Justin Tomlinson debates involving the Department for Work and Pensions during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 13th September 2021
17 interactions (438 words)
Mon 28th June 2021
23 interactions (693 words)
Mon 17th May 2021
29 interactions (508 words)
Mon 8th March 2021
49 interactions (1,146 words)
Tue 2nd March 2021
9 interactions (2,094 words)
Tue 2nd March 2021
6 interactions (1,707 words)
Mon 25th January 2021
35 interactions (890 words)
Mon 30th November 2020
19 interactions (472 words)
Tue 17th November 2020
3 interactions (319 words)
Mon 19th October 2020
35 interactions (670 words)
Mon 14th September 2020
31 interactions (755 words)
Mon 29th June 2020
39 interactions (793 words)
Mon 11th May 2020
19 interactions (421 words)
Mon 9th March 2020
63 interactions (1,658 words)
Mon 27th January 2020
58 interactions (1,152 words)

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

(2nd reading)
Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 20th September 2021

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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While this Bill seems to be a technical piece of legislation, it raises fundamental questions about this Government and the trust that they enjoy among people across the country. I want to address a number of issues today: the substance of the Bill; how it is part of a pattern of behaviour; the changes we would like to see to protect pensioners; and the context of wider Government policy towards the most vulnerable in our society.

Turning first to the substance of the Bill, we are being asked to vote today for a change in the law to suspend the earnings-related part of the triple lock for one year while retaining the link to prices and the commitment to raise the state pension by a minimum of 2.5%. This is an important issue that directly affects millions of people today as well as the value of state pensions for future generations. Labour supports the triple lock. Indeed, all the major parties committed to maintaining it in the 2019 general election. I should add that it was a Labour Government in 2002 who committed to raising the state pension by the higher of 2.5% and inflation. It is also important to note that, taking inflation into account, state pensions rose more on average under the last Labour Government than they have under the coalition or the Conservative Governments.

Of course, the covid-19 pandemic distorted the earnings growth figures for this year, and the impact of the furlough scheme and the distribution of jobs lost in the crisis has artificially inflated the headline earnings growth figure. The Government have said that they expect earnings to be above 8% as a result of this anomaly. We have been clear that the Government cannot be allowed to use the current crisis as a smokescreen to break their word to pensioners and to abolish the triple lock by the back door. We accept that the pandemic has distorted the earnings data, but we knew that this problem was coming and it was surely not beyond the wit of the Treasury to find a solution to the anomaly in wage data that maintained the link to earnings and offered certainty to pensioners.

I am afraid that the Government have failed to be open about the earnings data they are using. They have also failed to show that they are concerned about low-income pensioners. They are asking us to vote on trust alone, but that is something I am afraid this Government do not enjoy much of. By downgrading the triple lock, they are breaking a manifesto promise. Trust in the Government has been badly damaged. I should not have to say this, but given the history of the Prime Minister and his Government, I want to set out what the House and the public have a right to expect. Over the last months we have seen a series of actions that show that the Government do not understand, and that in some cases they just do not seem to care. This should be obvious, but sadly it does not seem to be, to the Prime Minister and his Administration.

Today’s broken promise is the third breach of trust in just a few months. This is starting to become a pattern of behaviour. First, there was the cut in overseas aid that the Government made despite a wide range of opposition. We are the only G7 country to cut aid, breaking a manifesto commitment to support the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and this Conservative Government are retreating from our moral duty. This has already weakened the UK’s position at the G7 summit and it will continue to do so at the upcoming summit on education and COP26. Parliament has repeatedly made it clear that it does not support aid cuts and that Britain must not turn its back on the world’s poorest. I would add that a Labour Government will build partnerships with other Governments, civil society groups and communities to overcome global challenges by using the aid budget to tackle poverty and inequality.

Secondly, there was the breach of trust we saw last week when the Government broke their promise not to raise national insurance. The Government had already weakened social care and our NHS, cutting £8 billion and leaving us with long accident and emergency, cancer and mental health waiting lists even before the pandemic. Their solution, when finally pushed to act by the coronavirus pandemic, is an unfair tax on jobs—the biggest tax rise on families in over 50 years.

With a cut to universal credit in the Government’s sights, it seems that they are going after the same people time and time again. A tax rise that hits less well-off areas—so much for levelling up. The CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce have all criticised the national insurance rise as illogical and harmful to businesses and our recovery.

Now we face the third broken promise, on the triple lock, which Ministers have consistently said they would protect. I repeat that the Government must not use this crisis to leave the door open to scrapping the triple lock altogether. We recognise that the pandemic has caused an anomaly in the earnings data and, crucially, we are not calling for an 8% rise in the state pension, but the Government must come clean and show why they cannot calculate underlying earnings growth over a longer period of time. They have not adequately made the case for why an earnings link, with this year’s anomaly resolved, cannot be maintained.

At the very least, Ministers should maintain an earnings link, explain their decisions, offer binding commitments to protect the triple lock and protect the incomes of less well-off pensioners. There is nothing in the Bill that seeks to increase the uptake of tax credits or, indeed, to set out other steps the Government will take to protect low-income pensioners.

The public, and we as the Opposition, expect the Government to look at this thoroughly, to be diligent and to treat people fairly. When the Secretary of State first informed the House of her decision, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) asked the Government to publish their reasons. That is the least pensioners could expect. Governments should explain the evidence used to make key policy decisions, as evidence-based policy making has been a central plank of good governance for a very long time. Sadly, no answers were forthcoming, but perhaps we will see some actual evidence in this debate. The Government’s track record on the use of evidence, however, does not offer much hope.

Finally, I pay tribute to the right hon. Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and for Ashford (Damian Green) for tabling their amendment. Opposition Members are deeply concerned about the cut to universal credit and the devastating impact it could have. It will hit thousands of families and many people in work, including nurses, teaching assistants and supermarket workers. I know from experience that 9,000 people in my constituency will be affected. Like colleagues on both sides of the House, I have spoken to residents who are desperate and who do not know how they will cope.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con)
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Although the temporary increase in universal credit has come to an end, surely the hon. Gentleman would welcome the permanent increases to the local housing allowance and the work allowance, the above-inflation increase to the national living wage and the changes to income tax thresholds. Does he welcome those?

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, as I understood that the Government had frozen the housing allowance. I look forward to discussing that further in this debate.

The Government have left it late to do the right thing and end the cut, but it is not too late. There is clearly a strength of feeling on both sides of the House on the universal credit cut and the state pension uplift. I think we agree that trust is important and is the basis of good government. The Government will be letting down pensioners and the country if they plough on with these unfair changes without any explanation or reassurance about the future and without any assessment of the impact on many pensioners. We have now seen three successive breaches of trust in just a few weeks, and the last two were only days apart. Trust in this Government has fallen dramatically, and it will fall even further if they fail to listen.

We are making a very important decision today, but the Government can still correct some of their mistakes if they listen to their own Back Benchers as well as to the advice of the Opposition.

Oral Answers to Questions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(1 month, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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10. What steps her Department is taking to help implement the Government's levelling-up agenda. (903380)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Recruitment, retention and career progression are key to levelling up, so the successful delivery of the Government’s plan for jobs is vital. Through both the national disability strategy and the health and disability Green Paper, we also explore levelling up opportunities for disabled people specifically.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett
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The point is that the Minister’s Department is required to address poverty and to make work pay, but the minimum wage is simply too low. Otherwise, why is it that 2.3 million working families are on universal credit? Now there is a triple whammy coming to those poorly paid people: withdrawing the furlough, raising national insurance payments and cuts to universal credit. The underlying causes of poverty are greedy bosses and rapacious landlords, but does the Minister accept that the cuts they are now imposing will drive up already shameful levels of poverty? Will he say to his colleagues that it is time to cancel the cuts?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Tackling poverty is a key priority for this Government, as seen with the £650 billion infrastructure investment that will deliver 425,000 more jobs a year. While the temporary increase to universal credit is coming to an end, the national living wage and income tax threshold increases, worth over £4,000 to people in full-time work, will continue, as will the universal credit work allowance changes worth up to £630 and the local housing allowance worth £600. Our excellent work coaches, who have doubled in number over the last 12 months, will be doing everything in their power to support people to take advantage of the record job opportunities.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
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11. What assessment she has made of the impact on levels of poverty of ending the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit. [R] (903381)

--- Later in debate ---
James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con)
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12. What steps she is taking to help ensure that disabled people can take up employment opportunities during the economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (903382)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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We are committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work, supporting that through initiatives including the work and health programme, access to work, disability confident and increasing the number of disability employment advisers to over 1,000. We want to help more disabled people to prepare for, start, stay and succeed in work where it is right for them.

James Daly Portrait James Daly
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The Minister and the Secretary of State have a proud record of putting in place programmes that increase opportunities for everyone to access high-quality employment and training. Further to his earlier answer, can the Minister confirm what specific steps he is taking to ensure that the bespoke needs of people on the autistic spectrum are no barrier to accessing employment or training opportunities? Will he join me in thanking local organisations in Bury, such as the Met theatre which runs confidence-building sessions for children on the autistic spectrum, for the role they play in developing the skills that each child needs to thrive in the job market?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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My hon. Friend highlights the absolute importance of supporting people with autism into work, highlighting the supported internships, traineeships, local supported employment pilots, intensive personalised employment support and disability apprenticeships, in addition to the broader options across the work and health programme and plan for jobs. We are currently consulting through the Department for Work and Pensions Green Paper on other ways to improve disability employment opportunities. Best practice, as seen in places such as the Met theatre, is exactly the sort of thing we want to learn lessons from.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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13. What discussions she has had with the Welsh Government on the impact of ending the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit on people in Newport West constituency. (903383)

--- Later in debate ---
Joy Morrissey Portrait Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield) (Con)
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T8. It is vital that disabled people are able to play an active role in public life, particularly those with visual impairments. Will my hon. Friend therefore update the House on what the Government are doing to support this? (903402)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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We are committed to seeing more disabled people becoming elected representatives. In addition to political parties doing more, the national disability strategy sets out the Minister for the Constitution’s work to bring forward a new scheme in 2022 to support candidates and, importantly, those already elected to public office.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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It was disappointing that the Government chose to sneak out their disability strategy over the summer recess, meaning that we had no opportunity to question the Minister on its failure to address barriers to employment for disabled people. Why are his Government not introducing mandatory reporting on the disability employment and pay gaps? Why does the strategy contain no proposals to work with trade unions? Most importantly, can he explain why no parliamentary time has been given over to the scrutiny of this strategy?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I am very much looking forward to going to the Work and Pensions Committee to discuss this very topic this coming Wednesday. It is disappointing that the hon. Member does not recognise that, despite the unprecedented challenges of covid, we once again saw an increase in disability employment over the past year. The figure now stands at 1.5 million since 2013, with the disability employment gap continuing to close. This Government are absolutely committed to their target of 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con)
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Could the Secretary of State—or the Minister for Pensions, who is doing such great work in this area—explain what they are doing to ensure that when pensions are invested, the environmental, social and governance agenda is about incentivising high-quality sustainable products across the world, for instance in Africa, and not just becoming a box-ticking exercise here at home?

Draft Scotland Act 2016 (Social Security) (Consequential provision) (Miscellaneous amendment) regulations 2021

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Wednesday 30th June 2021

(3 months, 4 weeks ago)

General Committees

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Department for Work and Pensions
Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Scotland Act 2016 (Social Security) (Consequential Provision) (Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations 2021.

The regulations will make some necessary legislative changes to prevent overlapping entitlements of the soon to be introduced Scottish child disability payment with UK disability benefits. They will also permit the Department for Work and Pensions to accept the Scottish Government’s appointee arrangements for UK Government benefit purposes, thereby reducing the administrative burden for claimants and appointees in dealing with both Governments.

As many hon. Members will know, the UK Government are committed to making devolution work and to ensure the safe and secure transition of powers to the Scottish Government under the Scotland Act 2016. As a result of the devolution of social security powers to the Scottish Parliament under the Act, the DWP will need to update its legislation from time to time to reflect the introduction of the Scottish Government’s replacement benefits. Section 71 of the 2016 Act allows for the necessary legislative amendments, in this case as result of benefits introduced under the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.

The regulations are technical in nature. They will prevent payment of the Scottish child disability payment overlapping with UK disability benefits such as the disability living allowance for children, the personal independence payment and the armed forces independence payment. They also include some time-limited provisions for Northern Ireland. In addition, the regulations enable the DWP to accept appointees aged 18 or over if they have already been granted appointee status by the Scottish Government. That is a positive change for claimants and staff.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 established the legislative framework for the Scottish Government to introduce new forms of assistance using the social security powers devolved under section 22 of the Scotland Act 2016. Specifically, section 31 of the 2018 Act allows the Scottish Government to introduce legislation to provide financial support through their disability assistance for people in Scotland with long-term additional health needs.

The Scottish Government have legislated for disability assistance for children and young people, which will be introduced from July 2021. They are calling the assistance child disability payment and I will refer to it as CDP from now on. I understand that CDP will have residency conditions attached, and primarily will only be paid to claimants who live in Scotland. However, as part of their offer, the Scottish Government will continue to pay CDP for a period of 13 weeks after a claimant has left Scotland and moved to another part of the UK. That will allow claimants to sort out new benefit arrangements should they wish to.

If the regulations are passed today, they will ensure that there are clear boundaries between entitlement to CDP and UK Government benefits to ensure that there is no overlapping provision. They will do that by making it clear that entitlement to a relevant UK Government benefit will not start until the day after payment of CDP has ended. That will reflect the Scottish CDP legislation, which also prevents overlap with UK Government benefits. That will not only protect the public purse by avoiding double payment but will also help to prevent the need for complicated overpayment calculations and recovery. Furthermore, it is also in the best interest of the claimant, who will have clearer expectations of which Government are responsible for paying their benefits at which point in their claim or award.

The statutory instrument also includes provision on behalf of the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the armed forces independence payment will similarly not overlap with CDP. Provisions have also been included to prevent overlapping entitlement when a claimant moves to Northern Ireland and is in receipt of the 13-week run-on payment from the Scottish Government. Finally, we also recognise that many DWP claimants will also be claimants of the Scottish Government’s devolved provisions. The instrument will make changes to UK Government legislation to allow the DWP to accept that a person over the age of 18 has appointee status, if they have already been granted it by the Scottish Government. That removes unnecessary burdens on the claimant, appointee and the Department through effective and proportional collaboration on information being shared and used by respective Governments.

The UK Government are working collaboratively with the Scottish Government to ensure that the two systems of social security will operate effectively alongside each other, and that the required legislation that underpins them is delivered successfully for the people of Scotland and, where relevant, claimants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I commend the regulations, which highlight the importance that the UK Government place on the effective functioning of devolution, and ask the Committee’s approval to implement them.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mr Twigg.

As the Minister rightly outlined, the change in legislation simple removes the potential for any overlap between the disability living allowance and the new Scottish equivalent, CDP. As colleagues may be aware, CDP is due to be piloted in Scotland in Dundee city, Perth and Kinross and the Western Isles for families of children with a disability or long-term health condition. Applications open on 26 July and families in need of financial support should apply to the new Scottish system from that date. It is the first application-based disability benefit to be introduced by the Scottish Government since the transfer of those powers in 2016. The pilot is due to followed by full national roll-out in the autumn. The payments will be managed by Social Security Scotland. CDP will replace the disability living allowance for children, which is currently delivered by the DWP.

