When hon. Members spoke about the whole DLA reform and consultation, I do not think they necessarily knew the full length of the consultation that has been

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embarked on. The consultation has been very thorough and has taken place over a long period. The Government code of practice on consultation recommends a minimum of a 12-week consultation, but I will put into context how we set about this consultation.

When there was a debate on whether we should change DLA to PIP, there was a consultation with disability groups, health groups and social care groups. That consultation was long before any change came into being and lasted for 10-and-a-half weeks. After that, there was a 10-week consultation on the reforms to which more than 5,500 people responded. There was then a 16-week informal consultation on the initial drafts of the assessment, followed by a further 15-week formal consultation on the second draft of the assessment, after which there was a 14-week consultation. In total there have been 55 weeks of consultation, which is a year-plus. By anybody’s reckoning that is a considerable amount of consultation. The consultation has been a real listening exercise, because there is no point in having it if we do not amend and change things as we see fit. As the Bill progressed and became the Act, key things were altered. Again, we are listening, and when we do finally table all the assessments, I believe the consultation will be reflected in them, too. Questions have been asked about when that will happen; it will be later on in the year, but it will be as soon as possible. There are many things to balance: we have to fit a specific timetable, which, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen South said, begins in April, but it would be incorrect to put something in play if we had not listened to everyone for as long as we possibly can.

I will pick up some of my notes, because the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) asked whether there are targets for the length of assessment. No, there are no targets for how long an assessment should take or for how many assessments should be completed in a week or a day. She is right: there are challenges, and it will be tough, but this is written into the contract. I met the two key providers yesterday to discuss how they have to engage with people and how the system has to be humane. They have to listen and be caring and all of those things, because—she is right—we need rigour and confidence in the system.

On the monitoring of quality and consistency across the PIP providers, guidance has been very strict, and training will be strict, too. They will be closely monitored for quality, auditing and the work of the health professionals. We are seeking feedback from claimants. They will be monitored again in two years, as well as this being ongoing. Should we see any discrepancies in appeals and reassessments where there seem to be issues, that will be monitored, too.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh East asked about other types of targets. There are no targets or expectations for assessor performance in the work capability assessment, and there will not be any in PIP. Yes, performance is monitored and assessors are audited. Where abnormal results occur, we will look into them, but everything has to be of the highest possible quality.

The hon. Lady talked about the initial start-up in Bootle and how it would roll out across the country. The Department will test the effectiveness of the IT system, and the assessment and referral and claiming process. The Department will also be able to validate assumptions about the timings of the process: the initial

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telephone call, the claim form, the completion and the assessment duration. All of that will be tested in the original bit, which goes from April to June.

The hon. Lady asked many more questions, but I wonder whether I should move on to another question, which I think all hon. Members asked, about how disabled people are portrayed in the media. The right hon. Member for Stirling correctly pointed out that the superheroes of the Paralympics make up a tiny percentage of people with disabilities. Just as I will never be an Olympian, most people with disabilities will never be a Paralympian. However, the Paralympics shone a light on an area that we hope to capitalise on and open up disabled people to mainstream media. To that end, as somebody who worked in the media for 14 years, I hope that I can bring some insight and knowledge. I have asked straight away for—I would like to say a media summit, but that might make it sound even more highfaluting than it actually is—for a media round table. When one considers that there are 11 million people with disabilities in the UK and what percentage of the population that represents, it seems only right that such organisations as the BBC or ITV would look at that as a significant audience they should be reflecting, not just occasionally but daily, in all their programmes, whether they are dramas, news or current affairs.

It may be that we have to be even more careful about the language we use. If we know that the issue will be polarised and put into headlines and TV captions—we know that that will happen—then we need to be more careful about how we talk. I have never mentioned the word “scroungers”. I am mentioning it now because other hon. Members have mentioned it, and maybe we should all stop using it.

Stephen Lloyd: I thank the Minister for giving way. She is covering a lot in a very short time, and I forgot to congratulate her on her new post. As I asked in my speech, will she commit, when the Government get it wrong, to going out on behalf of disabled people and very aggressively putting it right in the media?

