Disability Benefits: Assessments

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Monday 4th September 2023

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. Her point about her constituent is well made and chimes with what we have heard from the creators of the petitions.

To return to my example, the lift was broken and the PIP claimant had no option but to attempt the stairs. That case is echoed elsewhere, as the hon. Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) has just described. The strongest arguments made by the petition creators, whom I met before today’s debate, were about how the assessments are conducted, the time taken to conduct them, where they are conducted and who they are conducted by. In a report on the PIP assessment process, Mind, the mental health charity, found that people felt the process tries to catch them out. I am sure the Minister will agree that if that is the perception, that needs to change; we need to listen to the claimants to figure out why that is.

We have seen some alternatives offered, which I am sure we will hear more about from colleagues from Scotland. I will not steal anything from their speeches, so I will move on.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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I am delighted that the hon. Member is willing to give way. I will be making a substantive speech, but on the point about Scotland and the system that we have built, it is based on fairness, dignity and respect for claimants. I spoke to a sufferer of Crohn’s disease earlier today. She told me that her experience of trying to get PIP, very like what he has described, was traumatic and the person she spoke to had no understanding. Conversely, when she engaged with the Scottish system, the person came out and spent time with her in her home to see how she was living her life. Perhaps that is something that the UK system should do more of.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. I received a lot of information from my colleague and former Minister in this space, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson); I am sure he will have more to say when he gets up to speak, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the issue.

I know that the DWP has been looking into the issue for some time, so I would appreciate an update from the Minister on where the Department is. For many, the PIP assessment is not the end. It is just the start of a very long process—unless they give up completely after finding it so difficult.

My last point is about appeal tribunals. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon, a former Minister in this space, might be able to correct me on these statistics, but from October to December 2022, 69% of PIP applications that went to tribunal were overturned in favour of the applicant. In 59% of the appeals won by the claimant, the tribunal had reached its conclusions based solely on evidence already provided to the DWP and not on anything new. The numbers are concerning and chime with the concerns that many of us have. I know that the Government are looking at the sheer volume of education, health and care plan assessments that are overturned at tribunal; I hope that the Minister can shed some light on why the Department thinks that this is the case for appeals, what is fuelling their sheer scale and how the matter is being looked into.

As I am sure we will hear from plenty of colleagues who recount their constituents’ stories, reassessments and appeals can be incredibly draining and stressful experiences, especially if a person’s initial contact and assessment was less than satisfactory. Such apprehension leaves many feeling that there is no point in making any further appeals or requesting reconsiderations, so we simply do not know the true number of people affected. I see in his place the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), and I am sure we will hear from him later. That Committee’s “Health assessments for benefits” report, published earlier this year, noted that some claimants

“live in fear of reassessments, particularly where they previously had to go through the appeal process.”

I look forward to hearing from the Minister what steps the Department is taking to try to tackle the issue. If we can have a comprehensive and efficient system that has the trust of claimants, I am sure we can turn the situation around.

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Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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It is a huge pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank colleagues who have contributed, the Petitions Committee, and the petitioners who raised this crucial issue, which I have no doubt affects every constituency.

I declare an interest as the co-chair of the newly reconvened all-party parliamentary group on Crohn’s and colitis, alongside the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sarah Green). I will focus many of my comments on those particularly debilitating and devastating diseases. I am conscious that there will be many people watching at home who suffer from those diseases and many others that are, by their very definition, relapsing and remitting, and that do not fit into the rigid box often called for by the assessments for PIP and ESA. I pay tribute to them. I have spoken to a number of sufferers in recent days and, like many colleagues, I regularly represent constituents who suffer from debilitating diseases and, unfortunately, have traumatic experiences with the social security system.

I have heard about the incompatibility of disability benefits assessment services with fluctuating illnesses, because they take a static measure of the patient’s pain and suffering. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis fall into that category. They are lifelong, immune-mediated diseases of the gut for which there is currently no known cure. The symptoms—I will not apologise in advance, but I give a disclaimer that some of these are quite descriptive and graphic—include urgent and frequent diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, pain, profound fatigue, anaemia, and inflammation of the joints, skin, liver and eyes. Three in four people with Crohn’s and colitis experience bowel incontinence—an unpredictable and urgent need to pass stools.