The three-area pilot has been designed to provide a further opportunity for feedback and analysis, to ensure that CDP meets the needs of disabled children and their families before its national expansion. Although the Opposition support the payment, my Scottish colleagues and I are concerned that little is being proposed to improve the lives of disabled people. Scottish Labour is of the view that, much like the broader disability allowance, alongside implementation and the transfer of claimants to the new Scottish payment, there should be a review of how the system operates, what eligibility criteria are used and so on. The Scottish Government’s intention, however, is to finish the transfer process first, and then begin a review, which is not likely to take place until at least 2023.

The lower rate of the mobility component should be reviewed and revisions made for children in specific impairment groups, such as those with autism, learning difficulties and/or mental health issues. It is also disappointing to note that there is no deviation from the current benefit rates. A full assessment should be made of what level of financial support people need to ensure that they can lead fulfilling lives.

The Scottish Government should take this opportunity to improve the system rather than just replicating existing arrangements and simply moving the administration to Scotland. However, if the administration of the benefit is seen to be easier and more compassionate as a result of bringing it in-house, I want to know what are the Government’s plans to learn from that?

Labour will not oppose the SI, but we place on record our desire to have a benefits system that meets the needs of disabled people fully and reflects the increased cost of living that many face. It should also treat disabled people with dignity, allow them to have fulfilling lives and enable them to reach their full potential.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank the hon. Lady for her helpful contribution and indication of Opposition support for the measure. The broader points raised go beyond the debate, so I will try not to be too tempted, but our forthcoming health and disability Green Paper will consider how we support people through benefits and disability employment. A cross-Government exercise will also address the national disability strategy, which will consider how we all collectively create a more inclusive society and remove barriers. That is for another day.

The Government are committed to the safe and secure transfer of powers to the Scottish Government, and recognise the importance of making timely and necessary changes to our legislation to ensure that the two benefit systems work together effectively. I commend the regulations to the Committee and ask for its approval to implement them.

Question put and agreed.

Oral Answers to Questions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 28th June 2021

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
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If her Department will publish the findings from its review of the special rules for terminal illness before the summer 2021 parliamentary recess. (901840)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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The Department is committed to publishing the outcome of the evaluation, and it will be announced in due course. I understand that the delay has been frustrating, and I remain absolutely committed to delivering an improved benefit system for claimants who are nearing the end of their lives.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden [V]
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As the Minister knows, it is nearly two years since the DWP announced its review of the special rules for terminal illness and we are still waiting for it to be published. Last July, the Minister said it would be published shortly; today, he says, “in due course”. In the meantime, many have died while waiting for benefits decisions. How long do we have to wait until the Government scrap the six-month rule?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I pay tribute to the hon. Member, who has been brilliant at championing the need to make changes, with which the Department agrees as part of its review to raise awareness of support, improve consistency with other services and, crucially, change that six-month rule. We will be able to make changes very, very soon.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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Like the review of the special rules for terminal illness, the Government’s disability strategy has been much delayed. After two long years, we are told to expect it “soon”. Disabled people are hoping for radical policies that will improve their lives. However, many fear it will contain warm words and platitudes but no real action. Can the Minister convince us that his strategy will be published with a fanfare and not just a whimper?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Absolutely. I am grateful to all the stakeholders and those with real-lived experience, including disabled people themselves, who have been working with the Department on: the proposed changes to SRTI; our forthcoming health and disability Green Paper, which will look at both disability benefits and support and disability employment, of which we have delivered record amounts; and our national strategy for disabled people, which has the Prime Minister’s personal support and will, for the first time, bring genuine cross-Government focus to create more inclusivity and remove barriers. All of those are due very soon, and I am confident that they will be well received.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
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What recent assessment she has made of the potential merits of bringing forward legislative proposals to provide British Sign Language with full legal status. (901842)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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On 18 March 2003, the UK Government formally recognised that British Sign Language is a language in its own right. Provision for accessing services by users of BSL are already covered by the Equality Act 2010 and the public sector equality duty.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney
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My constituent Feras Al-Moubayed is engaged in a dispute with a high street bank but has been unsuccessful in his attempts to secure time with a BSL interpreter to sort through and categorise evidence documents for his case. As a result, he has missed several Financial Ombudsman Service deadlines, which has caused considerable stress and anxiety. If the Minister will not commit to bringing forward legislative proposals to provide BSL with a full legal status, will he commit to making more provision available to support people such as Mr Al-Moubayed in my constituency in the interim?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank the hon. Member for raising that matter; I encourage her also to raise it with our Treasury colleagues, because it sounds like additional support is needed. On the broad principle, I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), who has a great deal of personal experience in this area, is looking at a potential private Member’s Bill, for which I have offered my full support by hosting a roundtable with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, stakeholders and cross-Government officials to look at how the public sector equality duty and the Equality Act 2010 are or are not providing sufficient support for those who rely on BSL. I welcome all support in that area.

Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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What recent assessment she has made of the progress made by the kickstart scheme in creating jobs for young people. (901853)

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Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
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What assessment she has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on the disability employment gap. (901850)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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The disability employment gap has narrowed by 0.3 percentage points in the year to March 2021 and now stands at 28.6 percentage points. The Government remain committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027, despite the challenges of covid.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron [V]
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MPs, like businesses, must do everything possible to ensure inclusion in employment for people with disabilities, but there is great concern that the employment gap will increase as a result of covid-19. I would like to thank the Department and the Minister for their recent assistance; a quarter of MPs across the House have now signed up as Disability Confident employers following our recent all-party parliamentary group for disability workshop. Could the Minister encourage those MPs who are still considering signing up to do so, so that we can reach our next target of a third of cross-party MPs being Disability Confident employers and ensuring that Parliament is a role model for inclusive workplaces?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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The hon. Member has been an absolute superstar in her role as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for disability. She organised a brilliant event to incentivise, encourage and cajole MPs from across the House to lead by example by signing up to be Disability Confident employers, and we saw a huge increase in the number of MPs who are signed up. She is absolutely right to keep pushing, because collectively we can make a difference, and she has personally led on that.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to tackle fraud and error in the benefits system. (901851)

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Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)
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What recent assessment she has made of trends in the number of personal independence payment applications her Department has approved during the period that covid-19 restrictions have been in place. (901855)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Volumes of new PIP claims awarded have remained stable since the introduction of covid-19 restrictions. Official statistics show that since April 2020 some 225,000 new PIP claimants have had awards. Over this period, we have continued to assess all claims on the basis of paper evidence or telephone assessments, where necessary.

Anna McMorrin Portrait Anna McMorrin
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One of my constituents who is severely disabled and vulnerable had her personal independence payments removed and lost vital care as a result—that was because medical advice was ignored by the assessors. Another lost his mobility car at the height of the pandemic, leaving him trapped, isolated and suicidal, unable to access vital services. Another had to turn to food banks to survive. They all had rejected applications overturned many months later at tribunal. Four out of five disabled and vulnerable applicants have faced unnecessary barriers to PIP support during covid. I am proud of my team in Cardiff North, who have been there to support my constituents through this traumatic time, but many are not so fortunate. So what is the Minister doing to make sure that assessments are right first time, to avoid this trauma and delay?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Although the vast majority of assessments—we have had over 4 million PIP assessments —are right first time, there are serious implications for those involved where they are not. As part of the forthcoming health and disability Green Paper we will be looking at claimants’ ability to get good-quality supportive evidence; the role of advocacy; the role of the assessment itself; and further changes on mandatory reconsideration and appeals, building on the holistic changes we brought in that allowed us to nearly the double the successful changes at the mandatory reconsideration stage, rather than have claimants having to go through the long appeal process. The key bit here is that the vast majority of successful appeals are because of additional written or oral evidence at that stage, and we need to make it is easy as possible to get such evidence into the beginning of the application.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to ensure that universal credit claimants are able to take advantage of sector-specific training opportunities. (901861)

Oral Answers to Questions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 17th May 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers (Stockton South) (Con)
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What plans she has to review the application process for personal independence payment awards. (900000)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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We are currently reviewing the application process for all personal independence payment claimants. Building on our covid response PIP 2 online service, whereby claimants can receive and submit their PIP 2 online, we are in the early stages of developing a new end-to-end application process and plan to test it later this year.

Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
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As we return to normality, what steps are being taken to ensure that PIP claimants are assessed promptly, so that those in need of support can access it as quickly as possible?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

I am conscious that my hon. Friend has raised some specific cases directly with me. As we return to normality, we have received more claims than normal. We are working hard to get through those as quickly as possible, with average clearance times slightly up from 16 to 19 weeks. As face-to-face assessments start to return, those unable to be assessed through paper-based reviews, telephone or video assessments will be prioritised.

Nigel Mills Portrait Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps her Department is taking to ensure that the welfare system helps support tenants with rent arrears to sustain their tenancies. (900001)

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Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When she plans to publish her Department’s review of the special rules for terminal illness. (900011)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - -

The Department is committed to delivering an improved benefits system for claimants who are nearing the end of their lives, and is working across Government to bring forward proposals following the evaluation. I remain committed to implementing the key areas identified as soon as possible.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a constituent with incurable mantle cell lymphoma who does not meet the definition of terminal illness. She has been refused the personal independence payment, she is one year off her state pension, and because she owns a property that her disabled son lives in, she cannot claim means-tested benefits. She is in a dire financial situation. How much longer will she have to wait for the rules on terminal illness to be changed?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for highlighting this. I do not know all the details, but if she is willing to share them, I would be very happy to look into that specific case. It highlights why we have carried out this vital evaluation, supported by stakeholders. The key three principles of improving awareness, consistency and scrapping the six-month rule remain a priority for our Department.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent steps her Department has taken to help young people into employment. (900012)

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Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My constituent Martin Burnell is living with motor neurone disease, which is a progressive terminal illness for which there is no effective treatment or cure. Earlier this year, he was told to reapply for his benefits or risk having them stopped. Will my hon. Friend commit to removing the burdensome and unacceptable requirement under the special rules that people with a terminal illness have to reapply for their benefits after three years? (900065)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - -

As part of the Green Paper, we will be going further than the special rules for terminal illness evaluation to look at the principles of extending the severe health condition criteria to remove unnecessary assessments and reviews.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Youth unemployment is rising and one route out of this is through apprenticeships. One of the problems with apprenticeships can be apprenticeship pay, often described as apprenticeship poverty, where it costs more to attend work than the young apprentices earn. What is the Minister doing across Departments to address that injustice? (900061)

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Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This Government are focused on getting more people into work through an ambitious plan for jobs. However, last week I was contacted by a constituent in Redcar and Cleveland who is a qualified primary teaching assistant looking for work. She told me that, every time she declares her autism and epilepsy, employers sadly decide not to pursue her applications further. What more can the Government do to encourage employers to give differently abled people such as my constituent the equal opportunity of work? (900073)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend highlights a vital issue, which is why we have developed a disability confident toolkit with stakeholders to provide comprehensive information and guidance for employers on autism and hidden impairments. I hope that his constituent’s undoubted talents will be unlocked shortly.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Govanhill Housing Association has told me that, each time there is a rent increase, some tenants inadvertently go into arrears as they do not realise that they have to notify the DWP. Will Ministers make a common-sense change to this bureaucracy to allow housing providers to report any rent increases directly for all their tenants rather than as a fallback? (900067)

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Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker (North Norfolk) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the DWP’s commitment to delivering an improved welfare system for people with a terminal illness, and I hope that it can be delivered very soon. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the proposals to change the special rules will not be included in the upcoming Green Paper, which would result in further delay and would be unnecessary, as the DWP has already consulted stakeholders? (900074)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The SRTI—special rules for terminal illness—evaluation has been completed and will not need to be rerun through the forthcoming Green Paper.

Steve McCabe Portrait Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister recommend that his colleagues purchase and read the recently released e-book, “The Brown Envelope Book”, which contains more than 200 poems, pieces of prose and short plays about disabled people who say they have been“brutalised by the bureaucracy of the Department for Work and Pensions”? (900069)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

The Government are rightly proud of providing record amounts of support for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. Through our forthcoming health and disability Green Paper, we will work with stakeholders and those with real lived experience to make sure that we improve the services and support we provide.

Robert Largan Portrait Robert Largan (High Peak) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Tomorrow, I will be hosting a workshop between local disability support groups and the DWP in my constituency to discuss the Green Paper. Ahead of that meeting, will the Minister update the House on what steps are being taken to increase access to benefits and support for the most vulnerable people during the pandemic? (900075)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for being so proactive, along with about 50 other MPs who have already agreed to host health and disability Green Paper events to look at the key themes of advocacy, getting supportive evidence, the assessment process and the appeals process. It is the Government’s absolute priority to support those with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a constituent who, after having her jab recently, had a nasty reaction and could not go to work the following day. She then found that she had lost 10 hours’ pay—half her week’s wages. That is the world of precarious work, and it certainly does not encourage people to have a jab, so what can the Government do to rectify the situation? (900072)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for raising that point. We have been improving guidance and sharing best practice with employers. We have also made changes to statutory sick pay for those who are either self-isolating or sick to remove the four-day wait. It is disappointing to hear how that specific employer has treated their hard-working employee.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith  (Crawley)  (Con)  [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

  What support is the Department for Work and Pensions providing to those who have unfortunately been made unemployed in aviation communities, which have of course been particularly negatively impacted by the covid-19 pandemic? (900079)

Covronavirus, Disability and Access to Services

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Thursday 15th April 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Work and Pensions
Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Graham. May I begin by thanking the Women and Equalities Committee for its invaluable work in writing this incredibly important and serious report? The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who is the Chair of the Committee, made a number of vital points in her opening address, which I hope the Minister will respond to fully. I thank the Labour Members of the Committee, including my hon. Friends the Members for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson), for their robust contributions both to the report and to this debate. I join them in thanking the individuals and organisations that contributed evidence to the inquiry so that the Committee could provide the focus and consideration that the Government have failed to give to the lived experience of disabled people in this country.

The whole country has looked to the Government for action to keep us safe, and they have a particular obligation to protect the most vulnerable, who have been especially exposed to the virus. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) highlighted that the virus has exacerbated existing inequalities. Although the past year has been difficult, depressing and frightening for us all, disabled people have suffered even more than the rest. I join her in paying tribute to the work of Inclusion London, which I have also met recently, in highlighting the multiple injustices that disabled people have faced during this pandemic.

As the report states, the Office for National Statistics found in September that almost 60% of deaths with coronavirus were of disabled people, even though they make up only around 16% of the country’s population. In November, Public Health England estimated that the death rate with coronavirus of people with learning disabilities might be more than 6.3 times higher than that of the general population. The report clearly sets out a number of areas where disabled people were unfortunately let down by a Government who should have done better to protect them. Instead, they were failed. The report sets out how too often they were an afterthought throughout the pandemic.

