As Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions I have been working to oppose the Government’s emergency PIP regulations since they were introduced by negative statutory instrument on 23rd February. Worryingly, this type of legislation can become law without a debate or a vote in Parliament.
The new regulations in effect overturn the rulings of two tribunals that say it should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to include 164,000 people with such debilitating mental health conditions that they are unable to leave their homes unaccompanied.
We ‘prayed against’ these regulations with an Early Day Motion, signed by over 175 MPs, the only mechanism to call for a debate in Government time within the 40 day ‘praying against period’. Despite huge support from MPs for a debate and this issue being raised in Urgent Questions, Points of Order, Work and Pensions Questions, Prime Minister’s Questions and Business Questions, the Government have failed to schedule a debate within this timeframe.
I therefore applied for an emergency debate to Mr Speaker on Tuesday 28th February. The Speaker granted my request for an urgent debate and you can read the application speech here. It was clear from contributions by MPs from all parties that there was a great deal of anger about the Government’s decision to shift the goalposts on PIP assessment rules and that the changes introduced by these regulations do not meet the Government’s original stated policy intent for PIP when it was first introduced.
As I explained in my speech, the Government have now hastily scheduled a debate and vote for Wednesday 19th April, but crucially, even in the Commons votes to revoke the regulations, the Government does not have to act upon the results of the vote as it’s outside the 40 day period.
The vote came just a day before the Government published the Second Independent Review by Paul Gray into PIP Assessments. It is extremely worrying, although not surprising given claimants’ experiences, that the Review finds there is a lack of public trust in the fairness and consistency of PIP decisions. Issues still remaining include the provision and assessment of Further Evidence, the inaccuracies and lack of transparency on how assessment decisions are reached and the failure of the Mandatory Reconsideration process to properly re-examine assessments – a fact borne out by the courts at appeal overturning 65% of DWP decisions.
The Government must now take speedy and effective action to overhaul the PIP assessment process, including revoking the emergency PIP regulations discriminating against people with mental health conditions, reviewing the contracts of private assessment providers and ensuring a ‘get it right first time’ approach to assessments.
Speech from Emergency Debate:-
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I beg to move, That this House has considered changes to Personal Independence Payment Regulations.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this vital debate on the new personal independence payment regulations. Although I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue, it is highly regrettable that the Government have had to be dragged to the House to be held to account for this nasty piece of secondary legislation.
As the House will know, the Government have ignored two urgent questions on this matter, an early-day motion signed by 179 Members calling for these punitive regulations to be annulled, and a 38 Degrees petition, signed by more than 185,000 people, asking them not to make the changes. When pushed at business questions on Thursday, the Leader of the House said there would be a debate, but could not say when. Only late last night did it become clear that the debate has now been hastily scheduled for 19 April. What particular kind of arrogance or disregard for democracy are the Government revealing? This does not bode well for their accountability to this place in the future negotiations.
For the record, we should note that today’s debate does not allow for a substantive vote on the regulations. As the Government have failed to allow a debate before the EDM praying-against period comes to an end on 3 April, the regulations will not be automatically revoked, should the House vote against them on 19 April. I would be grateful to the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work if she explained why, given that we have risen early twice this week, the Government have been incapable of finding time for such a debate before the Easter recess. The Government are hoping that because they have delayed the debate, the objection to the regulations will be kicked into the long grass, but it will not be.
“assessment is being designed to consider…physical, sensory, mental, intellectual and cognitive impairments.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 147W.]
Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Samaritans produced a report earlier this year that points to a significant association between socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour. The report cites Gunnell and Chang, who wrote:
“Those who are already vulnerable, such as individuals who are supported by social welfare or who have preexisting mental health problems are at greatest risk.”Is not it shocking that the Government have not looked at the risk of suicide among those who will be denied financial support for their mental health needs?
Debbie Abrahams: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) has given a very moving account of how one of her constituents was affected and, unfortunately, took their own life last week.
The Government’s response to the PIP consultation reiterated that psychological distress would be included in the PIP assessment, as did the Government’s argument in the 2015 upper tribunal case of HL v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Ministers have also said that people with mental health disorders who suffer psychological distress would not lose out on PIP. However, the new guidelines for PIP assessors, issued on 16 March, state:
“Descriptors c, d and f under new mobility activity 1 are amended”,
“effects of psychological distress are not relevant”.
The assessment cannot take into account the psychological distress that someone experiences. They cannot score the 12 points needed to get the enhanced PIP mobility rate, so instead of £57 a week, they will be able to get only £22 a week.
