The regulations come at the end of a protracted process. Early in the Government’s tenure in office, they signalled their intention to abolish disability living allowance and substitute it with the new personal independence
The fundamental flaw in the regulations is the premise on which they are founded. This was not about designing a new benefit to meet the needs of disabled people, as we heard in the original announcement, but a crude and blatant attempt to reduce the benefit bill. The change was then promoted in the cynical context of suggesting that DLA was an easy touch for so-called cheats and scroungers when the reality was that the fraud rate for that benefit was around 0.5%. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, so she might wish to comment on the fraud and error rates for DLA.
The first time we heard that there were going to be changes to DLA was in the 2010 Budget, when the Red Book said that there would be a reduction in case load and expenditure of 20%, although I think that we all now realise that that figure was simply plucked out of the air with no analysis—it was a nice round figure that sounded definite. We now know, however, that the DWP’s latest projection indicates that the reduction in case load and expenditure as result of these changes will be around 27% to 28% by the time that the PIP reassessments are completed in 2018. As the Minister is aware, those points were raised recently by the Work and Pensions Committee, when she was unable or unwilling to justify going a lot further than the original projections. Indeed, she tried to suggest that she was not responsible for figures beyond 2015, yet the scoping of this change to the benefits system takes the five-year figure into account. Although she was unable to enlighten that Committee, is she now in a position to inform this Committee? While she is at it, will she confirm that, under the regulations, two out of every three disabled people who would have received financial support from disability living allowance will receive nothing or a reduced reward under PIP, even though they will still face significant additional costs associated with their disability?
One of the oft-quoted reasons for the change is that the Government wish to increase the support that they give to those who are most disabled, but how does that chime with the Minister’s advice to the House a few weeks ago that the new PIP benefit rates will be exactly the same as the DLA rates? That is not giving the most severely disabled greater help, but helping them in the same way financially while taking away financial support from many disabled people who also must meet additional costs as a result of their disability.
Let me deal with some of the specific descriptors that are still causing concern or that require greater clarity. Regulations 8 to 10 cover the face-to-face assessment. Will the Minister clarify the Government’s policy on such assessments? Initially, the Secretary of State was adamant that everyone would have to undergo such an assessment. Indeed, when asked whether that would include people with an established and settled disability with no prospect of change who were receiving the maximum financial support, such as those who are
I wonder whether the Minister is not being a little unreasonable. In the case of regulation 8, does she really feel that one month is adequate time to gather some of the evidence that individuals will have to produce? For example, if some of the supporting medical evidence is required, I am not sure that setting up appointments with doctors and health professionals could be managed in many circumstances. Indeed, we always hear tales of people finding it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within a prescribed time. Given that some doctors, particularly in general practice, are now refusing to give supporting letters for tribunals, I fear that the problem may be doubled.
In the case of a seven-day notice to attend a consultation, as outlined in regulation 9, is that not, once again, an unrealistic timetable for some people? Seven days seems a pretty short period, and the reasons for failure to attend by that seven-day notice relate only to health or the nature of disability. I appreciate that the guidance that we have been given is still work in progress, but it states at P6012 that reasonable time will be given. Why does the Minister feel it is necessary to include a deadline of seven days or one month in the regulations?
“The matters to be taken into account in determining whether C has good reason under regulation 8(3) or 9(2) include…C’s state of health at the relevant time; and … the nature of any disability that C has.”
Does the Minister not realise that disabled people have lives too? Why not identify that work commitments, planned holidays, or an inability to be accompanied by a friend or carer should also be taken into account if someone cannot meet that seven-day deadline? Frankly, seven days is a short period of time in any case, and most people would find it quite difficult to reassess or rearrange their commitments within that time.
The rates of PIP are laid out in part 5. I know that the Minister has said that the rates would not be restricted by the 1% uplift, as outlined in the recent Bill, so why has that not been clearly included in the regulations? Instead, the financial sums have been included in the regulations. Is this just a short-term policy to get the regulations through the Committee?