On the provision of food, 60% of disabled people struggled to access essential supplies in the early months of the pandemic, but the report notes that the Government’s definition of “clinically extremely vulnerable”—those medically shielding—“was an inappropriate proxy” for disabled people who needed help accessing food. That influenced the policies of the supermarkets, as the British Retail Consortium made it clear that it had been directed by the Government to prioritise the clinically extremely vulnerable group for online deliveries. We all know that demand for delivery slots increased vastly, and many disabled people who were not considered clinically extremely vulnerable had to rely on community volunteers. We thank everyone who stepped up to assist in that way, but it is not the standard of support that disabled people deserve.

The report calls for a Government assessment of the effectiveness of using the clinically extremely vulnerable definition for food provision, and we would welcome that assessment as well, because, in the words of the report, the definition

“may have contributed to some supermarkets overlooking their legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for the broader population of disabled people”.

The report quotes the evidence of Fazilet Hadi of Disability Rights UK, who said that

“tens of thousands of other…disabled people felt that, for various reasons, maybe not medical, they could not go out either. It may have been that they were blind or had learning disabilities and felt social distancing would have been difficult. […] it might have been because they could not stand in queues for a long time. There are a whole host of reasons.”

That is why Labour agrees with the report that the Government need to adopt a social model of disability that recognises the challenges of lived experience that go beyond medical impairments to consideration of how we remove societal barriers.

The Government’s response to the report does not address that issue, even though it was the subject of a specific recommendation. Will the Minister explain why the Government did not recognise this issue sooner and urge supermarkets to use definitions other than “clinically extremely vulnerable”? When the NICE guidelines for critical care put too much emphasis on the clinical frailty scale, a revised set was published four days later. Why could the Government not make adjustments as they saw the real world impacts of their decisions?

I have discussed a number of the impacts on people with learning disabilities before, such as in a debate in December. At that time, the Minister for Social Care assured me that the blanket “do not resuscitate” orders were unacceptable and had been stopped, that the CQC was reviewing them and that an updated framework required GPs to review all such decisions for people with learning disabilities, to make sure that they are appropriate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) was absolutely right to highlight the horror it has caused disabled people and their families to learn that they may not receive the care that they deserve and should be able to expect in their time of greatest need.

The CQC has since reported, saying that

“poor record keeping and lack of audits meant that we could not always be assured that…decisions…were being made on individual assessments. Once…decisions were in place, it varied whether providers and local systems reviewed them.”

The CQC also said that of the 508 decisions put in place during the pandemic that had not been agreed in discussion with the person, their relative or carer, around a third— 180 out of 508—were still in place by mid-December. Is the Minister confident that all of these decisions have now been properly reviewed?

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside powerfully raised the crisis in social care and its impact on disabled people, alongside the harmful easements in the restrictions under the Coronavirus Act that affect the quality of care that they can expect to receive and the impact on their dignity. The report highlights the Government’s initial focus on the health service at the expense of social care, and the lack of personal protective equipment provision. That speaks to the Government’s ongoing neglect, as spending on adult social care has fallen in real terms by 2.1% since 2010-11, despite an increase in demand. Adult social care needs both funding and reform.

My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow spoke at length about the impact on children with special educational needs or disabilities during the pandemic. On SEND, the report sets out how many children and young people received little or no support for three months, and it stresses the importance of the Government’s SEND review. I hope that the Minister can tell us in his response what scope the review will have to consider the focus on SEND in mainstream schools, including funding arrangements, and when the review is expected to be published.

Across all of these areas, the report says that

“we have been disappointed…with the Government’s attention to equality issues.”

It will not come as a surprise to those of us who see Ministers’ attitudes to equalities as just another opportunity to wage their tired and divisive “war on woke”, but this is where we see the real world impact.

The report states that, because of the need to restore disabled people’s confidence that their needs are given equal consideration, the Government

“should consent to the Equality and Human Rights Commission issuing a statutory Code of Practice on the Public Sector Equality Duty.”

Labour supports that call.

One issue not mentioned in the report, but which has a massive impact on disabled people, is the Government’s failure to uplift legacy social security benefits, even in line with the temporary £20 increase in universal credit. They have failed to support more than 1.9 million disabled people who have faced increased costs as a result of the pandemic, such as to pay for PPE for their carers. That once again exposes the fact that the Government’s priorities do not include the most vulnerable. There is some unintentional comedy in the report, about consultation:

“Ministers described a very positive, inclusive approach with open lines of communication.”

Most witnesses had a different perspective.

All of us understand and, indeed, sympathise about the difficulties of setting up new rules and systems in a hurry at the beginning of the pandemic, but Ministers should learn from mistakes and not deny reality. Something that has been raised in the debate by several hon. Members, and repeatedly with the Government over months, is the question why they—and not least the Prime Minister—have been so resistant to having British Sign Language interpreters at the briefings. The report makes it clear that that has been alienating and dangerous for deaf people, and people with hearing difficulties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn rightly raised the question of other barriers that deaf people face, including the lack of provision of clear face coverings in public sector settings, which made communication extremely difficult for those who rely on lip-reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead also raised important issues about the adverse effects in connection with accessibility of public transport—something that the shadow Women and Equalities and Transport teams have raised with the Government—particularly for such things as pre-booked passenger assistance.

The lack of progress in those areas says much about how the needs of disabled people have been overlooked or neglected during the crisis. The Select Committee report calls for a separate independent inquiry on the impact on disabled people, once the situation is stable, as I hope it now is. I look forward to the findings of that inquiry, so that disabled people cannot be overlooked again. I look forward to the Minister setting out a timeline for the beginning and conclusion of the inquiry. We cannot accept more delay while the needs of our disabled constituents continue to be unmet by the Government.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I, too, want to put on record my personal tribute to Cheryl Gillan—a sad loss. No parliamentarian did more to champion the rights and opportunities of those with autism, and it was a great pleasure for me as the Minister for Disabled People to meet and work with her, and respond to her comprehensive, proactive and constructive letters, asks and challenges. With my ministerial hat on, I would say that her greatest legacy is how much she achieved for those who were reliant on having that strong voice in Parliament.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) who not only spoke passionately in the debate but has, through her excellent chairmanship of the Women and Equalities Committee, held the Government and the whole of Parliament to account on a number of serious issues. She is a formidable parliamentarian, and is held in the highest regard among colleagues. Frankly, it is staggering that she is not in the Cabinet helping to lead the challenges that are often raised, and on which we must keep a laser focus.

The unprecedented challenges of covid have impacted all, including disabled people, as has been highlighted by the important report by the Women and Equalities Committee. In my role as the Minister for Disabled People I welcome the opportunity to talk through the measures that the Government have put in place for disabled people throughout the pandemic, and how we are responding to those serious recommendations. My involvement in my cross-Government capacity, and that of the Disability Unit for which I am responsible, is to influence and shape Government policies, sharing our subject matter expertise, data, and knowledge of lived experiences and connecting relevant stakeholders with colleagues across Government to reach the best outcomes for disabled people.

Before I turn to the specific points raised by my right hon. Friend and the report, I would like to say how proud I am of the roll-out of the vaccination programme, which was an absolutely key issue and ask of the disability stakeholders that I regularly meet with. The Government are now offering vaccines to all those aged over 45, those on the learning disability register or clinically extremely vulnerable people, and health and social care staff. I am very pleased that my own Department has linked with NHS services in England to share data on over 600,000 carers, allowing the NHS to invite those carers to book an appointment for a vaccine. This is a huge achievement, and makes a significant impact on the lives of disabled people as they navigate this pandemic. This is a good example of cross-Government work.

Turning to the specific points raised, from the very start of the pandemic, we have ensured that the views of disabled people and their families and carers have been taken into account when considering how best to support disabled people and link through to the relevant Ministers, Departments and agencies. Casting our minds back to the beginning of the pandemic, there was real concern about access to food and medicine, as a number of the people who have spoken in this debate have highlighted. In normal circumstances, Governments would typically take 12 to 18 months to develop policies, engaging, consulting and piloting before implementing new legislation. However, with the challenges of covid, that time was simply not available.

Therefore, by connecting key stakeholders with real lived experience, we were able to help relevant Ministers and Departments develop responses quickly. For example, we linked stakeholders including Disability Rights UK, Scope, Sense, Leonard Cheshire and the RNIB with the Minister for farming, fishing and food, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), and her officials to engage through the food vulnerability stakeholder group. Within days, they were able to resolve this potentially serious issue, as the Committee report highlights. This is an example of best practice. Several speakers raised the challenge faced by those who did not get included in the clinically extremely vulnerable list, but an additional scheme was organised through 305 local authorities, Age UK, Mind, Scope and RNIB, which were able to then make referrals for priority online shopping slots. Again, these important changes were vital.

More widely, to identify potential issues and areas of real lived experiences, we have an extensive programme of engagement. I regularly meet with the Disability Charities Consortium, which includes Scope, Leonard Cheshire, Disability Rights UK, the National Autistic Society, Mind, Mencap, Sense, RNIB, RNID and the Business Disability Forum. That includes being joined by relevant ministerial colleagues to discuss aspects of the pandemic’s impact on disabled people. During covid-19, this forum’s work has included meetings with the Minister for Covid Vaccine Deployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi); the Minister for Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately); and the Minister for Civil Society. It has been a real opportunity to share their expertise and help shape the urgent new policies that are needed to support those who are most vulnerable in society.

Furthermore, the Cabinet Office covid-19 taskforce considers disproportionately impacted groups, including disabled people, through policy development to tackle the pandemic. They do this through close working with the Equalities Hub and, within it, the Disability Unit, co-ordinating with other Government Departments and wider stakeholders to ensure a holistic approach to policy implications and delivery. In addition, we have regular stakeholder engagement through our regional network, which includes disabled people, carers, and crucially those with real lived experiences.

Turning to accessibility, I reaffirm that it is vital that public information on covid-19 is accessible to all, and we have made key strides in this area. These are things I was challenged on during my stakeholder engagement, and I happily raise these across Government. The Government are committed to providing both key covid-related guidance and communications in alternative formats, including large print, easy read, British Sign Language and audio. Most recently, this has covered ensuring that national restrictions, vaccination testing and the Government’s road map are accessible. We have now established BSL interpretation at the No. 10 press conference via the BBC News channel and iPlayer, available on all TV packages as part of Freeview. Accessible information is also available on the Government’s social media channels.

A significant further improvement, following the Committee’s report, is that the Cabinet Office now has a senior lead for accessible communications as part of the national resilience communications hub, who meets with a group of disability charities on a monthly basis. The group is briefed on the latest covid-19 guidance, including accessible versions, and works to ensure that communications to disabled people continue to be accessible and timely. Most recently, we held bespoke briefing sessions with the disability communications working group on 25 March, explaining the road map and communications activity, enabling charities to brief their audiences, prepare and share accessible communications through their network. I have personally pushed hard for that and I thank the Women and Equalities Committee for its support on the need for this vital additional layer of support.

Turning to health and social care, as we have seen, the covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the NHS and social care systems. Recognising the challenges in care settings, the Department of Health and Social Care made £546 million available in its adult social care winter plan, including money for vital infection control measures to ensure that disabled people getting social care and support are kept as safe as possible. The Government has also made £4.6 billion available to local authorities to address pressures on local services, including adult social care. Furthermore, the Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention announced £500 million for mental health recovery, of which £31 million will be used to support learning disability and autism services, alongside an additional £3.6 million announced by the Minister for Care for disability voluntary sector organisations to provide practical support to disabled people to mitigate the impacts of covid-19.

I know many disabled people and their families have raised concerns about easements to the Care Act, which were introduced as a temporary measure to help local authorities continue to meet the most urgent and acute needs in the face of covid-19, when local authorities were experiencing extraordinary pressures. The measure was used sparingly and has now ended. In response to concerns about the use of “do not resuscitate” decisions and the clinical frailty scale, the Government recognised the issues and guidance was changed strongly and quickly.

It is important to recognise the particular challenges the covid-19 outbreak has had on families of children with disabilities or serious illnesses. Supporting vulnerable children is a priority for this Government and has been central to our response throughout the pandemic. Turning to the work done by the Minister for Children and Families, the Government provided £40.8 million for the family fund in 2020-21, which supported more than 90,000 low-income families who are raising children who are disabled or seriously ill.

I know there are concerns about the legal duties to provide support to children and young people with education, health and care plans. The Secretary of State for Education has not used this power since July last year and has made it clear that he would need a compelling reason before doing so again.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way on the point about the Secretary of State for Education’s powers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that he would require a compelling reason to use them, but he has not used them, he does not plan to use them and there is much less need to use them. Will my hon. Friend indicate whether there might be a timescale for when they are going to go?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

That is a fair challenge. I do not have the answer, but I will certainly make sure that the Secretary of State for Education gives a clear response to that question.

While the covid-19 pandemic has unavoidably delayed the completion of the special educational needs and disabilities review, the Secretary of State for Education is clear that it remains a key priority for this Government. It is vital that we deliver on our promises to children and young people and the DFE intends to publish proposals for consultation in the coming months.

Several speakers talked about the importance of disability employment. I am incredibly proud, as the Minister for Disabled People, to have presided over record disability employment. In normal times, when I have the pleasure of travelling around the country on visits, when I talk to young disabled people and say, “If you were the Minister, what would be the single thing that you would want to see?” the answer is nearly always, “I just want to have the same opportunities that my friends have for work and career progression.” I have never lost sight of that. I speak as somebody who has employed and benefited from employing disabled people, both prior to being an MP and as an MP. We have faced unprecedented challenges, but we have not lessened our ambition to have a million more disabled people in work by 2027. I want to reiterate that that has not changed.

During covid, we have made changes to the support provided. We have recently announced over 300 more disability employment advisers, taking the figure to over 1,000. We continue to review our Work and Health programme. All of the plan for jobs is fully inclusive, and we have made changes to schemes such as Access to Work, where we now provide support within the workplace. We will keep that beyond covid-19, which will perhaps open up opportunities for more people who have not been able to access work opportunities up to now. I am proud that we have reached 20,000 employers signed up to Disability Confident. The equivalent of 11.2 million employees are now represented by businesses in the Disability Confident scheme, sharing best practice about helping disabled people into work, to progress in work and be retained in work. That is very much a priority for me and the Department.

While there will undoubtedly be opportunities to learn from our covid-19 response in the longer term, the overall picture is that the Government have moved fast and flexibly to provide support for disabled people in these unprecedented times. The importance of cross-Government work linked to and supported by those with real lived experiences is absolutely clear, as it allows us to move faster and more flexibly to provide support to those most in need, including those with disabilities.

To ensure that that notion is embedded at the heart of the Government, we now have ministerial disability champions in every Department, with whom I meet regularly, with the full authority of the Prime Minister. They are genuinely enthused, engaged and determined to play their part on behalf of their respective Departments. In our forthcoming ambitious national strategy for disabled people, we will demonstrate the very real and vital focus on cross-Government work to remove barriers and create a fully inclusive society as we return to normality.