Someone who experiences psychological distress because of a mental health condition can score a maximum of 10 points under “planning and following a journey”, unless they also have a cognitive, sensory or physical impairment. That falls short of the 12 points needed to qualify for the higher rate of the mobility component. In the 2016 case of MH v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the upper tribunal ruled that psychological distress by itself cannot satisfy descriptors under activity two unless the psychological distress causes a change in someone’s physical condition. It is therefore the regulations, not the tribunal rulings, that undermine the intention of the primary legislation by restricting the number of people whose mobility is severely limited by their mental health condition who are able to qualify for the enhanced mobility rate of PIP.
The third justification the Government have used for bringing in the new regulations is that PIP is much more generous to people with mental health conditions—we have just been talking about that. The mental health charity Mind completely refutes that. Its data, based on Department for Work and Pensions statistics, reveal that 55% of people with mental health conditions previously supported by DLA get either reduced or no awards when they transfer to PIP. Indeed, the Government’s own data, when appropriately weighted, show that only 12% of people with a mental health disorder and another condition are on the enhanced mobility award.
These new regulations are nothing more than a shameful cut. Once again, this Government are trying to balance the books on the backs of the sick and disabled. The Government’s own analysis estimates that the new regulations will affect more than 160,000 people by 2023, the majority of whom will have mental health conditions. Many of these will be newer applicants, but the regulations will also affect those who are being reassessed, who will not be eligible for the full support to which they would have been entitled under the rulings of tribunals—an effective cut of £3.7 billion.
PIP helps disabled people to fund their living costs and, in particular, the additional costs that they face because of their condition. The disability charity Scope has estimated that these additional costs amount to approximately £550 a month, and are the key reason why disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. For someone who might not be able to leave their home on their own, PIP would help with extra heating costs, or might pay for someone to assist them when they have to travel to medical appointments, for example. PIP is a vital source of income to prevent real hardship, yet to the shame of this Government, people are being denied this support.
I have been contacted by so many people telling me their stories of living with a severe mental health problem and how it affects them, including men and women from the armed and emergency services, so I would like to share Bob’s story. Bob started off in the police service in Liverpool, and then went into the Prison Service. After 20 years or so, he said he started to experience the need to escape from the cells and inmates by locking himself in the rest room for a few minutes. Over the years, this graduated to cluster headaches and then full-blown anxiety and panic attacks.
After a period of sick leave, Bob left the service, but the attacks continued and he eventually sought psychiatric treatment; he was then declared disabled by virtue of his debilitating anxiety attacks. The degree of disability fluctuated, but it was so severe at times that he would literally run from a shopping centre into his car, just to feel safe. Bob said that he wanted to work, but when he went for a job interview, he had an attack in the car, and by the time he got home, he could barely function at all: he was hyperventilating and completely unable to move. It is people such as Bob who will be denied support through these new regulations.
These changes to PIP have come on top of significant cuts to our social security system, with support for disabled people being particularly targeted. Scope has estimated that the Welfare Reform Act 2012 alone will have meant nearly £30 billion in cuts to support for 3.7 million disabled people. Next week, as we have heard, another £30 a week will be cut from disabled people who are found not fit for work in the employment and support allowance work-related activity group, and for those on universal credit’s limited capability for work component.
The disabled community are tired of this Government’s rhetoric; they want and need to be treated with dignity, not plunged further into poverty, yet plenty of new evidence shows that that is exactly what has happened since 2010. Will the Minister publish a cumulative impact assessment of all tax and social security changes, showing the impacts that they have had, and will continue to have, on disabled people?
For some time now, there has been growing concern about the way in which PIP is working. Wider systemic issues with PIP mean that 65% of those who appeal to a tribunal succeed. Over a quarter of all PIP assessments are challenged and referred for mandatory reconsideration, with the majority of the decisions being changed. Why can we not get these assessments right first time? More than 750 people a week are losing their Motability cars because of changes to entitlement when they move on to PIP. This is so counterproductive, because it makes it nigh-on impossible for so many disabled people to work, let alone live independently.
We should never forget that nine out of 10 disabilities are acquired; this could happen to any one of us. That is what our social security system is for—to provide support to any one of us in our time of need. Labour will stand with disabled people, who have already borne the brunt of seven years of austerity, in fighting this injustice. I do not believe that, given the choice, the British public would chose cuts in corporation tax over preventing disabled people from being pushed into destitution or worse.
It is exactly a week since the horrendous attack in Westminster, when four people, including our colleague PC Keith Palmer, were murdered, and 50 were injured. The following day, the Prime Minister rightly said that she was looking
“at what further support can be made available for victims in a wider sense, because there will be people who were not physically injured in the attack…but…for whom there may be other scars. It is important to provide that support.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2017; Vol. 623, c. 942.]
However, because of the new regulations, support for people suffering psychological distress is being restricted. Warm words need to be backed up by action. Let there be no more cuts in support for disabled people. Enough is enough.