I thank the organisations that have not only briefed members of the Committee, but briefed Members of the Commons over the long period during which we have discussed these issues. In terms of this Committee in particular, however, I want to thank Carers UK, the MS Society, Crohn’s Society and Spartacus. I should like the Minister’s views on some of the specific issues that they have raised. Will she address the issues highlighted in the briefing by Crohn’s and Colitis UK, which said:
“Crohn’s and Colitis UK are disappointed that the proposed descriptors of forfeit will include a much narrower range of activities than DLA and focuses only on activities required for the bare essentials of existing”?
The assessment will fail adequately to recognise or measure the additional disability costs and barriers to participation encountered by people with little-understood conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. The “continence” descriptor is far too limited as it fails to take into account the impact, frequency and urgency experienced 24 hours a day by people living with conditions such as IBD, as well as difficulties in reaching a toilet and cleaning up after using it, or problems such as an episode of incontinence. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on these issues.
I come now to the mobility criteria, which the Minister rightly identified as still causing some concern. As I said earlier, I welcome the addition of the relevant wording, although it would have been more acceptable had it been included in the regulations before us. However, disabled people and their organisations have been alarmed at the hurdle they will now face before being awarded the enhanced mobility rate. Most of those who have looked at these descriptors would say that a 20-metre qualifying distance simply does not provide a practical level of mobility. It is a very short distance, and although there is some doubt as to whether it is the length of one or two double-decker buses, we get the drift. There is very little a disabled person can achieve outside their home without a wheelchair if they cannot walk more than 20 metres.
Since most wheelchair users can walk to a certain extent, a qualifying distance of only 20 metres is likely to lead to some losing their adapted cars or very expensive, converted wheelchair-accessible vehicles. This could include those whose conversions have been part-funded by a grant from the Government’s specialised vehicles fund, which, as the Minister will be aware, is available only to those eligible for the Motability scheme.
It is estimated that a total of some 200 disabled people in each constituency will lose their Motability vehicle under the terms of the 20-metre qualifying distance. The Minister tried to finesse that in her opening remarks, but perhaps she will address these concerns. She must recognise that a 50-metre qualifying distance has been embedded for many years in the guidance on access to the built environment for people with mobility difficulties. For example, the Government’s own publication,
The change caused grave concern because it seemed to be plucked out of the air—a bit like the 20% figure from 2010. It was not subject to proper consultation, and if the position had been spelled out in the consultation document to which the Minister referred, the DWP would have had a dramatically different response to the consultation.
Will the Minister please enlighten the Committee as to where the 20-metre threshold came from? As far as I am aware, there was no major push from any of the stakeholders for a reduction to 20 metres. In trying to nuance the measure by saying that the organisations and stakeholders wanted clarity, the Minister is misrepresenting—if I am allowed to use that word—the actual facts of the situation. I am aware of only one organisation that commented in the consultation on the 20-metre qualifying distance. There was no push whatsoever for the 20-metre threshold to be introduced in the descriptors. Why is it there and why was it not consulted on, and does the Minister accept that it will mean a significant decrease in the number of people receiving support through the Motability scheme, even though they have significant mobility needs?
For many disabled people who work and have extensive mobility issues, access to a Motability vehicle is a lifeline. What assessment has the Minister made of the number of people the 20-metre threshold will take out of employment? If her aim is to support disabled people back into employment—that is both laudable and sincere—pray tell us how raising the mobility bar in this way will help achieve that ambition.
I know that the Minister is fond of praying in aid the Access to Work programme to cover every eventuality, and I notice that the role of that programme was raised at the Select Committee hearing. Will she tell this Committee whether she thinks that Access to Work will take up some of the support previously given through Motability? What assessment has she made of the financial implications of that? If someone had a car under DLA regulations because they were virtually unable to walk, how are they going to deal with their transport needs, given that they are hardly likely to be able to hop on or off the nearest bus or train? Where exactly does Access to Work come in? What is the Minister’s budget for it? What assessment has she made? Given that the programme has many other needs to meet, how will it meet this one?
Those are its words, not mine. Carers UK estimates that some 24,000 carers will lose their allowances in situations where the disability benefit may have been withdrawn, but caring cannot be withdrawn so easily. Lord Freud has implied that there will be no knock-on effect, but I wonder whether the Minister has seen the briefing from Carers UK. Knowing what a robust organisation it is in representing carers, it may have said it to her directly. Carers UK states:
“Carers UK is shocked and frustrated by the lack of a full impact assessment … and the inconsistency between the projected fall in the DLA PIP caseload and the suggestion that Carer’s Allowance will be unaffected.”