In conclusion, I thank all the staff and volunteers across the country working on the frontline, and in particular those supporting people with disabilities, as we navigate these challenges. I thank again my right hon. Friend and her Committee for their fantastic ongoing work, the Committee’s important report and the recommendations it made. The Government and I personally take them very seriously, and we are acting on them.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I put on record my thanks to all hon. Members who contributed to the debate. I recognise that lots of Government Departments are very much in the frame here, whether it be the DHSC, the DWP, the DFE or, indeed, DEFRA, and my hon. Friend the Minister has not done a bad job of answering for all of them. However, what has been singularly lacking is the provision to him by those Departments of dates. When might we see an independent inquiry? When might we see the SEND review from the DFE? When might we see measures to integrate health and social care effectively from the DHSC? I ask him in particular to take back to fellow Ministers the message we heard repeatedly from colleagues about social care, the lack of attention on it, and the impact that has had on the lived experience of way too many disabled people up and down the country in every single one of our constituencies.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the pandemic gave the Government an unprecedented challenge, and in many instances there was really good cross-Government working to rise to the challenge. What Members need now is some sort of assurance that lessons have been learned and will continue to be learned because, should another public health crisis like covid hit us in future, we cannot afford to have disabled people pushed to the back of the queue, have their needs forgotten and feel, as too many of those who spoke to us of their lived experiences said, forgotten, marginalised and as if they did not matter. I urge him to ensure that that sensation is not left with them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the Fourth Report of the Women and Equalities Committee, “Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services: full Report”, HC 1050.

Oral Answers to Questions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 8th March 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Work and Pensions
Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent assessment she has made of disabled people’s experience of the personal independence payment application process. (912985)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - -

We have made a series of improvements to the personal independence payment claimant experience following research and two independent reviews. Building on that, the forthcoming Green Paper on health and disability support is being influenced by the views of disabled people and representatives from disability organisations.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wrote to the Minister last week telling him about the work of the Morecambe Bay Poverty Truth Commission, which has empowered people who have experienced the social security system to speak truth to power and try to improve the system. Will he meet the PIP claimants in my constituency who want to tell him about their experiences?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for that question, and I would be delighted to do that. I know that she has been very proactive on a number of issues in my area over the years, and I would be delighted to have a meeting with her and her organisation to listen to their experiences.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Following the coroner’s damning prevention of future deaths report in the case of Philippa Day, who took an overdose and, sadly, passed away because of DWP and Capita failings, have the Government implemented the recommendations, and if not, when will they? As well as responding to the coroner, will the Minister keep this House updated, and do the Government not accept that, when so many people have to go through an inhumane assessment process, the system is flawed and it is time for a radical change?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

While I cannot comment on individual cases, when we tackle any of these serious issues, we put a great amount of thought and care into doing so. That is why the Department set up the serious case panel, personally led by the Secretary of State, to look at the themes and to make sure, if there are any lessons that need to be learned, they are shared with the key decision makers quickly, and that we improve our support and our services for some of the most vulnerable people in society. It is a real priority for our Department.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps her Department is taking to ensure that the jobcentre estate is adequately equipped to support an increased number of jobseekers. (912986)

--- Later in debate ---
Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to reduce the number of repeat assessments that benefit claimants with severe conditions are required to undergo. (912988)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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We stopped regular assessments for people with severe conditions for work capability assessment and personal independence payment claimants with the highest level of needs which will not improve. We are continuing to remove pensioners on PIP on to ongoing awards at their award review, and the upcoming health and disability Green Paper will consult on further improvements to the assessment process.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney
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As we move towards the end of this difficult period, what lessons can be taken forward regarding the simplification of the benefit process for those in my constituency and across the nation with confirmed severe conditions?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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My hon. Friend raises an important point. One lesson we can take from these unprecedented times is to look to extend the principle of the severe conditions criteria and, where possible, use clear evidence to remove unnecessary assessments. We will explore that further, working with disabled people and health and disability charities, in the upcoming health and disability Green Paper.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab/Co-op)
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What plans she has to publish her Department’s review of the special rules for terminal illness. (912989)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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The Department is committed to delivering an improved benefit system for claimants nearing the end of their lives, and we are working across government to bring forward changes.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees [V]
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Will the Minister urgently correct the anomaly whereby someone with a severe condition eligible for an ongoing award under the normal rules has a light-touch review after 10 years, but someone with a terminal illness such as motor neurone disease has to reapply after three years under the special rules or risk having their benefits stopped?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank the hon. Member for raising that important point, referring to someone who qualifies under special rules for terminal illness normally having an award for three years. The point was raised during the review of changing the rules around special rules; we are considering it and I welcome its having been raised.

Marion Fellows Portrait Marion Fellows (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
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What assessment she has made of the implications for her Department’s policies of Budget 2021. (912993)

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Catherine West Portrait Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
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What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the financial barriers to people’s compliance with the requirement to self-isolate; and if she will make a statement. (913005)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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The Government have delivered an unprecedented package of support during the pandemic. Where eligible, financial support for those self-isolating in line with Government guidance includes access to employment and support allowance, universal credit, statutory sick pay and the test and trace support payments scheme, depending on individual circumstances.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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The scientists on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies have said that many people are still not self-isolating for financial reasons. What assessment has the Department made of the means-testing involved in the £500 payment? Does the Minister not agree that this should go, and that everybody should be eligible for that £500 payment, because we cannot allow a stop-start recovery as we come out of lockdown? Secondly, does he agree that statutory sick pay is pathetically low for those jobs that are eligible for it, and that there are far too many jobs where people do not even get basic statutory sick pay?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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While the £500 test and trace scheme payment is rightly targeted at those most in need, we have also provided local authorities with £35 million for discretionary payments, and we will continue to provide local authorities with a further £20 million per month while this scheme carries on. The rate of statutory sick pay should not be looked at in isolation because, depending on eligibility, people may also be able to claim universal credit or new-style employment and support allowance, and the majority of employers pay more than the statutory minimum.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab)
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What recent assessment her Department has made of the (a) accuracy and (b) efficiency of contracted-out health assessments for (i) employment and support allowance and (ii) personal independence payment. (913006)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Throughout the pandemic we have ensured that disability benefits remain open and we are committed to ensuring that claimants receive a high-quality, consistent and efficient service. We continue to complete paper-based assessments where possible and are now carrying out telephone assessments alongside a trial for video assessments.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana [V]
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The outsourcing of assessments for employment and support allowance and personal independence payments to companies such as Capita has been a travesty. Constituents tell me how they have been signed off work by their GP, only for non-specialist Capita assessors to refuse their claims. When they appeal, they are forced to wait absurd lengths of time for the decision, which causes severe financial hardship. Coventry Law Centre, which deals with the majority of appeals in the city, has found that a staggering 90% of appeals are successful. This pandemic has shown that things can be done differently, so will the Minister take this opportunity to scrap these cruel assessments, kick out outsourcing companies such as Capita and bring in a framework that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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We have increased, in real terms, by £3 billion the support provided to those with disabilities and health conditions, through disability benefits. All of our assessors have at least two years’ experience and extensive training. The Department monitors closely the quality—this is carried out independently—and 92% of claimants have found their experience either satisfactory or better.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
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What steps she is taking to support people on legacy benefits. (913009)

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Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall) (Lab/Co-op)
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What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the financial effect of the covid-19 outbreak on disabled people and their carers. (913010)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Disabled people and their carers have access to the full range of social security benefits according to their circumstances. DWP Ministers and officials regularly discuss support for disabled people and carers with their counterparts across government, and recognise and value the vital contribution made by carers in supporting some of the most vulnerable in society.

Florence Eshalomi Portrait Florence Eshalomi [V]
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I thank the Minister for his answer. A recent survey of disabled people conducted by Inclusion London, a disability organisation based in my constituency, found that more than one in three disabled people had experienced a worsening financial situation during the lockdown, and recent research by Citizens Advice found that one in four disabled employees has faced redundancy since the pandemic started. We know that even before this pandemic, disabled people faced an employment gap of nearly 30% when compared with non-disabled workers. Will the Government commit to using the upcoming national disability strategy to bring forward comprehensive proposals to address the chronic employment insecurity that disabled people face in the wake of covid-19?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank the hon. Lady for raising a very important point about disability employment. The Government are very proud that we delivered record disability employment—it is up 1.4 million since 2014 alone. Even during these unprecedented challenging times, over the past 12 months 25,000 more disabled people are in work. But we recognise that there will be challenges going forward, which is why we have made changes to Access to Work so that people can get support working at home; we have increased our support through Disability Confident, sharing best practice and providing resources to employers to be able to make changes, often small ones, to take advantage of the huge talent pool available. This is a key area, and in both the forthcoming national strategy for disabled people and the health and disability Green Paper we will continue to look at ways in which we can support employers to offer more opportunities for disabled people of all ages.

Rushanara Ali Portrait Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab)
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What recent steps she has taken to reduce youth unemployment. (913011)

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Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD) [V]
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It has been 19 months since the Department for Work and Pensions announced the review into the special rules for terminal illness and, in that time, an estimated 6,000 people have died waiting for a decision on benefits claims. Can the Minister explain why there has been such a delay, assure us that every possibility is being pursued to rectify this and reassure those who are still waiting? (913045)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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I thank the hon. Member for this question. While there were delays to the review because of covid, we are committed to the three themes that have come out of the review: raising awareness, improving consistency and changing the six-month rule. I thank all the health and disability organisations and charities that have helped to support that review. I am committed to going further to explore extending the principle of the severe conditions criteria to remove unnecessary assessments as well as changing the six-month rule.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Con)
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In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that unmarried cohabiting couples should be able to qualify for bereavement support payment if one of them dies. Currently about 200,000 families with children lose out on payments worth almost £10,000 each year. Can my hon. Friend let me know: when do the Government plan to implement their commitment to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling and ensure that grieving children and their surviving parents receive bereavement support payments no matter whether their parents are married or not? (913049)

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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab) [V]
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The Minister for Disabled People will know that many disabled people’s organisations are extremely unhappy about the national disability strategy consultation, which closed last month. They were quoted as being “shocked and dismayed” and I know the Bristol Disability Equality Forum feels the same. What conversations has he had with the Disability Unit in the Cabinet Office to try to rectify this and ensure that disabled people do not feel insulted and excluded but are properly engaged in this process? (913047)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank the over 15,000 individuals and organisations who have already responded to the national strategy pre-consultation. However, this is only part of our extensive stakeholder engagement ahead of the forthcoming national strategy for disabled people. I have also written to all MPs of all parties to say that I am keen for them to host events either with me or with senior officials, depending on parliamentary business, to get more real lived experience, whether from individual disabled people, organisations or charities. I would be very happy if the hon. Member would agree to do one of those on behalf of her constituency.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con) [V]
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I am sure the Minister will join me in paying tribute to staff at Warrington jobcentre, who are doing excellent work to help people to find a job. Does she agree that, by making it easier and cheaper to do business, a new freeport here in the north-west will generate good-quality jobs for local people? Will she work with me to ensure that anyone looking for work in Warrington South is quick to seize these opportunities? (913051)

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Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab) [V]
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There is real and understandable anxiety from individuals in our former mining communities about a range of DWP issues including Dupuytren’s contracture, pneumoconiosis, mesothelioma and other prescribed diseases. Will the Minister meet me, as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on occupational safety and health, and others so that we can attempt to resolve those continuing, avoidable outstanding problems? (913055)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Yes, I would be happy to host such a meeting. I know that the hon. Member has a long-standing track record of raising very important issues in this area.

Chris Green Portrait Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con)
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As unemploy-ment has been going up in recent months and is set to increase further, will my hon. Friend join me in commending the efforts of jobcentres around the country for all their work, especially the jobcentres in Leigh and Bolton that serve my constituents so well? (913053)

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Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab) [V]
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Too many of my constituents on assessed benefits —ESA and personal independence payment—find that the reports from their assessments bear no relation to what was discussed in the interview. What measures will Ministers put in place to ensure that accuracy and honesty are carried through in those assessments so that we do not see huge numbers of those decisions overturned on appeal, which is happening at the moment? (913063)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Although the vast majority of people who access their benefits get the outcome they were hoping for, we recognise the need for continuous improvements, which we make working hand in hand with health and disability charities, organisation users and frontline staff. In the forthcoming health and disability Green Paper, we will look at the specific themes of evidence, advocacy, assessment and the appeals system to ensure we continue to deliver those improvements.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am suspending the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Social Security

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd March 2021

(7 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Work and Pensions
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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With the leave of the House, we will debate motions 5 and 6 on social security together.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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I beg to move,

That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, which were laid before this House on 14 January, be approved.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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With this we shall consider the following motion:

That the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, which were laid before this House on 14 January, be approved.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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These statutory instruments will increase the value of lump sum awards payable under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979 and the diffuse mesothelioma scheme established by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008. As many hon. Members will know, these two schemes stand apart from the main social security benefits uprating procedure. While there is no statutory requirement to increase rates, I am happy to maintain the position and increase the amounts payable by the September 2020 consumer price index of 0.5%. This is the same rate that is being applied to industrial injuries, disablement benefits and other disability benefits under the main social security uprating provisions. These new amounts will be paid to those who satisfy all the conditions of entitlement for the first time on or after 1 April 2021.

The Government recognise the great suffering of individuals and their families caused by the serious and often fatal diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos or other listed agents. The individuals affected and their families may be unable to bring a successful claim for civil damages in relation to their disease. This is mainly due to the long latency period of their condition, but they can still claim compensation through these schemes. These schemes also aim, where possible, to ensure that sufferers receive compensation in their lifetime, without first having to await the outcome of civil litigation. While improvements in health and safety procedures have restricted the use of asbestos and provided a safe environment for its handling, the legacy of its use is still with us. That is why we are ensuring that financial compensation from these schemes is available to those affected.

I will briefly summarise the specific purpose of the two compensation schemes. The Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, which for simplicity I will refer to as the 1979 Act scheme, provides a lump sum compensation payment to individuals who have one of five dust-related respiratory diseases covered by the scheme who are unable to claim damages from employers and who have not brought any action against another party for damages. The five diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme are: diffuse mesothelioma; bilateral diffuse pleural thickening; pneumoconiosis; byssinosis; and primary carcinoma of the lung if accompanied by asbestosis or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening.

The 2008 mesothelioma lump sum payment scheme, which I will refer to as the 2008 scheme, was introduced to provide compensation to people who contracted diffuse mesothelioma but were unable to claim compensation under the 1979 Act because, for example, they were self-employed or their exposure to asbestos was not due to their work. The 2008 scheme allows payments to be made quickly to people with diffuse mesothelioma at their time of greatest need. Under each scheme, a claim can be made by a dependant if the person with the disease has died before being able to make a claim.

The rates payable under the 1979 Act scheme are based on the level of disablement assessment and the age of the sufferer at the time the disease is diagnosed. The highest amounts are made to those diagnosed at an early age and with the highest level of disablement. All payments for diffuse mesothelioma under the 1979 Act scheme are automatically made at the 100% disablement rate, the highest rate of payment, reflecting the serious nature of the disease. Similarly, all payments for this condition under the 2008 scheme are made at the 100% disablement rate and based on age, with the highest payments going to the youngest people with the disease. In the last full year for which data is available, April 2019 to March 2020, 3,220 awards were paid under the 1979 Act, totalling £42.7 million, and 400 people received payments under the 2008 scheme, totalling £9.7 million. Overall, 3,670 awards were made across both schemes in 2019-20 and expenditure was £52.4 million.

