Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker. I thank the Minister for her response. I am, however, disappointed that the Secretary of State was not here to respond, and that the Minister has had to respond to an urgent question rather than making an oral statement, given the extensive scope of the proposals.
I welcome yesterday’s announcement that there would be no PIP reassessment for disabled people above the state pension age, but why are not all disabled people—particularly those with progressive conditions such as motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer—being exempted from repeat assessments? I have a constituent with terminal secondary breast cancer which has gone into her bones, and she has been refused PIP.
The launch of a transformation programme whereby PIP and WCA assessments will be integrated by 2021 is interesting, given that the Government have previously said that that could not be done. How exactly will the two assessments be merged? Who is involved? I am grateful that the Minister has said they will be co-designed with disabled people, but will she commit to supporting the principle of “nothing about you without you”? Will there be a pilot? If so, where and when, and what would be the sample size? Will there be an independent evaluation?
Who will provide the new service? There are real concerns about the profiteering enabled by this Government at the expense of disabled people. There are also worrying reports in various GP journals this week that the medical records of claimants will be made available to the DWP or their social security support will be denied. So I will be grateful if the Minister can confirm that this is not, and will not be, Government policy. Obviously there are huge issues around privacy and ethics.
There is also strong evidence of the physical and emotional harm that these assessments are having on disabled people, over and above their condition. What is being put in place before 2021 to improve the poor quality, validity and reliability of these assessments?
On UC and the role of job coaches in determining limited capability to work, the detail was most unclear in the written ministerial statement. Can the Minister expand on it and confirm that work coaches may start an assessment to determine a claimant’s capacity to work? Can she also confirm a shift in the Government’s approach to sanctions and expand on her Department’s approach to conditionality?
I welcome the review into the inadequacy of social security support for disabled people and more widely. Poverty is a political choice, and 4.2 million disabled people have been pushed into poverty as a result of the £5 billion in cuts since 2010. So what form will this review take and, again, who will be involved?
On the Government’s more ambitious targets to get disabled people into work, again the pendulum is swinging back. The Conservative general election pledge in 2015 was to halve the disability employment gap, but it is actually 4.4% lower than 2015. Then in 2017 there was a pledge about 1 million additional disabled people getting into work, but there was nothing about access to work.
Finally, what is the Minister going to do about the cultural changes needed in her Department to ensure that disabled people and other claimants do not feel demonised, even dehumanised, as happens all too often?