Frankly, I do not think that someone needs to be a mathematical genius to work one from the other. The latest impact assessment simply states that the Government are continuing to analyse the impact on certain passported benefits and schemes, including the carers allowance. I agree with Carers UK that that is totally unacceptable, given that the implementation of PIP starts less than three months from our discussions today.
There we have it—we are nearing the end of a very sorry saga of a so-called reform that has been woven around the ambition, held from very early on in this Government’s existence, to cut support to disabled people. The Government could have invested that time and energy in reforming DLA, as was raised with the Minister at the hearing of the Work and Pensions Committee. We would have supported them in that ambition, as we have said consistently. Instead, they went for a strategy of clearing the decks, abolishing DLA and substituting it with PIP. The problem with clearing the decks is that it is indiscriminate and takes no account of the individual.
The Minister has brought forward what she has called improved regulations. However, the improvement is only relative to what was put on the table at the beginning of the process. What was put on the table in 2010, with the abolition of the DLA and the introduction of PIP, was never an adequate response to the needs and aspirations of disabled people. We will not support the regulations.
I am a bit disappointed with a couple of things about this Committee. Government Members are doing what I have sometimes done on such Committees—they are not concentrating very hard on the debate. Frankly, that is betraying our disabled constituents—[Interruption.] I do think that. As I said, in other Committees, I have done what Government Members are doing, but when I was appointed to this Committee, I thought “Whoa, that’s hard work,” because this is such an important subject. We will all have had correspondence from our constituents—
Karl McCartney: It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. Would the hon. Lady say that Labour Members have been concentrating as well as we have done? Some of us are quite good at multi-tasking.
Some members of the Committee would have been present for the debate in the Chamber about Atos. One of the things that depresses me about the regulations is that they will be implemented by that organisation, which has let down our constituents to such a great extent. I am glad its assessment guide was published in time for our debate, although it is very long and we have not been given much time to look at it carefully. However, it does not give sufficiently clear answers for our constituents to be confident about what will happen to them when they apply for the personal independence payment, which is one of the anxieties that I keep hearing about.
My second and most important point has been raised extensively in debates in the House and in the other place, and it concerns the requirements that claimants must be able to do tasks “reliably, safely, repeatedly and in a timely manner”. I wanted to intervene on the Minister about that point, because I thought that she was actually using slightly different language, and I know that her statement of 31 January said that there would be an amendment to cover this point. However, I would be very grateful if she would tell us today whether those words will form part of the amendment. Perhaps she could intervene and answer that but, if not, will she tell us whether she has reached a conclusion about that wording? I did not hear her make any reference to “a timely manner”, although I might not have been concentrating hard enough, but I do think this is very important.
I know that other hon. Members want to speak, so I will try to be brief. The other point I wanted to make concerns fluctuating conditions. I think that that is a very serious issue because many people have conditions that differ hugely. The impact assessment shows, for example, that 2% of people who presently get DLA have multiple sclerosis. I have multiple sclerosis—most people find that very surprising—but unlike most people with the condition, when I have relapses I get right back to where I was before, and I have very few relapses. However, I have constituents with multiple sclerosis who have chronic relapses, and they honestly cannot tell from one day to another how they will be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling cited a representation about Crohn's disease. This is another fluctuating and unpredictable condition. The requirement on assessors under the guidance and regulations to add
The Minister talked about consultation—I am glad that she has consulted—but the details on fluctuating conditions will affect the 2% of people on DLA who have MS, the 1% who have Parkinson’s disease and the 14% who have mental health problems, because all these conditions are subject to extreme fluctuations. It is important that we get the detail of this right, but I do not believe that the present drafting of regulation 7 achieves that, so I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance.