I am keen to address the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic on sufferers of pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma. While this uprating debate is an annual event, this has been far from a normal year. We took the difficult decision at the outset of the pandemic to temporarily suspend all face-to-face health and disability assessments, including for the industrial injuries disablement benefit to protect the health of claimants and staff. We have continued, where possible, to process and qualify under SRTI rules—special rules for terminal illness—where a claim can be processed through paper-based review, and have recently explored telephone and video options in line with wider disability benefits to start to clear the backlog.

We are committed to working with our agencies and arms-length bodies to improve the lives of those people with respiratory diseases. People suffering from occupational lung diseases are likely to face a higher risk of complications resulting from covid-19 and it continues to be a distressing time for sufferers of the diseases we discuss today. As of Sunday 14 February, all those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable have been offered a vaccine.

Returning to these important regulations, I am sure we all agree that while no amount of money can ever compensate individuals and families for the suffering and loss caused by diffuse mesothelioma and other dust-related diseases covered by the 1979 Act scheme, those who have them rightly deserve the financial compensation that these schemes can offer. I am required to confirm that the provisions are compatible with the European convention on human rights and I am happy to do so. I commend the increase of the payment scales for those schemes and ask approval to implement them.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) [V]
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I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations and I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to respond virtually. As the Minister noted, these schemes stand apart from the main social security benefits uprating procedure and there is no statutory requirement to increase rates. It is right that the Government will increase the amounts payable from 1 April 2021 in line with the September consumer price index figure of 0.5%, and, as in previous years, my Labour colleagues and I will support the increase.

I know that many Members of this House will be aware of the impact that these awful diseases can have on victims and their families. I am sure that they will want to join me in paying tribute to organisations such as Mesothelioma UK, the British Lung Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support, which provide ongoing support and information.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that 12,000 deaths each year are linked to occupational lung disease. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is almost always linked to asbestos exposure and most commonly affects the lining of the lungs. According to NHS website statistics, more than 2,600 people are diagnosed with this condition each year in the UK. Most of those diagnosed are aged between 60 and 80, and men are more commonly affected than women. Sadly, it is rarely possible to cure this disease, but treatment can help to control the symptoms.

Before the dangers were known, asbestos was frequently used for insulation, roofing and flooring in commercial buildings and homes. Its use was banned under the Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations 1999. Buildings constructed before 2000 may still have asbestos in them. Many colleagues will be aware that, unfortunately, those who worked in industries such as building and construction, particularly from the ’70s to the ’90s, may therefore have been exposed to asbestos. It can take many years for mesothelioma to develop, between exposure to the hazardous material and the onset of symptoms.

The term pneumoconiosis refers to a group of lung diseases caused by the inhalation and retention in the lungs of dust. People working in construction, quarrying, mining, pottery, sandblasting, ceramics and glass manufacturing are most at risk. As with mesothelioma, there is a long delay between exposure and the onset of disease, so most new cases or deaths reflect past working conditions and occur in individuals who have retired. Although both diseases are usually caused by employment conditions, sufferers are often not able to pursue claims for civil damages because of their long latency.

At last year’s Committee on the uprating of these payments, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) raised, as others had before her, the question of why this does not happen automatically. In response, the Minister stated that there would be “no monetary gain” in automatic uprating because benefit payments are already

“uprated… in line with CPI every year.”

He also noted:

“These debates provide a valuable avenue for Members to discuss their thoughts on the lump sum schemes and, more broadly, on support for people with respiratory disease”.—[Official Report, Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee, 25 February 2020; c. 8.]

While I agree with the latter point, I suspect that many sufferers and campaigners would prefer to have the security of knowing that the uprating will happen every year without fail. I further note that the Minister promised to keep this under review. I would be grateful if he clarified his current position on this.

We also continue to have concerns about the huge discrepancy between lump sum payments made to victims and those made to their dependants. For example, a qualifying individual suffering from mesothelioma who was aged 60 at the time of diagnosis would currently receive £44,092. Payments to dependants, however, are significantly lower, and a dependant of someone who died aged 60 could currently receive £19,087. In response to a written question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) in January last year, the Minister stated:

“It is right that available funding is prioritised where it is needed most, that is to people living with these diseases.”

I ask him again today whether he thinks that this is a fair level of compensation, given that these conditions were caused by individuals’ working environments and a substance that has since been banned.

We also cannot ignore the fact that this disparity is more likely to impact on women. Only 12% of the 2,025 new cases of mesothelioma assessed for industrial injuries disablement benefit in 2019 were female. That gives us a good indication of the gender imbalance. I am keen to know what assessment the Government have made of the impact of this lack of parity in payments on women in particular.

I also ask the Minister to share the most recent estimated cost of providing equal payments for sufferers and their dependants. I am aware that, as with automatic uprating, this issue has been raised annually by my predecessors and other Members. Does the Minister agree that this is rather telling? In 2010, the then Labour Minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton, pledged to equalise payments, yet here we are, 11 years on, still asking the Government do the right thing. Once again, I urge the Minister to reflect on this.

I will finish with two points that may not fall within the scope of this legislation but are nevertheless important to put on record. The first is on funding for treatment and research. As we know, cures for this condition are sadly lacking. Will the Minister and his colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care consider additional funding for research into the increasing number of treatment options available? I know that many will also be keen to know what action the Government are taking to raise awareness of these conditions, their causes and the support available. That feels particularly important during the pandemic, given that victims of these diseases have been at increased risk for the past year.

My second point is on funding for the Health and Safety Executive, with which responsibility for asbestos primarily lies. Under successive Conservative Governments, funding for the HSE has been cut by £144 million in real terms. Although the Government announced £14 million in extra funding in May 2020, that is a drop in the ocean. What discussions has the Minister had with colleagues about the impact that these cuts have had on the HSE’s ability to regulate, monitor and take proactive action to prevent work-related injury and ill health?

While we are very happy to support today’s uprating of these lump sum payments in line with inflation, I hope I have made it clear that we continue to have a number of unresolved concerns. I would welcome further commitments from the Minister to look again at the equalisation and automatic uprating of these payments in future years.

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Since coming to the House in 2010, I have spoken on this issue on each and every occasion, and I wish to do so again today. I have spoken on it over the years because I have had constituents—other Members have said the same—both during the past 10 and a half or 11 years as a Member of Parliament and when I was a Member of the Legislative Assembly, who have been affected by or died as a result of pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma. These were people I knew personally, so I was very concerned about them. I was pleased that Government responded during that period of time to make sure that the moneys that were necessary were put in place. Some of those people have died, but those who are left still live with the severe health problems, including some who worked at Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilders in Belfast. Many of my constituents worked there over the years, and that is where they ended up having their health problems from. Harland and Wolff used to employ some 30,000 people at one time, which gives us an idea of the magnitude of the number of people who could be touched by this.

I wish to echo the points about the equalisation for relatives that were made by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), because I fully support that, as others have done. Perhaps the Minister might respond on that. I welcome the increase, but may I gently ask the Minister what rationale was behind the decision to uplift this by a mere 0.5% during a pandemic, when most homes, especially those with old people who are shielding, have been put under a large amount of pressure? Instead of being able to shop around for cheaper goods, those people have to do their orders online and to accept whatever products are available. Most of their purchases have increased by 0.5%.

As the Minister is aware, I know him as a compassionate, considerate and assiduous Minister. Does he not agree that these payments, made to the most vulnerable of people, in these most difficult of days, should see an uplift that is appropriate? I ask, even at this late stage, that this amount of reconsidered, taking into account the additional pressures on not simply those who are ill, but their entire households. Not only those who are suffering from mesothelioma, but their families collectively are under health and financial pressure as never before seen in our lifetimes. Minister, I am not being churlish, far from it, but I would appreciate a response to the question: why an increase of only 0.5%?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank hon. Members for their helpful contributions to this debate, which is a rare case of cross-party support. The debate was hugely enriched by the very personal stories and experiences that were shared, which highlight the importance of these annual uprating regulations. The Government recognise that these two schemes form an important part of the support available to people with dust-related diseases, and these draft regulations will ensure that the value of that support is maintained. I wish to echo the comments about the charities and organisations that both support claimants and families to secure a diagnose and provide ongoing support. This House recognises what an invaluable role they play for people in such challenging times.

Hon. Members raised a number of points, and I will try to cover the key ones. First, on the delays, due to covid we understandably had to suspend traditional face-to-face assessments. We have now been able to start with paper-based reviews and, as we have seen with wider disability benefits, we have looked to use telephone and video technology where possible. As quickly as we are allowed safely to return to face-to-face assessments, those for whom we have not been able to do a paper-based review or a telephone or video assessment will be a priority in this area.

The Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), asked for an update on stats. They are published quarterly, and those he quoted are the last published ones. We will share the stats as soon as they come forward. However, we absolutely understand the importance of getting the backdates cleared. He also mentioned the issue whereby, for some claims made under the 1979 Act, due to the suspension of face-to-face assessments the amount of compensation a claimant can receive is based on their age on the date the IIDB was awarded, not the date of the claim. The Department is actively considering what we can do for those claimants who, through no fault of their own, have received a reduced amount as a result of the delays. We acknowledge that, we are looking to address it, and I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman highlighting the issue in a proactive, constructive spirit. We do get that.

I turn to the quirk of why this debate is held annually. It was set in place in 2004, and Ministers—including me—have done it each year. A change to make this measure part of the wider statutory uprating would require primary legislation. However, aside from requiring legislation to make the change, this is an opportunity for us to focus on the scheme and the wider support, and the quality and merit of the speeches today shows why we have the debate annually. As ever, these things are kept under review, but it is one of those situations where there are gains, and it is about whether a change is needed.

A number of hon. Members raised the principle of equalising the levels of payments made to dependents. I listened carefully to the concerns raised, but the Government remain of the view that available funding should be prioritised to those people who are currently living with the disease.

A number of hon. Members spoke about the importance of research, which is crucial, particularly in our fight against cancer. I very much welcome the fact that the Department of Health and Social Care invests £1 billion a year in health research through the National Institute for Health Research. We have been working actively for several years to stimulate an increase in the level of mesothelioma research, and I thank organisations such as Cancer Research UK, the British Lung Foundation and the Medical Research Council that are proactively trying to stimulate additional crucial research in that area. We will welcome any more work that is done.

A number of hon. Members addressed the HSE, which is a wonderful organisation. I welcome the fact that it secured an additional £14 million for the financial year 2021-22 to continue to support the Government in the national response to the global covid-19 pandemic. That will fund spot checks and inspections, including those enforced by local authorities, to ensure that workplaces are covid-secure for workers and the public. That is in addition to the HSE’s regular Government funding to deliver its wide-ranging regulatory functions.

To be clear, the HSE does not only rely on direct Government funding; it also generates income. Rightly, a key part of its work is raising awareness, and its health and work strategy delivers a strategy for occupational lung disease that includes raising the profile of occupational lung diseases through activities such as facilitating the Healthy Lung Partnership to provide direction of co-ordinating stakeholder activity on occupational lung disease, in addition to targeted intervention activity. When I was responsible for the HSE as a DWP Minister—it is no longer part of my responsibilities—I was incredibly impressed with how well it engaged with businesses of all sizes to give them the best knowledge, support and guidance in all areas of health and safety, and that part of its work is crucial.

Moving on to the very important issue of cancer patients, it is imperative that people can get tested for cancer and that cancer patients continue to receive the treatment they need. While the covid-19 pandemic has presented major challenges for all healthcare systems, overall cancer treatment services have been maintained throughout the pandemic. The NHS has published a cancer service recovery plan that aims to prioritise long-term plan commitments, including respiratory disease, as a clinical priority, and that will support recovery. This includes the delivery of targeted lung health checks and the roll-out of rapid diagnostic centres. As of the end of 2020, there were 53 live rapid diagnostic centre pathways across hospitals in England, compared with just 12 in March 2020, with a further 63 pathways in development. In October 2020, NHS England, NHS Improvement and Public Health England launched the latest “Help Us, Help You” campaign to urge people with potential symptoms of cancer to see their GP. The lung cancer campaign will focus on the key symptom of a cough for three weeks or more and encourage anyone who has had this symptom to speak to their GP. I am sure we would all echo the importance of that message.

On dependents and gender imbalance, we have not conducted an impact assessment, but a valid point has been raised and I will take it away to look at it.

I commend the uprating of the payment scales for these schemes and ask for approval to implement them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, which were laid before this House on 14 January, be approved.

Resolved,

That the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, which were laid before this House on 14 January, be approved.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will now suspend the House for three minutes to make the necessary arrangements for the next business.

Covid-19: Statutory Sick Pay

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd March 2021

(7 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The idea behind statutory sick pay is as simple as it is important: workers who are ill are financially supported so that they can stay off work to recover. But during a rapidly spreading virus pandemic, it also helps to prevent the spread of infectious illnesses. The test of whether a system of sick pay is working is whether it achieves those simple aims.

Unfortunately, as has been shown time and again during this crisis, the UK’s statutory sick pay system is quite simply broken. In the middle of a global pandemic, it is failing to protect either workers who are ill or their wider community. This failure, like so many others of this Government—from Serco test and trace to the personal protective equipment debacle—has contributed to the virus having spiralled out of control and so many losing their lives unnecessarily.

From the very start of this crisis, I have been contacted by constituents who simply cannot get by on statutory sick pay. Before this debate, I invited my constituents to share their experiences of having to rely on statutory sick pay. The stories that people from my constituency sent to me were quite simply heartbreaking: workers forced to use up their annual leave to self-isolate because the sick pay they would get is not enough to keep them going; families who found that sick pay did not cover even a quarter of their bills; and people forced to use a food bank to feed their family and go into debt to pay their bills after just three weeks of relying on statutory sick pay.

I have described just a glimpse of the horrific social harm inflicted on people in this country by this Government’s refusal to provide proper financial support during this crisis. People are being forced to choose between putting food on the table and self-isolating to protect their community and their colleagues. This is happening in every constituency of every Member across the country. MPs in this House know it is, and those who refuse to call for better sick pay have to take responsibility for the consequences.

The two biggest problems with sick pay have been clear from the very start: the level that it is paid at is far too low and, even then, huge numbers of workers are excluded from actually getting it. At £95.85 a week, statutory sick pay is an 80% cut in income for an average worker. Many workers simply cannot afford the immediate loss of income. And who can live off £14 per day? The TUC found that two fifths of workers would have to go into debt or miss paying bills if they had to take statutory sick pay.

Of course, the terrible consequences of this unacceptably low level of support are not felt equally. Many of the workers hardest hit by it are the same workers on the frontline fighting this pandemic. Let us look at social care. The GMB trade union has revealed that the majority of the UK’s social care workers are entitled only to statutory minimum sick pay, with no additional sick pay from their employer. When the GMB consulted its members who work in social care about what they would do if they had to rely on statutory sick pay, a full 81% said that they would be forced in to work. The Office for National Statistics found that care homes where staff got contractual sick pay above the level of statutory sick pay were less likely to have covid cases than those where staff were forced to rely on the statutory minimum. It is hard to imagine a more fatally self-defeating system during a pandemic than one that leaves care workers forced to go in to work when they should be self-isolating. How many people died in care homes because of this Government’s refusal to properly support workers financially when they are unwell?