Currently, over half a million people live with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis in the UK. I declare an interest: one of those people is my brother. He is fortunate in that he does not have to access the welfare system. He is able to manage his condition, which is relapsing and remitting, such that he can continue in full-time employment. However, since he was diagnosed just over nine years ago, I have seen the struggles: the profound fatigue; the questions about what his career, which has been somewhat curtailed, will look like; and the impact on his partner and family, and even on my mother, who worries daily about his condition and how it may develop.

While this is incredibly serious, it is important to note that these are relapsing and remitting diseases, meaning an individual will have flare-ups that often occur suddenly and unpredictably. There is also significant variation in the pattern and complexity of the symptoms, both between people and in an individual at different times in their life. There are many costs associated with living with Crohn’s and colitis, such as increased costs for transport, heating, treatments and care. In 2022, the charity Crohn’s & Colitis UK received over 1,000 inquiries to its helpline from people looking for information on available funding and support. Information on PIP and benefits is one of the top 10 topics searched for on its website.

The support available through the current benefits system is built on the concept of a disabled person with a permanent and substantial impairment, or a person with a long-term health condition that is likely to degenerate. There is little recognition in the system of a person who has a long-term fluctuating health condition, and the adverse effects on their ability to work, undertake education and maintain their physical and mental health. The PIP assessment guide requires assessors to consider fluctuation of symptoms when deciding what descriptors to use during the assessment, with the claimant’s ability to carry out activities required to be impacted by their condition on at least 50% of days. That is a key point that I want to raise with the Minister.

I spoke to two people ahead of this debate. One is a personal friend, Rachel, and another is a constituent, Steven Sharp. Steven has done a huge amount of work on Crohn’s and colitis, and he talked to me about his experience of their relapsing and remitting nature. He spoke about things such as bag explosions or leaks in the middle of night, and having to clean himself up at 5 o’clock in the morning and do a whole load of self-care, cleaning of sheets and so on. That might be occasional, but when it happens it is devastating. It is embarrassing; it is not something that he talks about very often, but I have his permission to talk about it. He talked about his work with the local football team in Fauldhouse in my constituency. He had gone along to training just the other day and he was struggling to walk. His joints were in a serious state of inflammation and he was really struggling. That is not necessarily an everyday occurrence for him, but it happens. It is impossible for people who have Crohn’s and colitis to predict whether they will be impacted 50% of the time. We cannot squeeze those folk into a one-size-fits-all box.

There are legal precedents for fluctuating symptoms being treated as constant symptoms. The legal test for determining whether a fluctuating symptom should be taken into consideration is found in the Equality Act 2010. As I said, the nature of Crohn’s and colitis means that they are impossible to predict. Somebody might have a different experience on a different day. The arbitrary 50% rule just cannot work for folk with Crohn’s and colitis, or, I have no doubt, for those with many other diseases.

Beyond that, PIP descriptors are too rigid to adequately assess the impact of Crohn’s and colitis. The PIP guidance frames incontinence in very limited terms, as points are awarded based on the need for assistance and aids. Specifically, the descriptors and guidance fail to recognise the difference between types of toilet needs, including frequency of bowel movement, urgency and incontinence. They do not recognise the impact on independence, or on the ability to undertake daily tasks and employment, of experiencing multiple bouts of urgency a day.

I have personal experience from talking to my friend Rachel. She has sadly lost her bowel and had to have a stoma just so she can survive and live. She was experiencing chronic diarrhoea and vomiting. She managed to get back to work, but sadly has recently had to leave and go completely on to benefits. Speaking to the assessor was a really difficult experience for her, yet when she was engaging with the Scottish service, she had somebody come out to her home to spend the day with her and understand the difference. I appreciate what the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) said, although I challenge it, because the Scottish system is much more person centred. The descriptors and guidance on “toilet needs and incontinence” do not recognise the significant support that those with Crohn’s or colitis may receive from carers or family, such as support with cleaning themselves, washing clothes and bedding, and so on.

PIP assessments describe mobility based on two activities: moving around and planning, and following journeys. My constituent Steven said that he was asked whether he could tie his shoelaces. He can, but does he also have explosive episodes in the middle of the night after which he needs to clean himself up? Yes, but that does not fit into the strict regime that the DWP is pursuing. Strict, arbitrary measures of distance are not the best way to determine a person’s mobility needs, regardless of their disability.