We are sitting in a room that seems to be not much less than 20 metres long. Are we really saying that someone who can walk from one end of this room to the other cannot qualify for a mobility car? I do not think that any of us believe that that is reasonable. The reduction of the threshold to 20 metres is an afterthought. Perhaps it was introduced to cut spending, but it is not right. If the Minister is to introduce changes, as she set out in her introductory remarks, will she change the distance back to that which was consulted on? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling compellingly pointed out, that is the distance used for building regulations and town planning. Were the Minister to do that, these regulations, which genuinely frighten people facing disabilities, would create much less fear and anxiety.
This Committee has been a good example of Ministers listening and engaging and, after doing so, acknowledging that there have been problems and attempting to address them. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and her team for doing that and for meeting me and Lord German, as co-chairs of the Liberal Democrat Back-Bench committee on work and pensions. We feel that we have been able to voice some of the real concerns expressed about the issue, which the Minister has acknowledged.
It is important to remember that all parties were committed to reviewing DLA and assessing whether it fulfils its purpose, which is clearly and simply to ensure that all disabled people receive appropriate support from the state according to the impact of their condition. That must be the thinking throughout the process, and it is important to reiterate that at every stage. Of course, DLA is about the impact and duration of, and prognosis for, people’s conditions.
The regulations are fairly narrow, but we should continue to debate the wider issues. Indeed, we should continue to debate whether the rules are right to deliver exactly what we all want. We must focus on the fact that the phrase “reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner” for those able to walk between 20 and 50 metres is only in the guidance, not the regulations, which is a cause of concern for many organisations, including the Liberal Democrat work and pensions committee and colleagues. We have firmly pressed the Minister and her colleagues to say that that is not acceptable, because no one can have confidence simply from guidance in a company’s assessment of an issue of such importance
I pay tribute to Baroness Thomas and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), who serves on the Work and Pensions Committee. Between them, they have pressed the matter on the Floor of the House, in Committee and privately with the Minister and her colleagues in the Department. I am delighted that the calls of that campaign have been listened to, and we are now clear that anyone who cannot walk 50 metres reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner will be recognised in the PIP regulations. That is essential and it will make the process clearer and fairer.
“We strongly welcome the government’s recent announcement that the regulations will now include provisions compelling PIP assessors to consider whether claimants can undertake activities, ‘safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period’. This is a crucial change that means the assessments for PIP will better recognise the needs of people with fluctuating conditions like MS.”
“We welcome the Government’s decision to make these regulations very clear. It is important to use plain language and not gobbledygook. Everyone now understands that the assessment will be based on what a person can do ‘safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period.’”
There have been issues with timings, particularly regarding the consultation on the second draft of the PIP regulations, which came out on the same day as the publication of the third set of draft regulations that included the 20-metre clause. My colleague, Lord German, had received a letter to say that that would not be the case, but we are where we are and we have got to where we should be—that it the most important thing.
We will support the regulations. I am sure that we are all in no doubt that this is an important issue. It was important that, through our campaign, we managed to reduce the qualifying criteria for PIP, meaning that a person has to have a condition for only three months before applying, which is the same as for DLA. That may not originally have been the case.
Looking forward, now that the change is clearly in regulations, I welcome the series of independent reviews of PIP that will begin next year. They will ensure that we determine, as we should, whether in government or opposition, that the process is working properly.
I thank the Minister for her approach and for listening. With that continued approach, I hope that the people who were concerned will now have clarity and confidence in what the Government seek to achieve.
Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hood. I will make a couple of points to echo those already made. Despite the Minister’s assurances about mobility, a number of questions have been left unanswered.
A number of my constituents who have contacted me remain worried about their circumstances, one of whom suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. As in the examples cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough, on some days she is able to walk 20 metres or more perfectly well, but she finds that very difficult when her condition is particularly acute in her feet. She works hard and is a net contributor to the tax system. She has continued to work despite the chronic nature of her condition, but she is worried that the changes will adversely affect her at the times when she most needs support. I would like further reassurance on the measures, and particularly how they will affect those with fluctuating diseases.
I would also like further clarification on distance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling argued extremely well that there is a disconnect between these regulations and the requirements in local authority disability legislation and building regulations concerning the distance we expect disabled people to walk. Although the Minister’s comments were a welcome move in the right direction, they leave us with more questions than answers.