As if the paltry level of sick pay was not enough of a problem, nearly 2 million of the lowest paid workers do not even qualify for sick pay because they do not earn enough. The lower earnings limit means that those earning less than £120 a week are prohibited from accessing sick pay—a discriminatory measure, given that 70% of the workers excluded by that limit are women. Millions of self-employed workers are also excluded. That is the stark reality of working conditions in this country in the 21st century: millions of workers—disproportionately women, black and minority ethnic workers, and those on zero-hours contracts—excluded from even the most basic and limited support by the Government.

From the start of the pandemic, Labour has called for urgent action to remove the barriers to sick pay that have left the lowest paid workers without support. Throughout the pandemic, trade unions such as Unite the union have made consistent demands on the Government to increase statutory sick pay to the level of the real living wage, and to remove the minimum income requirement so that every worker who needs to self-isolate is supported to do so. The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union has also called for the Government to legislate for full rights to contractual sick pay for all workers from day one, paid at 100% of wages. Outside the Conservative party, there is even widespread support in Parliament, with MPs from seven parties signing up to support my motion calling for sick pay at a real living wage level.

I am sure that the Minister’s response will include reference to the Government’s £500 self-isolation support scheme. It is true that, six months into the pandemic, the Government introduced a scheme to give a one-off payment to some people on low incomes who have to self-isolate. Unfortunately, the scheme is woefully inadequate. Only one in eight workers qualify automatically for the main payment; the rest have had to apply for a discretionary payment, and figures suggest that 70% of applications for support from that scheme were rejected.

Back in November, I asked the Government how many people had applied for that payment. It took more than 100 days to get an answer, and when it finally came, it was that the Government still did not have the figures. No one could honestly look at the scheme and claim that it is an adequate alternative to providing proper sick pay at real living wage levels.

We know that covid is increasingly a disease of the poor. Those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods have been more than twice as likely to die from covid as those in the least deprived. People in some of the lowest-paid manual jobs are three times more likely to die of covid-19 than those in higher-paid, white-collar jobs. Covid is still circulating at higher levels in the poorest neighbourhoods than in the wealthiest. Proper levels of statutory sick pay would disproportionately help those in poorer areas and in manual occupations, and that is what needs to happen. When we look at why the Government have never acted on increasing sick pay as a priority, perhaps that is the real answer.

Sick pay was already broken before the pandemic struck, yet even in a global health crisis, the Government have chosen not to fix it, helping the virus spread out of control. The Government cannot claim not to have been warned in advance of the scale of this problem, because just months before the covid crisis struck, their own consultation on sick pay said that the system of statutory sick pay

“does not reflect modern working practices, such as flexible working,”

and looked at

“widening eligibility for SSP to extend protection to those on the lowest incomes”.

I, along with many in the labour and trade union movements, have been demanding better sick pay for workers for almost a year. In fact, it was a year ago tomorrow—when the UK had a total of just three deaths from covid—that the TUC published a report warning the Government to urgently make our sick pay system fit for purpose. The report called on the Government immediately to raise sick pay to the level of the real living wage and make it accessible to all workers, including the lowest paid. Those recommendations were ignored. It was also last March that the Health Secretary himself said that he could not afford to live off statutory sick pay, but, 12 months on, his Government have done nothing to raise it. If only the Health Secretary were as generous with the payments to working people as he appears to be with his friends when handing out Government contracts.

The Government’s refusal to act decisively has meant that the virus has spread more than it would have done, and people have lost their lives who otherwise would be with us still. The Government knew about this problem from day one but chose not to address it. The decision not to raise sick pay to a level that workers can actually live on is a deliberate political calculation from this Government. They feared that if sick pay was improved during this crisis, they would never be able to lower it again in the future; it would be a permanent gain for working people. This Conservative Government cannot allow that because it would go against the grain of the constant undermining of our welfare state. Fundamentally, the Conservative party sees the social security system as a means to punish—be that by setting universal credit deliberately low or the cruel bedroom tax— rather than it being there to support people when they need help.

The Chancellor has a chance finally to sort this issue out tomorrow at the Budget. If he does not, once again he will have shown which side this Government are on, and it is not on the side of working people and their families.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) for securing this debate.

We have been facing the most serious public health emergency in a generation since the beginning of the pandemic, and the whole of the UK has joined together in a great national effort to face this challenge. Throughout the pandemic, the Government have done, and will continue to do, whatever it takes to fight the virus and get our nation through these difficult times. This Government have a strong safety net in place, and we took action to strengthen it for those who need it most. As part of that action, we introduced the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme, increased the universal credit standard allowance by up to £1,040 this financial year, and extended statutory sick pay to those who are self-isolating or shielding in line with the latest Government health guidance. We also went further and made SSP payable from day one instead day four for anybody who is sick, self-isolating or shielding due to coronavirus.

Taken together, these measures help to ensure that employees do not attend work when they should be staying at home, helping to keep themselves and others safe. Where clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are not able to work from home and shielding advice is in place, they should not attend work. Statutory sick pay is available to those who are unable to work, and is intended to be a safety net in cases where their employer chooses not to furlough them under the coronavirus job retention scheme and does not have other suitable policies in place.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In my constituency, quite a number of employers did not buy into the furlough scheme, and sick pay simply does not cover costs. I understand that the Minister is always very responsive to the issues; he always has been in any debates that I have been in, and I hope that he will be to this one. Will he and the Government consider grants or a help scheme for those who have got into debt just to feed and heat themselves at this particularly difficult time?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Member, who I know from several debates to which he has contributed cares passionately about those in most need in his constituency. I am meeting the First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly next week to discuss a number of issues, including this, and I will set out in my speech the wider support that I know he will be looking to champion, and rightly so.

Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are currently being advised to shield until 31 March. We expect employers to do the right thing and help their employees in following public health guidance. That is underpinned by the clear guidance issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, ACAS and the Health and Safety Executive to help employers make workplaces covid-secure. Where individuals have concerns about their health and safety at work, they should raise them directly with their employers or with staff representatives, HSE or their local authority.

The Government have also provided a comprehensive economic response that is one of the most generous globally, taking unprecedented steps to protect people’s income and support businesses, most notably through the coronavirus job retention scheme. We know that this has been a difficult time for businesses too, with many experiencing increased levels of absence due to employees needing to self-isolate. Any increase in the rate of SSP during the pandemic would have placed an immediate, direct financial burden on employers at a time when we know that many of them are struggling. That could have put more jobs at risk.

Many of those earning below the lower earnings limit who are not eligible for SSP are already in receipt of benefits, meaning that the welfare safety net is the most efficient way of providing targeted further financial support. Statutory sick pay should not be looked at in isolation. It is the minimum level of income replacement that employers must provide to eligible employees, and the majority of employees receive above the statutory minimum. Those who require further financial support while unable to work have been and will continue to be supported by the Government. For example, where someone’s income is reduced while on SSP, they may be able to claim universal credit. Where they are not eligible for SSP, they may be able to claim UC and new-style employment and support allowance. For ESA, we have removed the seven waiting days for claimants affected by coronavirus, so it is payable from day one of the claim.

For the millions of hard-working people who are self-employed, we continue to provide generous support through the self-employment income support scheme. The minimum income floor in universal credit has been relaxed for the duration of the crisis, which means that where self-employed claimants’ earnings have fallen significantly, their UC award will have increased to reflect their lower earnings.

Beyond the welfare safety net, we have also introduced a number of unprecedented packages of support to put money directly into the pockets of those who are in most need. We are providing financial support to self-isolate to those on low incomes through the £500 test and trace support scheme, alongside £35 million being made available to local authorities for discretionary payments to support those on low incomes who cannot work from home if they are required to self-isolate because they have tested positive for coronavirus or have been identified as a contact of someone who has.

We have worked closely with local authorities to monitor the effectiveness of the scheme since it launched in September 2020 and have listened to feedback from charities and support groups on the frontline. I welcome the changes to the eligibility criteria to include a parent or guardian who is staying off work to look after a child who is self-isolating. We will also be making an additional £20 million available for discretionary payments every month from March until the end of the scheme, which has been extended until the summer. Employers can also furlough employees who are on long-term sickness absence or have been advised to shield.

At tomorrow’s Budget, the Chancellor will set out the next phase of our economic support package, reflecting the Prime Minister’s road map to ease restrictions published last month and tailoring support for individuals and businesses to reflect the changing public health restrictions. The actions that this Government have taken were the right ones to respond to the immediate short-term pressures that the pandemic presented, but it is right that we also think about the longer term.

As the Minister for Disabled People, I welcome the opportunity to highlight the “Health is everyone’s business” consultation, in which we sought views on the rate of statutory sick pay and the role that employers can and should play in supporting employees who are disabled or have long-term health conditions to stay in and thrive in work. We have explored how long-term reform of SSP could support the Government’s ambition to reduce ill health-related job loss and drive transformational change, so that those managing long-term health conditions can live and work well. I cannot stress enough the importance of that work. One in five people in this country have a disability or health condition, and the vast majority of them will get that while they are of working age. It is therefore absolutely right that we review and look at the ways we support both employees with changing health conditions and employers to do the right thing.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for giving way again. One thing that is very much an issue in my constituency—it probably is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) as well—is mental health. When it comes to accessing all those benefits, there is absolutely no doubt that mental health and anxiety issues are one of the greatest crises we have had for a long time. Can the Minister and his Department offer help to those people with anxiety or depression or wellbeing issues?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member, with laser-like precision, has identified one of the key issues. For those employees who have a fluctuating health condition—for example, mental health—one of the inbuilt challenges of the system is that someone is presumed to be either 100% fit for work or 100% sick, which stops them dipping in and out or having phased returns to work. Also, while society’s awareness of issues around mental health and mental wellbeing is significantly improving, there is not an easy guidebook that any employer—particularly small and medium-sized employers—can simply take off the shelf and then know exactly what to do. Therefore, we must look to address the issue of 100% fit or 100% sick to allow for that phased return as well as significantly improve the guidance and support for employers to ensure that people do not drop out of work. We recognise that work is good for people’s health, and it is significantly harder to help somebody back into work, dealing not only with their health condition but with the loss of confidence from losing their job, than it is to provide that support earlier on.

SSP maintains an important link between the employee and their employer during sickness absence while providing a level of income replacement for such a period. That is why the consultation set out that we are minded to extend SSP to those earning below the lower earnings limit, who are not currently eligible for financial support from their employer during a period of sickness absence. I think this is an area where the Government and the hon. Member for Leeds East would agree: it is important that there is a link, regardless of the number of hours that an employee works with their employer, because it is a partnership to deal with short-term, medium-term or long-term health conditions for the benefit ultimately of the employee but also the employer. We know that good work is good for one’s health and that work can play an important role in a recovery.

The consultation also proposed changes to SSP rules to allow for fully flexible phased returns to work, as I have set out, with SSP being paid alongside an employee’s wage. That can be beneficial for both the employer and the employee. We know that many employers are already taking positive action to support their employees to remain in work, but many businesses—particularly small and medium-sized organisations—need access to improved information and advice on how to better manage health in the workplace. We want to ensure that employers are supported and equipped so that they can do the right thing by their employees, and many of them wish to do so. We will publish the findings shortly.

Crucially, as we begin to build back better, employers will have a vital role to play in creating workplaces in which all employees can thrive. It is by working together that we can truly transform the lives of disabled people and those with health conditions. The benefit of that will be felt by all, so we must each play our part. I welcome the points made by the hon. Member for Leeds East. This is something that we will all continue to focus on.

Question put and agreed to.

Terminally Ill People: Access to Benefits

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 22nd February 2021

(8 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, and he reads my mind—I am just about to come to that section of my speech. This is an issue across the whole UK, and the devolved Governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland appear to be treating it as a higher priority than the UK Government do. The Scottish Government passed a law to change the six-month rule for devolved benefits back in 2018, and that will be coming into force later this year. The Northern Ireland Assembly unanimously backed a motion to scrap it in October, and the Executive are proactively looking to fix this issue and deliver reform quickly. Why, then, is Westminster dragging its heels?

When I introduced my Bill last July, the Minister for Disabled People, Welfare and Work indicated that change would be coming shortly. He confirmed in the House on 19 October last year that the Government would be changing the six-month rule following their review. However, all this time later, we are still waiting to hear exactly what it would be changed to and when that change will be introduced. If Ministers have made up their minds that change is needed, why is there any need for further delay? Why the long silence?

Every day the Government postpone an announcement on the outcome of their review, more people are diagnosed with a terminal illness and risk being unable to get fast-track support from the benefits system if they cannot prove they have less than six months to live. These people are facing exactly the kind of inappropriate medical and work capability assessment that the special rules for terminal illness are supposed to exempt them from before they can access the support they need. They also face huge delays in getting payments. The average wait for a first personal independence payment is now 16 weeks, at a time when someone’s illness may mean that they cannot work and have no other money coming in. These are people like Alan, who has terminal pulmonary fibrosis, and who told Marie Curie:

“When I was diagnosed, I was told I would have five years’ life expectancy, as an average. Day to day, it affects everything I do. I can’t get dressed by myself. I can’t go to the shop by myself. I get very breathless doing anything. When I first applied for PIP, they were very dismissive. One of the things they did was, because I walked from a lift to a room, which was about 10 steps—on that basis they judged I could walk 200 yards. Because I was refused PIP, I couldn’t get hold of things like a parking card or a discount for train travel. So, I was in receipt of no benefits at all, although I do have a terminal illness, which gets worse year after year, month to month.”

For some, that delay will mean they die without receiving any support at all. Between April 2018 and October 2019, 2,140 people who applied for PIP—only one of the benefits affected by this rule—had their claim turned down under the normal rules only to die within six months of making their claim. Many of them will have been terminally ill people unable to claim via the special rules because they could not prove they had six months to live.

Even when the DWP does accept a claim, that often comes too late. According to the DWP’s own figures, an average of 10 people die every day while waiting for a decision on their PIP claim. End-of-life charity Marie Curie estimates that that means more than 5,900 people have died waiting for a decision since the DWP announced its review. That is nearly 6,000 families put through needless distress and anguish, and more will face it every day because of a rule that the Government have already admitted needs to change.

That is families like Michelle’s. Her mum, who died aged 62 in 2018, was initially awarded zero points for PIP and told she was capable of working. She was hooked to a feeding tube 16 hours a day, seven days a week and weighed 32 kilograms when she died. She had several illnesses including Crohn’s, osteoporosis and terminal lung cancer, yet she was awarded nothing. Michelle took her mum’s case to a tribunal, but by the time the decision came back that her mother should be awarded maximum points for PIP, she had died. Michelle says:

“This should have been money that my mum had to make her final days better. It should never have gone as far as a tribunal.”

Dying people deserve to be treated with dignity by the benefits system. Nobody given the devastating news that their illness is terminal knows how long they have left—not their loved ones, not their doctor and not a DWP benefits assessor. However much time they have left should be spent living as well as they can for as long as they can, making memories with loved ones. It should not be spent worrying about money, filling in endless forms, being dragged to assessments and fighting for the support they need. As Madeleine Moon said back in 2018,

“The unknown time you have must not be spent worrying about accessing benefits or keeping a roof over your head; it must be spent in love, laughter, and taking the painful journey together with dignity and compassion.”—[Official Report, 18 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 456.]