I know from my brother’s experience of having to plan a journey that he has to know where the public toilets are. We are a family that holiday in the highlands of Scotland, and when he was first diagnosed, I remember him not knowing whether he was going to be able to take his family on holiday, because he could not guarantee that toilets would be in place. He was able to be innovative; he exchanged his car for a truck and put a portaloo in the back of it, which is probably the most innovative response I have ever seen to a chronic disease, but he was in a unique position to be able do that. We should not be asking people who have chronic diseases to drive around with a toilet in the back of their car. That is just ridiculous.

The UK Government must consider a more flexible approach towards moving around that is grounded in a person’s reality and considers their ability. A more holistic approach to journey planning that considers the day-to-day difficulties would be much better for those who suffer.

Data from Crohn’s & Colitis UK shows that applicants found fatigue to be their most debilitating symptom, but it was also the symptom that they felt was least represented in their assessment. People with Crohn’s and colitis who have experience of applying for PIP found that their ability to effectively convey the impact of fatigue and pain as a result of the condition was dependent on the health assessor’s knowledge of the condition. My constituent Steven told me that he was assessed by a mental health nurse, who clearly did not have the requisite knowledge and did not really understand what they were talking about. He ended up not receiving his benefits and has decided not to apply again. That is a sad example of somebody with a genuinely debilitating condition who is being denied their benefits.

In its recent inquiry exploring DWP health assessments, as mentioned by other Members, the Work and Pensions Committee asked the Government to confirm whether they were still reviewing the PIP descriptors, and if not, what evidence they had found that those currently in use are fit for purpose. As I understand it, the Government have yet to present that evidence, so I call on them to refine the descriptors to reflect the real and debilitating impact of Crohn’s and colitis on people’s lives. That process should include a review of incontinence, mobility and objective scales to measure fatigue and pain.

Disability benefit assessments do not need to be like this. As we have heard, and as we know in Holyrood, the SNP-led Government have pursued a social security system with the principles of dignity, fairness and respect at its heart. The new adult disability payment delivers an entirely new, simplified, compassionate experience for disabled people and was designed in partnership with the people who use it. Their input is at the heart of the process and service that we have developed. The Scottish Government have abolished the controversial DWP assessments and instead hold person-centred consultations. That stands in contrast with the UK Government’s system, which, as Members indicated earlier, is punitive, inflexible and, most importantly, unfit for purpose.

According to a recent report, the data on mandatory reconsiderations and appeals shows that there is still a fundamental problem with decision making. Some 69% of DWP decisions were overturned at tribunal in the quarter ending December 2022. That is not just a massive waste of money; it is a massive waste of time for civil servants and those administering the system. Most importantly, however, it retraumatises those with chronic conditions. Those I have spoken to in recent days and those who have been dealt with by my constituency office have talked about the trauma that they have experienced. Governments and nations are judged, I believe, on how we treat the most vulnerable, and with these assessments and this system we are not treating the most vulnerable people with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

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Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Absolutely; that engagement is ongoing. We must move forward reform of the work capability assessment in a careful and measured way. We think that is the right approach to take, because it truly de-risks work.

I note that the Opposition policy related to the “into work” guarantee, for which the former shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth)—of whom I am rather fond, by the way—argued passionately. I do not know whether it will be reviewed following the appointment today of his neighbour, the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), whom I welcome to her place as the new shadow Secretary of State, but the reforms that we are advocating for are the result of listening carefully to the responses to the Green Paper reforms.

I am keen to see the Opposition’s workings on the “into work” guarantee, but certainly from what officials have said to me, it seems that they do not think that it will have the effect on outcomes that the Opposition might think. I hope, however, that as we move forward with the reforms, we will see greater collaboration on a united basis. These are the right reforms to support more disabled people into work, following the abolition of the work capability assessment, which, in years gone by, I recognise as was controversial. Strong opinions have been expressed about it.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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I appreciate what the Minister is saying about the reforms, but perhaps he will reflect on the lived experiences that we have shared—the appalling treatment of our constituents and those on whose behalf we have spoken. Also, we have nearly £19 billion in unclaimed benefits every year, and 70% of appeals are overturned. If we add in the cost of the time, effort and trauma, we see there is clearly a long way still to go. Does he agree?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I always make the point—I have done in the House on a number of occasions, as well as more widely in interviews and other engagements—that if people think that they are entitled to support, they absolutely should apply for it. I want that message to go out from Westminster Hall today. That is why the support is there; we want people to access the support to which they are entitled.

