My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has helpfully defined what particular inequalities he is focusing on: income, wealth and living standards. It is well known that families with a disabled person are among the poorest in the UK. I am glad that the Government have now accepted the Social Metrics Commission’s definition, with its figure of 6.9 million people who are in families where a person has a disability. That person is more likely to be unemployed or in insecure employment and to have been hardest hit by austerity measures. The Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report last year which criticised how the benefits system operates for disabled people, particularly vulnerable claimants who have experienced difficulties with UC, PIP assessments and the benefits sanctions regime, which, it says, have had no tangible positive effect on moving disabled people closer to paid work.
As we have heard, the Government have dismissed the highly critical report of the UN special rapporteur by saying, roughly, “How dare he?” Yet disabled people told him repeatedly about benefit assessments that were,
“superficial, dismissive, and contradicted the advice of their doctor”.
The report goes on to say, tellingly:
“Those with disabilities are also highly vulnerable to cuts in local government services, particularly within social care, which has left them shouldering more of the costs of their care. This has driven many families with a person with a disability to breaking point”.
The Deaton report must surely look at problems faced by disabled people and their families, because the figures are stark. The charity Scope says that disabled people face extra costs of between £583 and £1,000 a month. A particularly large amount goes on energy costs.
In the limited time available, I want to turn to what the Government could do to help disabled people in the benefits system, which is an absolute lifeline for them. First, the implementation of universal credit is sadly and unnecessarily turning into a nightmare for many people. There are reports from all over the country of how it is not helping vulnerable claimants. Even in relatively prosperous places such as Winchester, I hear from Citizens Advice about a lack of care and flexibility in how such claimants are dealt with. This apparent heartlessness would not be imposed by the staff unless it was built into the whole system.
MPs’ postbags and CAB caseloads are full most of all with problems with PIP. Here is a typical example. A constituent of my MP colleague has heavy callipers on her legs due to a congenital hip condition and has had a Motability car for some years. However, on reassessment, she was told that, as she is able to drive, she must be able to walk, so she was refused enough points for the car. When the MP intervened, the car was restored, but just for two years,
“in case your legs get better”.
This level of ignorance is unforgivable, but it is not unique.
Citizens Advice in Mole Valley, Surrey, is particularly concerned about mandatory reconsideration, meaning that decision-makers have to examine a claim before a possible appeal. This is still far too much of a rubber-stamping exercise. At the end of January 2019, 81 % of new claims and 76% of reassessment decisions reviewed at MR were overturned on appeal. Clearly, therefore, it is not working. It causes delays, stress to claimants and is confusing and poorly understood. Some 73% of cases are overturned by tribunals. We clearly need an assessment of the cumulative impact of welfare policies on disabled people and a levelling of the playing field.