People living with terminal illness and their loved ones have been campaigning tirelessly for change for more than two years. Many of them will not have lived to see the change they have fought for: an end to the six-month and three-year rules and a change to the system to allow anyone who has received the devastating news from a clinician that they are terminally ill to get fast-tracked access to benefits via the special rules. The clinician’s judgment should be evidence enough.

We all understand that since the Government announced their review there have been unforeseen circumstances with covid-19, but people do not have time to wait further. For the past 19 months, they have been waiting in a frustrating limbo, told that change is coming but with no announcement in sight from Ministers. They, and the charities campaigning on their behalf, are understandably impatient with 19 months of warm words from the Government and promises that change is always coming soon. For many, soon is already too late and, with each day that passes, soon will be too late for many more.

I urge Ministers to do better than soon. Will the Minister give us a date today for when the outcome of the DWP review will be published, give the campaigners who have called for change some clarity and give us a timeline setting out when the Government will make the changes to the law, which they have already accepted are needed, without further delay?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - -

I will first pay tribute to the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden). There is little in her powerful and constructive speech that I can disagree with. She demonstrated that with her private Member’s Bill, which could have had a second hearing but for the recent suspension of Friday sittings, so I very much welcome the fact that she has had an opportunity to set out her case. Her former colleague, Madeleine Moon, was formidable in our meetings, drawing from her personal experiences to help shape and focus our work as we went forward. This issue has much interest from cross-party MPs not just here in Parliament but in the devolved Assemblies across the UK; health and disability charities and stakeholder groups; public advocates such as Charlotte Hawkins, a patron of the MND Association; and individual campaigners up and down the country, including Mark Hughes, Liam Dwyer and Sandra Smith, who have brought the campaign to Westminster and spoken to the hon. Member for Newport East and me.

I absolutely understand the importance of this issue and the need to make changes, as does the Department. This debate is focused on special rules for terminal illness, or SRTI. For an individual and their friends and family, receiving a terminal diagnosis is devastating. Supporting people in this difficult situation is crucial, and the SRTI ensure that financial support can be provided as quickly as possible, so that the claimant can focus on what time they have remaining.

On the basis of this issue being raised by that extensive list of interested MPs, stakeholders and campaigners, we rightly agreed to do a full and comprehensive review of the support we offer that focused on four strands. The first was hearing directly from claimants and charities about their first-hand experiences. We had claimant engagement, including drop-in sessions and conversations with claimants with cancer and motor neurone disease. We also held extensive stakeholder workshops and meetings with organisations including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Macmillan, Marie Curie, the Multiple System Atrophy Trust, Sue Ryder, the National Bereavement Alliance, Hospice UK, the National Nurse Consultant Group, the Association of Palliative Care Social Workers, the British Lung Foundation, the Queen’s Nursing Institute, the Association for Palliative Medicine, the Royal College of Physicians and the British Geriatrics Society, among others. I wish to thank them for the huge amount of time and resources they dedicated to help ensure that the changes we bring forward are the right ones that work.

Secondly, we looked at international evidence to find out what works in other nations and what support they provide. That included looking at 22 separate countries. Thirdly, we reviewed current DWP performance to better understand how our SRTI rules and severe condition processes operate and perform, including a full audit of the DS1500, in-house staff research and a clinician survey, which more than 1,000 clinicians took the time to complete to give us helpful advice and information. Finally, we had clinical engagement, where we discussed the SRTI with palliative care experts at end-of-life clinical groups, including Professor Bee Wee, the national clinical director for end of life care. As we promised, this was a comprehensive review.

It was very clear from the findings of those discussions that there is a lack of consistency. A key theme that came up was: why is this not aligned with national palliative care initiatives? That leads to duplication. I spoke to GPs, and they said to me that one of the worst roles they have to perform is explaining to a patient that they will now be entering the terminal illness phase, with the administering of palliative care. That is done at 12 months, and if someone wishes to have a DS1500—which, to be clear, is not the only way to access the SRTI, but it is probably the easiest—the GP has to have that same awful, tough conversation. That is not good for GPs, because it is a duplication—that is an obvious example of something that should be reviewed as part of the Government’s commitment to create an additional 50 million GP appointments a year—and it is not good for the claimant or their friends and family who are providing support.

We also discovered from the findings that there is mixed awareness of the support that is available. We recognise that some people are not getting the support because they simply do not know that it exists. As I have previously confirmed on the Floor of the House when asked by other MPs, we agree that there needs to be a change. The status quo is not acceptable, and the three themes will address raising awareness, improving consistency and changing the six-month rule.

I understand the frustration about the delays, and as the Minister I am very sorry that we have not been able to bring in these changes quicker—I dearly wish that I was in a position to have done that—but this is complex, and there are a number of issues. First, as the hon. Lady alluded to, covid has caused issues. We needed clinical evidence and engagement to ensure that we were making the appropriate changes, because the reality is that if we propose something that does not work for the NHS, and for GPs and health professionals, this will simply not work. That is the challenge that the Scottish Government are facing. They announced their changes long before us, and although they still hope to legislate this year, they are far further away from being able to make changes than we are. In effect, they had very laudable hopes to allow anyone with a terminal illness to be able to access this fast-track support. The problem is in relation to people who are terminally ill from the day they are born. The Scottish Government would not accept that a day-old baby should then get access to this, so they now have to apply conditions that limit access for those they were intending to give it to, which means that they are in danger of creating a far more complicated system, which would not be welcomed by health professionals and clinicians, than the current status quo that we all agree should change. I have spoken to the Scottish Government and urged them to look closely at the changes we are proposing. Hopefully we can have a united and consistent approach across the whole UK.

Covid did cause delays in completing the review. It has also caused delays because the reality is that the changes we wish to make are extensive and will require primary legislation. That has to be lined up with the Department of Health and Social Care, and I have to do that at a time when health professionals and my Front-Bench colleagues are tackling covid.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that the Minister is sincere about this, but could he give us some idea of a timescale? Will he also meet me and campaigners urgently to explain this in person?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

That is absolutely a fair challenge. I do regularly meet those groups and have kept them engaged throughout the process, as I recognise how much they have invested in ensuring that we made the right proposals for change. Because of the importance and seriousness of the issue, they are understandably desperate for these measures to be brought forward, and that is an aim that my Department and I share. We hope that we are in a position in the coming months to set out the timetable to start bringing forward the changes. We have already done the bits for which we do not have to legislate; we always made it clear during the review that if there were things we did not need to legislate for, we would get on with them.

We discovered that the information on gov.uk was not good enough—we have improved that—and that not all clinicians were up to speed on the DS1500. Again, working with DHSC, we were able, before covid came, to ensure that the advice and guidance given to clinicians was increased. We are working at pace to get that legislation lined up. It is crucial that we do it in a way that works with the NHS and across Government, and that is an absolute commitment.

We are also determined to go further. From talking to stakeholders, it is clear that there are other things we can improve—for example, for those who might not quite be in the terminal illness area, but for whom the current system is not quick and simple enough. In the forthcoming health and disability Green Paper, we will be exploring a number of themes. Again, those groups will be proactively supporting our work to help to change things. First, the ability to access supportive evidence needs to be more consistent. In some cases, it is a postcode lottery. Clear supportive evidence increases the chance of a paper-based review, and a quicker, simpler and more accurate outcome. We want to look at existing evidence on the principle of “tell us once”. That is a cross-Government thing—that, ideally, those awful conversations should only ever have to happen once. That information is then populated across all the support, and that helps the claimant.

I want to look at a broader range of evidence. For example, would I need a GP to tell me that somebody has MND if they are getting support from an MND nurse? Why would the nurse be providing support unless that person had MND? That is a really simplistic example, but there are many examples from the many charities and organisations that provide palliative care. Can we not give greater strength and credence to their supportive evidence?

I also want to look at advocacy. The benefits system is complex at the best of times, and, as the hon. Member for Newport East so articulately said, in those final moments, when every moment is so precious, we do not want to be navigating something that is complicated. We want to look at the role of friends, family and advocates. Again, regarding those examples of the Macmillan nurses, the Sue Ryder nurses and the MND nurses, how can they be more involved in the application and the securing of that support?

We also need to look at the assessments themselves. During the covid pandemic, we have introduced telephone and video assessments. In the Green Paper, we want to explore this further. The key bit the stakeholders will be interested in is looking at reducing unnecessary assessments. Again, that is part of our commitment to create a quicker and easier route where the evidence is clear. That is building on a principle that we already have with UC and the severe conditions criteria. There are many positive lessons that we can learn from that and extend across the other benefits, and, as I have said, we can look at removing those unnecessary assessments.

On a broader level, through the forthcoming national strategy for disabled people, I want to look at, engage and consult on what more can be done across Government, because it is not just from the Department for Work and Pensions that people in this situation may need support, additional help and guidance. I want to see whether there are other areas where we can talk across Government to improve the situation. I would also like to look at the private sector. For example, Nationwide Building Society worked with Macmillan to improve its training, understanding and guidance to support cancer patients with its financial products. That is an exemplary example that we can look to build on and share, so that a more sympathetic, understanding and flexible approach becomes a given to people in these situations.

In conclusion, we are absolutely committed to bringing this forward as quickly as we can, and we are working across Government on this. Despite the covid challenges, despite the complexity, I am confident that we are getting close. We will look to improve and raise awareness and we will change the six-month rule. The Secretary of State and I are absolutely committed to that. I am full of admiration for the work that the hon. Lady and all of those supportive groups and campaigners have done on this vital matter. We absolutely agree that this is one of those rare issues that unites all political parties and all areas of devolved Assemblies. We are all agreed on this and we just need to find a way to deliver this complex, but crucial legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 25th January 2021

(9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Work and Pensions
Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
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What steps her Department has taken to provide financial support to disabled people who are required to shield during the national lockdown. (911284)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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People who are advised to shield and are unable to work from home may be furloughed. Those who are not furloughed may be eligible for a range of other financial support, including statutory sick pay and new-style employment and support allowance, both of which remain payable from day one of a claim. Where eligible, a claim may also be made to universal credit.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
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Many disabled people are on legacy benefits, which of course means they have not had the £20 a week universal credit uplift that has been made available. As the Government did not vote against our motion last week to retain that payment, I presume that they understand the value of retaining it, so will they now do the right thing and ensure that all disabled people have access to that extra cash?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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We have shown as a Government the support we are providing, including over £9 billion of extra welfare support. Those on legacy benefits will have benefited from the annual uprating. Depending on individual circumstances, if a claimant would be better on universal credit, they can look to transfer over.

Bill Esterson Portrait Bill Esterson [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There are 2.2 million people who are having to shield. Many disabled people cannot work from home and do not qualify for furlough, and sick pay is only £95.85, which does not even come close to the definition of doing what it takes to look after people, which the Prime Minister tried to use on Thursday. May I push the Minister not to give the same tired answer about what he has done for other people but to answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) has just asked? When are the Government going to give support to disabled people so that they can be protected and stay at home?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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The level of statutory sick pay is just part of the safety net; people may also be eligible for new-style ESA or universal credit, and for those disabled people who are looking to work from home, we have extended the support that is available through Access to Work, allowing for people to have additional support for their needs or equipment. That is something that we will keep in place beyond covid.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma [V]
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I thank the Minister for his response, but it was not very satisfactory, so I will give him another opportunity to give a more concrete answer. When will he end the discrimination against disabled people and offer the same uplift that universal credit claimants have been given to legacy claimants on employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance, which disproportionately support the disabled?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Further to the principle that if a claimant could be better off on UC than on legacy benefits they have the ability to apply to go on to UC, as a Government we have increased support for people with disabilities through the main disability benefits by an extra £3 billion in real terms since 2010. We are proud of our record.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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But people claiming severe disability premium cannot switch to universal credit; they are not allowed to. The costs facing many in that group have increased by more than average during the pandemic. Why is that particular group denied the £20 a week increase?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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The SDP gateway comes to an end in a couple of days, so those claimants will also be able to see whether they would be better off under universal credit. However, as I said, it is part of the wider support available, and those with disabilities in particular will have benefited from the annual uprating increases in disability living allowance, personal independence payment and attendance allowance. That is how we have delivered the additional £3 billion-worth of support in real terms for those with disabilities and health conditions.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab) [V]
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May I just say how utterly disappointing it is still to have no uplift to legacy benefits 10 months into this crisis? Since the start of the pandemic, shielding people have been an afterthought. The increased costs they are facing are doing untold damage to their lives, and the Government’s solution of claiming statutory sick pay is woefully inadequate. Will the Government finally do the right thing and ensure that shielding people and people having to isolate are furloughed? Guaranteed furlough from day one would help people stay home and support businesses up and down the country.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I would hope the shadow Minister welcomes the continued and extensive support the Government have provided through schemes such as furlough, the additional £9 billion in welfare support, and, specifically for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, the second £32 million additional support provided through local authorities to help those following the shielding guidance. In these critical times, certainty is vital. Perhaps the shadow team should reflect on that with their random decision to try to cancel universal credit, which has stood up so well to support those people in the most need during these unprecedented times.

Kevin Brennan Portrait Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab)
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What recent representations she has received on removing the benefit cap. (911260)

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David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con)
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What steps her Department is taking to help ensure that people with disabilities and health conditions can safely access welfare support during the covid-19 outbreak. (911265)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Work coaches are empowered to support claimants through the best and most appropriate channels, whether online, by phone or in person, with jobcentres remaining open to those who need extra support and are unable to interact with us on the phone or digitally.

David Amess Portrait Sir David Amess [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A number of my constituents in Southend West who suffer from mental or physical disabilities do not have access to computers or the internet. Many of them rely on in-person support in normal times, through places such as the citizens advice bureau or the wonderful Kings Money Advice Centre. With many in these vulnerable groups unfortunately now shielding, what assurances can my hon. Friend give me that support is being made accessible to those without online access?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for supporting his most vulnerable claimants and his local advocacy groups. As I have set out, we will look at the most appropriate way to communicate with claimants, including by phone or through advocates, where they do not have access to the internet.

Katherine Fletcher Portrait Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) (Con)
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What steps her Department is taking to enable more small business to participate in the kickstart scheme. (911266)

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Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
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What recent estimate she has made of the average time her Department takes to process a work capability assessment referral. (911279)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Although face-to-face work capability assessments remain temporarily suspended, we are conducting paper-based assessments where possible. We have also introduced telephone assessments and are trialling video assessments. We closely monitor processing times, and are prioritising new claims and changes of circumstances.