That leads nicely into a further point that I want to make about the White Paper reforms. As part of our reform package, we are testing new initiatives to make it easier to apply for and receive health and disability benefits. That speaks to the benefits journey that the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) touched on. For example, we are testing a new severe disability group. People who are eligible will benefit from a simplified process, and will not need to complete a detailed application form or go through a face-to-face assessment.

To add a little more clarity to the response I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) in Question Time, the policy will be tested on a small scale across a range of health conditions. The criteria used for the severe disability group will be based on the impact of a disability or health condition; we are looking at those that are lifelong, have a significant effect on day-to-day life and are unlikely to improve.

As I said, the Department has made progress with its plans to test the severe disability group. We worked with an expert group of specialist health professionals to draw up a set of draft criteria, which focus on claimants who have conditions that are severely disabling, lifelong and with no realistic prospect of recovery. The criteria were shared with several charities, whose feedback was used to develop the criteria further. We started initial testing at small scale across a range of health conditions last year, and we plan to augment our testing approach in the coming months to develop our insight and evidence. That is a welcome development, which responds to the clear feedback in the Green Paper: people wanted to reduce the assessment burden on those with lifelong conditions that are unlikely to improve. This is an important step on that journey. We will continue to move forward in a collaborative way, particularly as we build our understanding and evidence base to scale the policy.

We are also improving the experience of assessments by testing matching people’s primary health condition to a specialist assessor. As one part of that test, our assessors will take part in training to specialise in the functional impacts of specific health conditions, so that they can better understand claimants’ needs. I hope that will help to build confidence in decisions, and respond to feedback that we have received. Again, that speaks to the change that colleagues from across the House have said today that they want. We are also committed to exploring ways to create a personalised welfare system. For example, we are testing employment and health discussions, which are led by a healthcare professional and focus on how we can help people overcome barriers to work. The pilot at Leeds Health Model Office is helping us to evaluate findings and possible next steps for expansion.

On the theme of tests and trials, I want to respond to the point made by the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), on the recording of assessments. The Government are advocating for an opt-in approach. We think that strikes the balance. That way, if people wish to opt into having their assessment recorded, they are able to do so. We are mindful that there is a balance to be struck. We would not want people to feel uncomfortable talking candidly about their condition or disability, and its functional impacts.

However, the health transformation programme is looking at how we can create greater awareness of the ability to record the assessment. We may see more people accepting the opportunity to record their assessment on the back of that. I will gladly update the Committee on that awareness work as we move it forward. I recognise that this issue has come up in many debates, and I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s strong feeling on the subject, but that is the current position. We are exploring ways to generate greater awareness of that opportunity, should that be something that people wish to do.

Employment is central to our plans. Alongside the ambitious programme of work for the future, the Government recognise that good-quality employment is an important determinant of good health. We have a range of initiatives to support disabled people and people with health conditions in starting, staying and succeeding in work, including initiatives in partnership between DWP and the health system. We have schemes such as the employment advisers in the NHS talking therapies service. We are moving towards 100% coverage in talking therapies services, and the testimony from people who have had the benefit of that is powerful; I welcome it. That is a significant improvement in the services available. The individual placement and support in primary care initiative is also impactful. It is about identifying people’s abilities and needs, helping them to find a role that is right for them, and supporting them in starting and retaining it. We are also taking forward schemes announced in the spring Budget. IPSPC is the pioneer for universal support. We are also piloting the WorkWell partnerships programme, which aims to close the disability employment gap.

We have made good progress in recent years. In 2017, the Government set a goal to see 1 million more disabled people in employment by 2027. Last year, we surpassed that goal five years early. That is not just the Government’s achievement. It is the achievement of disabled people most importantly, as well as of businesses buying into it, and of charities and representative bodies working with people to support that important agenda and unlock potential. Again, an active policy discussion in the Department relates to where we go from here in terms of future employment goals.