I would like to say something on behalf of carers, whom my right hon. Friend also discussed. On Monday, I met the Manchester carers forum at its annual general meeting. There is great anger among the caring community at the many welfare reforms the Government are introducing, including the PIP changes. Carers, including those I met on Monday, are net contributors to society and to our economy. On average, they save the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds a year through the hours of care they give at home, yet they feel they are being penalised and not being listened to at every turn. I strongly echo the case put forward by my right hon. Friend for a thorough assessment of the impact of these changes on carers, as well as of other welfare reform changes that are coming into effect.
Esther McVey: I want to state clearly that this is a principled reform. Every year, we spend £50 billion on support and benefits for disabled people, and we will continue to do so. We are a world leader in this field. We spend a fifth more than Europe, double America, six times Japan—I could continue. We are proud of the record we have, and we will continue to have it.
At present, there are 3.2 million people on DLA—a benefit that Members on both sides of the House acknowledged needed to be changed, including the Select Committee. It was a benefit very much set in its time, and was focused on people with physical disabilities. With PIP, we are reflecting all the types of disabilities that we acknowledge today: sensory, cognitive and learning.
Fiona Mactaggart: The Minister implied that the scheme would continue to include as many people as the previous one, yet the impact assessments I have read suggest a 28% reduction in the number who will qualify. Can she reconcile those two things?
Esther McVey: Let me clarify for the record something there has been confusion about. When we stated our plans for this benefit, we were looking at cutting its growth: it had grown 40% in 10 years. The figures show that we will be spending more every year up to 2015-16 than was spent in 2009. We have to look at the situation in its entirety and get the correct information out there.
Let me make it clear: this is not a cut in spend but a cut in growth. We are ensuring that more people—23%, compared with 16%—will get both enhanced rates of the benefit. We have said that we will always focus the billions of pounds that we spend, and will continue to spend, on the most vulnerable.
We also have to take into account that DLA and PIP is not a static benefit but a dynamic benefit. Therefore, in making assessments, we understand that people who have a condition in a particular year will not necessarily have it the following year. A third of people will get better—a point that is not being taken into account. Although I appreciate that some people’s conditions will stay the same and some will get worse, some will get better.
Esther McVey: Not at the moment. We have never before had a systematic reassessment of people on DLA. In fact, 50% of people on DLA do not have any medical corroborating evidence, and 71% of people on DLA have had benefits for life, so we are having a systematic review, but supporting those people who need it the most, which I imagine we would all agree is correct.
Mrs McGuire: The Minister seems to waver between her support of the social model and her emphasis on medical evidence. I wonder where she sits on that issue. Her terminology is that people might get better, but frankly, many disabled people find such terminology difficult to thole, as we would say in Scotland, Mr Hood. What is the Government’s attitude to the social model of disability rather than a very medicalised model, which I sense the Minister is almost drifting into?
Esther McVey: Can I make it quite clear that it is not my opinion whether people get better? It is the result of surveys. For people with a medical condition one year, it was found that, a year later, 34% will have got better. We are saying that we have to include that, and I appreciate that some people will stay the same, and some will get worse. As for whether it is a medical model or social model, it is a social model, but we appreciate that we would need medical evidence to corroborate somebody’s condition.
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Has the Minister given any thought to whether medical evidence that has been submitted for another benefit claim—perhaps as part of a work capability assessment—could be used for this claim as well, rather than someone having to get the same evidence twice and resubmit it?
Esther McVey: We would seek to ask the individual what evidence they would like taken into consideration. That is what we do when we send out the “How does your disability affect you?” claim form. Equally, we do not want people having to find multiple pieces of evidence, but we have to be very careful about how we get that evidence and what evidence we use. However, I appreciate my hon. Friend’s point.
I have stated quite clearly in the Select Committee, and I will state it again today that I will not be prepared to speculate on figures past 2015. I know that Opposition Members wish to go into the realms of 2018, if that makes their argument, but, as I know with certainty, we will be here until 2015. As I know for certain, we are committed to an independent review in 2014. The figures that I will use go as far as 2015. Figures past that are hypothetical and do not add to what the debate is, or the discussion that we are having today.