Esther McVey: I agree that we should all do that, and that is what I am aiming to do. I have, in fact, been interviewed myself and felt that the interviewer was using the wrong language. I picked up on that, because I thought it was inappropriate. Whether that was to catch me out or whatever, I felt it was inappropriate.

I am aware of the time, so I would like to answer some of the questions raised by the right hon. Member for Stirling. Many hon. Members brought up the figure of the 20% cut. The right hon. Lady said that the impression sticks, so let me try to unstick it. Where did the 20% figure come from? I have to say, and I say this hand on heart, that when I walked into the Department and took on this daunting position—a huge task, with huge shoes to fill—I said, “I want to know how those numbers came about, because I do not honestly believe I can stand up in front of people unless I know the integrity of what I am saying.” If it is not right, I will change my words accordingly. As the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) said, if this is not what he thinks it will be, he will be a vocal opponent of it.

I have the figures. I have the numbers of what the spend would be, and this is what it was about. I asked all the medics who were setting the assessment, “Where did the numbers come from?” They said, in all honesty, they

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were given the task of looking at what a benefit would be for 2013—looking at the disabilities now as we perceive them. We are not looking at DLA of the 1990s—that was very much skewed towards people with physical disabilities. This had to take in everything: sensory, mental conditions, learning difficulties, and how that would be done and how it is best placed to fit. They said that they came back with this assessment, this is how it was structured, and these were the results.

The actual sums that were paid out were £12.5 billion in 2010-11, and by 2014-15 the expected, real-terms spending will be £13.2 billion. The 20% cut that people talk about was the cut in the expected rise in the benefits, because they had risen exponentially by 40% in 10 years and everybody felt that that was unaffordable. Therefore, if we wanted to give the benefits people wanted, if we wanted to look after those who were most in need of support, but equally those with great needs as well as the greatest need, this is what had to be done to be sustainable. Those were the figures and those were the facts I was given. I believe them, and that is why I am standing here today.

Let me see if I can come on to any more questions. The hon. Member for Aberdeen South asked rather a lot. I reaffirm my commitment to working with people on disability benefits. Wherever possible, we will be working with everybody. As I am running out of time and the hon. Lady will be speaking in a moment, I will come to a conclusion and send her my response.

In conclusion, the London 2012 Paralympic games truly captivated the hearts of the nation, and undoubtedly helped to shift attitudes towards and perceptions of disabled people. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capitalise on that. The Government want to build on that success and I am adamant that I will do so.

I have just remembered that the right hon. Member for Stirling asked a question about Atos. I am not fully aware of the answer, but it is of concern. I will address it, and my team will look at it straight away.

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We have to ensure that those who face the greatest barriers get the support they need. By replacing DLA with PIP, we are safeguarding that support for the future. Not only are we doing that, but we are modifying a benefit to ensure it keeps pace with the needs of disabled people today.

I hope my comments have reassured hon. Members. I know that they wanted more reassurance, but I do not have the time. Our proposals have been developed following extensive collaboration and consultation with disabled people and, when viewed as part of a wide package of support available, are intended to enable those disabled people who face the greatest barriers to lead full, active and independent lives.

4.28 pm

Dame Anne Begg: The hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) rightly pointed out that not all disabled people who receive DLA are vulnerable, but—this is a big “but”—the most vulnerable in our society are all disabled and will all qualify for DLA. That is why the Government must get this right. That is why the Select Committee must do its job of scrutinising the Government’s proposals, which does mean ringing alarm bells and asking lots and lots of questions.

DLA has been an extremely useful benefit and has helped to transform lives. PIP must do the same, which means that the assessment must be sensitive and supportive so that disabled people have the wherewithal to continue to be all that they can be, be that a Paralympian, an MP or a person incapable of any independent movement. It is imperative that the Government get this right. If they do not, we will turn the clock back to a time when disabled people were neither seen nor heard, and we cannot let that happen.

4.30 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).