I also want to touch on sanctions, which came up a number of times. Work coaches will consider individual circumstances when working with claimants as part of our new personalised approach. If someone has a mental health condition, the work coach can use their discretion to switch off voluntary or mandatory requirements if they deem that appropriate. We will focus on what people can do rather than what they cannot, but we will also ensure that, when people are unable to work, we continue to support and assist them to live independent lives. All requirements will be agreed between the claimant and their work coach. As happens now, claimants will only ever be sanctioned where, without good reason, they have failed to meet the requirements. All claimants will retain the right to mandatory reconsideration or to appeal a decision should they disagree.

Specifically on the health transformation programme, we know that demand for disability benefits is increasing and we need to modernise our systems and processes to deliver better value for money for the taxpayer and a better experience for claimants. The health transformation programme is doing just that, transforming the entire PIP service—from finding out about benefits through to decisions, eligibility and payments. It will create a more efficient service and a vastly improved claimant experience, including speedier management of claims and improved trust in our services and decisions.

The programme is introducing an online PIP application service, giving the option to apply online 24/7 and to upload medical evidence digitally. I am pleased to say that claimants in selected postcodes are already able to apply for PIP entirely online, and we plan to make that available across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2024. Again, during the summer recess we announced some additional postcodes in which the new application service is now live.

I want to provide a bit of reassurance about a couple of comments made about the online service during the debate. The online service is optional; it is a voluntary alternative to the existing method for claiming PIP. Claimants who are unable to use an online service, or do not want to, will still be able to make a claim through existing routes. Claimants can receive third party assistance to support them in using the online service as long as the claimant is the one making the claim. Claimants who require formal support, such as an appointee, are not included in this current testing phase. However, making the service available to this group of claimants is a priority for us as we safely and gradually expand the service. We aim to make the online service available across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2024 for those who choose to use it. A point was made about being able to more readily reuse evidence: this system should be able to help people to do that.

We are also improving the way health assessments are delivered. We currently use a range of providers, depending on the benefit in question. Once new arrangements begin in 2024, one provider will deliver health assessments in a given area. Claimants will need to interact only with their local health assessment provider, regardless of which benefit they are applying for. That provides a stepping stone to our longer-term aim to create, from 2029, a single new health assessment service for all benefits that use a health assessment. That will transform the delivery of health assessments to provide an improved, clearer and more joined-up experience for claimants. The new service is being gradually developed in a safe environment known as the health transformation area. The approach will allow us continually to improve the new service in a controlled way, before expanding and ultimately rolling the service out nationally. We could not carry out this enormous endeavour alone.

We have also had regular engagement with stakeholders and will continue to listen and build on our successes as we move forward. Drawing on advice from across Government, on 25 May we published our evaluation strategy. That provides an overview of our plans to robustly evaluate the programme.

The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) mentioned safeguarding. I should say that I am meeting representatives of Mind tomorrow, along with a family; that will be of interest to colleagues across the House who campaigned for that meeting to happen. We had a very productive meeting with Mind a few weeks ago. It is important that Ministers should have those direct and perhaps even difficult conversations to make sure that at the Department any and all learning takes place and that all our processes are conducive to being responsive to claimants’ needs and are the best they can be, building on work that I have previously set out. I will not repeat those comments today as we will no doubt revisit these matters in future.

I care passionately about that individual focused support and supporting claimants appropriately through the benefits journey, and want to ensure that all the reform we are taking forward has that support very much at the forefront, building on initiatives such as the advanced customer support senior leaders and the various upskilling work that has gone on within the Department to support staff to best support the most vulnerable claimants.

As well as the ambitious visions of the White Paper and the health transformation programme, we are continually listening to and acting on feedback on the current PIP system to make significant positive improvements. Reducing customer journey times for PIP claimants is a priority for the Department. We are seeing an improvement in average clearance times for new PIP claims, with the latest statistics showing that the end-to-end journey has reduced from 26 weeks in August 2021 to 13 weeks in April 2023. We also recognise that assessments can be a difficult experience, so we now undertake most by telephone to alleviate some of the stress associated with travelling to and attending observational assessments, but I reiterate that if people want to have face-to-face assessments, that should happen; there is the optionality for claimants to seek a face-to-face appointment if that is right for them and they wish it to happen.