Esther McVey: No, I shall carry on a bit longer. The point was made about whether the regulations are effective today in the current form, and I believe that yes, they are effective, because our policy intent remains the same, and we have been clear on that. We are simply making the protection in our policy stronger by moving the notion of “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner” from the guidance into regulations. We believed that that was strong enough in the guidance. However, people have made representations from all sides of the House, as have organisations and charities, that they would feel more confident if that were in regulation. Therefore, we gave it to the lawyers to ensure that it would be stronger in regulation, and we have put it there. I say in regulation because it will be slightly different, as it has to be what is possible and allowable in law, which is “safely”, “to an acceptable standard”—which is “reliably” —“repeatedly” and “in a reasonable time period”. Those are the words agreed by the lawyers to reflect what we want to go into regulation.
The right hon. Lady mentioned face-to-face assessments. I want to be quite clear, as I said in the Select Committee, that all cases will be reviewed. If there is enough medical evidence, historical evidence or evidence gathered, however, it does not seem right that some people would have to undergo a face-to-face assessment. Although the figures are not set in stone, we imagine that 25% of people would not have a face-to-face assessment, because we would consider that, given all the information gathered, that would be the correct outcome.
As I understand it, people will be expected to be reassessed in future for continuing PIP claims. Although I might not have been able to wade through all the
Esther McVey: I had hoped that I had just answered that. While people will be reassessed, once there is enough evidence—whether medical or historical—they would not have to have a face-to-face assessment. Equally, the time that lapses between certain reassessments would be different. In the cases mentioned by the hon. Lady, of a debilitating or progressive illness, the reassessment periods would be further apart. As I said, once we have the medical and historical evidence, it would not seem right to see people on a face-to-face basis.
The right hon. Member for Stirling was talking about the one-month criterion in regulation 8. That was, really, specifically for the questionnaire we send out on how the disability affects the individual. We expect to have the correspondence back within a month, although we appreciate that some people with certain conditions might need extra support or help to do that. We realise that there will be leeway, but that is what we are setting down as strict guidance criteria to follow.
Mrs McGuire: Will the Minister clarify that? The Minister said in one sentence that the criteria are flexible but also strict guidance. Given that what is said in Committee can be used in external challenges, I wonder whether she would like to clarify exactly what she means. Are they flexible or are they strict?
Esther McVey: For the majority of cases, for most people, that is the time frame in which we seek the information to come back. However, having had representations from various organisations—people might have learning difficulties, Asperger’s or autism, and they might not open their mail or listen to the communication coming back and forth—with sufficient explanation there would be leeway for such people, but that is the exception and not the rule.
The matter that seemed to take up most of the time was the enhanced mobility rate. The rule as it stands governing receipt of DLA needs to be said quite clearly. To get the enhanced rate, someone must be “unable or virtually unable” to get around. That is what is stipulated. At the moment, there is some uncertainty in terms of those who are able to manage up to 50 metres—people might be on standard DLA, or they might be on the enhanced DLA. We sought to clarify that, although it might still be the case that some people are on the enhanced rate and some not. In seeking to clarify that, we have said that those who can only manage 20 metres will automatically get the enhanced rate. However, using the test of “safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner”, those people who can only manage up to
The right hon. Lady asked how people would be affected if they were working: could Access to Work pick up the difference between the two? We know from work that had been done on DLA and the exploratory research and evidence review in 2010 that DLA acts as a very small—if any—disincentive on people going into work. Therefore, we do not feel that the differences in that will have much of a consequence. The right hon. Lady is quite right that Access to Work has supported and supports 30,000 people in getting to work. We have increased by £15 million the money available to that programme. Should anybody have difficulty getting into work, that programme will give them the extra support that they need.
I hope my comments today have reassured hon. Members that this is a sensible reform which has been developed in close collaboration with disabled people and their representatives. We have listened to concerns and acted on them. As a result, I can present to the Committee today a set of regulations that will ensure we can provide disabled people with a new, more sustainable benefit which will reflect modern society and enable them to live full and active independent lives. As hon. Members will appreciate, these regulations provide the robust legal framework for underpinning benefit decisions and will be complemented by non-statutory guidance. I am satisfied that this instrument is compatible with the European convention of human rights. I commend the regulations to the Committee.