More generally, the PIP assessment criteria were developed in collaboration with independent specialists in health, social care and disability, and they focus on needs arising from a range of impairments—including physical, sensory, cognitive and mental health impairments —rather than the condition itself, to ensure that the greatest level of support goes to those who are least able to carry out the activities. PIP and its descriptors are kept under continued review to ensure that they meet the needs of claimants and help the Department to reach an accurate assessment of an individual’s entitlement, but I take on board the points raised during the debate and will raise them with officials back at the Department in future conversations and decisions around PIP and its descriptors.

Let me turn to assessments and medical evidence. We are committed to improving how our decision-making processes work. Medical evidence from GPs and other healthcare professionals play an important part in decision making. We ask claimants to provide relevant evidence at the outset of their claim, and we take that fully into account. However, although this is a valued part of the decision-making process, we recognise that doctors do not want to be the guardians of the benefits system, which is why we do not use it as the sole gateway. I note the testimony and evidence from the BMA mentioned by the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham. Additionally, for PIP and the WCA, awards are not condition-based, as individuals may be impacted by their health condition in different ways. Medical evidence may not describe the functional impact of a disability or health condition on the individual and therefore may not be sufficient on its own to determine entitlement to the benefit. Where it is possible to assess a claim based on the paper evidence alone without an assessment, we will do so.

We are committed to ensuring that claimants receive high-quality, objective and accurate assessments to inform the right decision. Consequently, our assessors are all health professionals with specialist training in assessing the impact of a disability. We recognise that assessments and reviews are not suitable for our claimants with lifelong conditions and disabilities specifically. Although we still have the work capability assessment, we do not routinely reassess people with the most severe health conditions and disabilities with no prospect of improvement, and instead the severe conditions criteria apply. In PIP, our claimants on the highest level of support with long-term conditions receive an ongoing award with a light-touch review at the 10-year point that involves a short form to check whether anything has changed and to confirm that we hold updated information. In most cases, an assessment with a health professional is not required. Our severe disability group test is also part of our focus to reduce unnecessary applications and assessments.

A number of Members posed a very legitimate question about what we are doing to improve the quality of decision making. We have made improvements to the decision-making process, both at the first decision and the MR stage, giving decision makers additional time to contact proactively claimants if they think additional evidence may support the claim. That tailored, more bespoke approach, making sure that decision makers can follow up with claimants to try to ensure that their entitlement is delivered as quickly as possible, ought to complete the jigsaw of the claim and get support out to people.

We are also continuing to learn from decisions overturned at appeal, with our presenting officers going out to hear those tribunals and then sharing that feedback with the Department to help improve our processes. We also work closely with providers on the quality of assessments, with the quality assurance that all of us would want to see, to help ensure that there are high-quality reports that then lead to more correct decisions. To set that in context, since PIP was introduced 5.1 million initial decisions following an assessment were made to the end of December 2022, with 8% appealed and 4% overturned at tribunal. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon highlighted, a significant proportion of those decisions are overturned as a result of new evidence presented at the tribunal. It is important to take that into account, but we are not complacent, and we want more decisions got right first time, hence the efforts to try and achieve that.

Finally, for people nearing the end of life we have the special benefit rules. They allow faster and easier access to certain benefits without needing to attend a medical assessment or serve waiting periods. Eligibility has recently been extended from six months or less to live to 12 months or less, and individuals are now able to claim PIP, DLA, attendance allowance, ESA and UC under the special rules, and that is administered in a pragmatic, flexible, clinician-led way. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) raised that point, so I want to provide reassurance about the clinician-led approach. I have done this before, but I want to thank all those colleagues across Parliament who campaigned for the changes to the special end of life rules that we have brought about, as well as the stakeholders and the charities who were instrumental in delivering that change. I know that extending that benefit entitlement to people at an earlier stage and for longer is a lifeline to many people across this country.

In conclusion, we are committed to ongoing action to improve people’s journeys through the benefit system both today and by advancing the longer-term reform that I have set out, which I hope all of us will feel able to get around in the coming years with that proper input from disabled people, from stakeholders, and from the representative groups to help us get this right. This is arguably the biggest welfare reform for over a decade, and it is crucial that we hear that lived experience in shaping it and that we work carefully through that change to ensure that it is the best that it can be. We must ensure that we do not write people off, and that where work is appropriate for someone, they are able to access that if it is something that they want to do, recognising the benefit of the health and work join up. All of us, I think, want to see people reach their potential, supported by a benefit system that not only is fit for the future, but has that vital safety net in place that all of us in a civil society expect to see.