Kate Osamor Portrait Kate Osamor [V]
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In its latest briefing, the Child Poverty Action Group has highlighted the plight of universal credit claimants whose work capability assessments have been delayed indefinitely because they require a face-to-face assessment. These claimants have gone months without hundreds of pounds of extra support, which they need. What assurances can the Minister provide these claimants about when they will be able to access this element of universal credit?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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We are doing absolutely everything we can to ensure that claimants are accessing the support as quickly as possible, which is why we introduced at pace telephone assessments and now video assessments. Wherever possible, we are also conducting paper-based assessments. We continue to do all we can, and we will return to include face-to-face assessments as soon as it is safe to do so.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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What support her Department provides to benefit recipients to help meet heating costs in winter 2020-21. (911281)

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Mike Hill Portrait Mike Hill (Hartlepool) (Lab) [V]
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According to TUC polling, two fifths or 40% of workers say they will have to go into debt or into arrears on their bills if their income drops to £96 per week, which is the equivalent level of statutory sick pay. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that SSP is set at a level that does not require people to take on extra debts or avoid paying bills? (911321)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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I thank the hon. Member for that question. As set out earlier, SSP is only part of the wide range of support that could be available, including universal credit, new-style ESA and support through local authorities. It will depend on each individual claimant’s circumstances. Wider SSP was increased as part of the annual uprating. As part of “Health is everyone’s business”, we continue to review the rates, structure and support provided through SSP.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con) [V]
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  Over a year ago, one of my constituents had her complaint accepted for investigation by the independent case examiner. Today, she is still waiting for that investigation to start. She is a single parent and is now without universal credit or tax credits for her children. This kind of hardship is often the situation for those taking their cases to the independent case examiner, and the delay is not uncommon. The average time between a complaint being accepted by the examiner and an outcome being provided is a year and a half. That is completely unacceptable, so can the Secretary of State urgently look into the operation of the case examiner and drastically reduce waiting times and ensure that complainants are properly supported throughout the complaints process? (911337)

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Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con) [V]
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I am actually in Goole, Mr Speaker. With the upcoming health and disability Green Paper and the national strategy for disabled people, it is vital that those with real lived experiences are able to shape Government policy in this area. Can the Minister assure me that that will be the case? (911340)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank my hon. Friend, who is a champion of real lived experience through his casework and his speeches in Parliament. I can reassure him that both the DWP health and disability Green Paper and the national strategy for disabled people will be shaped by those with real lived experiences. I know that, as a proactive Member of Parliament, he will be happy to host his own stakeholder engagement event with his local advocacy groups.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab) [V]
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Research from the TUC shows that statutory sick pay currently covers less than a fifth of annual earnings. Does the Secretary of State agree with the head of the Government’s test and trace programme, Dido Harding, that low levels of statutory sick pay are acting as a financial barrier to people being able to self-isolate, creating additional public health risks? What steps is she taking to ensure that statutory sick pay provides sufficient support to enable everyone to self-isolate when necessary? (911324)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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As already set out, this is part of the menu of support that people could benefit from, including universal credit, new style ESA and support provided through local authorities or, if they qualify, £500 through the test and trace scheme. But on the wider point, through “Health is everyone’s business”, we have covered a range of measures to look at reforming SSP. We will publish those findings shortly, but they will look at things such as the rate, the structure and the lower earnings threshold, as well as actually dealing with the issue that people are either 100% fit or 100% sick without any phased return to work, which is something we are determined to change.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con) [V]
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The covid-19 pandemic has presented some stark economic challenges for Crawley affecting people of all ages. What support has the Department for Work and Pensions put in place to help workers get back into work across my constituency? (911341)

Draft Social Security Co-ordination (Revocation of Retained Direct EU Legislation and Related Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 7th December 2020

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

General Committees

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Work and Pensions
Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Social Security Co-ordination (Revocation of Retained Direct EU Legislation and Related Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again, Mr Gray, and to serve under Wiltshire’s finest. The draft regulations, which concern policy areas within my Department and Her Majesty’s Treasury, and which apply UK-wide, were laid before both Houses on 16 November. They are required to clear the way for the legislation that will implement our new system of social security co-ordination with the EU, European economic area states and Switzerland.

The current EU SSC—social security co-ordination—regulations operate to facilitate the EU’s free movement rules. They ensure that individuals pay social security contributions in only one member state at a time, set out which member state is responsible for the payment of social security benefits, require the export of some benefits to claimants resident in the EU, and provide for the aggregation of social security contributions when claiming certain benefits and the state pension. The rules require equal treatment for citizens across the EU, overriding any domestic legislation, and have continued to apply to the UK throughout the transition period. As hon. Members will be aware, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 came into force on 11 November, and section 6 of the Act provides a power to modify the SSC regulations, which have been retained in UK law.

Before I go into the draft regulations in detail, I will provide some further detail on the context in which they are being made. The system of social security co-ordination across the EU relies on reciprocal arrangements. None the less, the unilateral provisions retained and fixed under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 in that area would have provided a measure of short-term protection for citizens, to the extent possible, in the event that there were no withdrawal agreement in place. Now that the UK has left the EU with a withdrawal agreement, those retained provisions are not necessary. Citizens who are covered by the withdrawal agreement and related agreements with the EEA and Switzerland will be unaffected by the regulations for as long as they remain covered by those agreements. Arrangements in this area for UK and Irish nationals who move between the UK and Ireland will also continue unchanged, under a recent reciprocal agreement with Ireland.

The Government are negotiating future arrangements with the EU, similar in kind to the UK’s social security relationships with nations outside the EU. Such agreements are not, of course, as extensive in coverage as is required under the EU SSC regulations, which operate to facilitate free movement, as I have set out. That means that there will be changes in social security co-ordination policy with the EU from the end of the transition period, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. The Government have been clear about that, including during the passage of the ISSC Act and in public communications.

Our new system will support workers who come into the UK under the new immigration system who are contributing to our economy. As the Committee will be aware, negotiations with the EU are at a very advanced stage. The Government’s position is that new rules should take effect from the end of the transition period, whether or not there is a future agreement. We still hope to secure a future agreement with the EU, including reciprocal provisions on the state pension and national insurance contributions. Good progress is being made, but of course wider negotiations are ongoing, and we have been preparing for all outcomes. The draft regulations are a core part of our legislative preparation, and will stand whatever the outcome.

We are also in discussions on future social security co-ordination rules with a number of EEA states and Switzerland. The absence of a future agreement with the EU would not preclude agreements with any EEA states or Switzerland from being concluded.

I will summarise the draft regulations. Part 1 sets out that the regulations come into force at the end of the transition period, apart from some of the amendments being remade in part 4, which will come into force on the day after the regulations are made. Part 2 revokes the EU SSC regulations retained under section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and those unilateral fixing statutory instruments made under section 8 of that Act. The fixing SIs were, as I said, brought forward for a scenario in which the UK did not leave the EU with a deal, and they would have enabled the UK to operate some of the retained SSC regulations unilaterally, as far as possible. That means that the rules for individuals not covered by the withdrawal agreement and who move between the UK and the EU, the EEA states and Switzerland after the end of the transition period will be determined by any new international agreements that are in place—be they with the EU or with individual countries, such as that which the UK has signed with Ireland.

Where there is no provision in any international agreement or no international agreement, the relevant domestic law in each country will apply. In respect of UK benefits, this means the UK will no longer export child benefit to children living in the EU, with the exception of Ireland, delivering on the manifesto commitment. As the Government have set out previously, we expect that arrangements in relation to, but not limited to, disability and unemployment benefits will be less comprehensive in all scenarios, reflecting long-standing UK policy in that area of EU requirements. As we have also set out, industrial injury disability benefit is payable worldwide and will therefore be payable in the EU, EEA and Switzerland in all scenarios.

In respect of national insurance contributions, the change means that, where no reciprocal agreement applies, the rules on the payment of national insurance contributions for individuals moving between the UK and the EU, EEA and Switzerland will be the same as the rules for the rest of the world. That arrangement will ensure a consistent approach to the EU and the rest of the world by making sure that workers and employers have to follow only a single set of rules when moving between the UK and another country. That means that employees and their employers cannot be required to pay social security contributions in more than one country at the same time after someone’s first year overseas.

The regulations will, however, make four limited savings from the general revocation of the retained SSC regulations at part 3. First, they will save the retained SSC regulations relating to the co-ordination of benefits in kind, namely healthcare, which is a policy competence of the Department of Health and Social Care. The Department has made separate secondary legislation in respect of the reciprocal healthcare aspects of the retained SSC regulations.

Secondly, the regulations save the existing debt recovery provisions, which will enable the UK to collect overpaid Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs benefits and social security contributions on the behalf of a foreign social security authority where the individual or the employer is present in the UK. This saving will be made so that the provisions are available only where the UK has accepted a debt recovery obligation from a foreign authority on a reciprocal basis as part of an international social security co-ordination agreement, such as that with Ireland.

Thirdly, the regulations save the retained SSC regulations to the extent necessary to provide for continued operation of the agreement on social security between the Governments of the UK and Gibraltar. It is the intention of both Governments to agree a new relationship not based on the EU SSC regulations. Once that has been implemented, this saving will no longer be required and will be revoked a later date.

Fourthly, the regulations save provisions relating to the aggregation and uprating of the state pension. This saving would not be needed should the UK reach a future agreement with the EU, EEA states and Switzerland. However, in the absence of all such agreements being in place by the end of the transition period, the saving will provide for continued state pension aggregation and uprating in the EU, EEA states and Switzerland up to the end of the financial year 2021-22. In the absence of a future agreement with the EU, the UK would seek to put in place reciprocal arrangements on social security with individual EU countries instead, some of which the UK had agreements with prior to our or their accession to the EU.

Even where such negotiations are progressing well, it may well be that the saving is needed for a short period beyond March 2022 in order to finalise and implement bilateral agreements. The saving is therefore not time-limited; it is, however, a strictly interim measure targeted at those who move to the EU, the EEA or Switzerland after the transition period while future arrangements are put on a reciprocal footing.

Part 4 makes related amendments to other EU exit legislation, including by bringing forward the day on which amendments will be made to section 179 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and section 155 of the Social Security Administration (Northern Ireland) Act 1992. Those amendments were previously made by the Social Security (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Social Security (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which are not revoked by the draft regulations. The amendments were otherwise due to come into effect at the end of the transition period, and will provide the option of delivering a future agreement with the EU on social security co-ordination through an Order in Council before the end of the transition period, should that be needed.

Although the UK has left the EU, we are not leaving the European convention on human rights. In my view, the provisions of the draft regulations are compatible with the convention.

In summary, the draft regulations, which are technical in nature, will make changes to prepare the statute book for the end of the transition period, particularly in relation to preventing the unilateral export of benefits. They will deliver on our manifesto commitment to prevent people from claiming child benefit for children living outside the UK, and they will ensure that the Government have the option to make a future social security co-ordination agreement with the EU through an Order in Council before the end of the transition period, should that be needed. I commend them to the Committee.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Gray. As I think is reasonably obvious, the Opposition will not oppose the draft regulations. Social security with the EU and EEA countries will be vital post Brexit, and the temporary unilateral measures that are ended by the regulations are clearly not a basis for that ongoing co-ordination. We support bringing forward the changes to the Social Security Administration Act 1992 to the extent that that facilitates agreement on ongoing social security co-ordination. However, I have to note the absurdity of the circumstances under which we are discussing the statutory instrument. It is now 7 December 2020. On the 31st, the transition period will come to an end, and we still do not know whether there will be a deal between the UK and the EU—

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Karen Buck Portrait Ms Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

—let alone whether that deal will include social security co-ordination or whether it will replace the regulations being ended by the draft SI. It is testimony to the Government’s entire approach to the negotiations that the draft instrument has come before the Committee so late in the day and under such continuing uncertainty. The time to discuss these measures is when a deal has been secured and the future framework of co-ordination that will replace the regulations that are being ended is a known quantity, but that is not the situation that we are in.

We therefore need clarification of the implications of the draft regulations in the event of a deal and in the event of no deal. First, I am sure that the Minister will be happy to confirm that in the event of no deal, nothing in the draft regulations will in any way alter the social security protections afforded to resident EU, EEA or European Free Trade Association citizens under the withdrawal agreement.

Karen Buck Portrait Ms Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Secondly, can the Minister clarify the implications of the draft regulations for EU citizens living in the UK who are not covered with the withdrawal agreement provisions, in relation to such matters as accidents at work, maternity pay, state pension contributions, access to the NHS and benefit entitlement? Will they enter a legal no man’s land until future reciprocal agreements are negotiated? What are the implications for UK social security expenditure in the event of no deal?

The draft regulations will be made under the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020. The Home Office’s explanatory notes on the Bill note:

“The power to make regulations under Part 2 of the Bill has the potential to be used in a way that could change the cost to the public sector in terms of social security co-ordination. It is not possible to quantify precisely what those costs may be at this stage, but there is the potential for costs that are more than merely notional.”

Why have the Government not provided an impact assessment to enable us to assess that?

On part 4 of the draft regulations, which brings forward the date on which changes to the Social Security Administration Act 1992 come into effect, the explanatory memorandum states that

“subject to the outcome of the negotiations with the EU, and the details of any agreement, it may be necessary to use the powers in section 179 of the SSAA 1992 and section 155 of the SSAA(NI) Act 1992 to make a reciprocal agreement with the EU prior to the end of the transition period. This instrument brings forward the changes as a precaution given that the amendments in the Social Security (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Social Security (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 only take effect from the end of the transition period, as a consequence of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”

I read this as saying that if there is to be an agreement on social security as part of a deal, the necessary amendments to the 1992 legislation will need to already have come into force beforehand. The question is, have the Government only just realised this? Have they have been negotiating on social security all year without noticing that they did not have the powers to do a deal until after the transition period? Some clarity on this important point would be welcome.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to see a son of Glasgow in the Chair, Mr Gray. I will not detain the Committee for particularly long, and will not be forcing a vote on today’s proceedings either, but I want to put a couple of quick points on the record.

The explanatory memorandum states:

“The territorial application of this instrument is the entire United Kingdom. The changes being made to DWP areas of social security policy, which is transferred in Northern Ireland and partially devolved in Scotland, are in this context subject to the foreign affairs reservation.”

However, it is our view that the revocation of retained EU law that has effect in respect of devolved social security benefits is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. The DWP has obviously made these regulations with UK-wide extent, but with no carve-out whatsoever for devolved social security matters, on the basis that it considers the draft regulations to relate entirely to reserved matters, by reference to the foreign affairs reservation. In our view, the UK Government have construed the foreign affairs reservation in part I of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 far too widely. The modification, including repeal, of retained EU law on social security co-ordination, insofar as it has effect in respect of benefits, is devolved by the Scotland Act 2016. It is quite clearly a devolved matter.

I ask the Minister to confirm whether these powers are indeed fully devolved or not, but sadly the United Kingdom Internal Markets Bill, which runs roughshod over the devolution settlement, will make that point moot, as every aspect of devolved Government is undermined and could be overruled. It therefore follows—before I veer too far off course, Mr Gray—that these draft regulations will be ultra vires and thus ineffective in relation to devolved benefits.

It was only on 16 November, three weeks ago, as the UK Government laid their regulations, that the need for a Scottish statutory instrument became clear. Failing an agreed approach, Scottish Ministers were left with no choice but to table an SSI, which they have now done. The outcome is undesirable, as it will result in UK and Scottish legislation seeking to achieve the same result in relation to devolved benefits. Not only does that mean less legal clarity; it is a further example of the UK Government ignoring the needs and wishes of a democratically elected devolved Government. No disrespect to the Minister, who I have met with before, but I feel that the approach thus far has been high-handed and arrogant, which has increasingly frustrated Scottish Unionists, even those from his own party.

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
- Hansard - -

I thank the two hon. Members for commenting. First, on the timing, to be clear, this is a technical rectification, as part of the amendments in part 4, so that was always going to be the case. Although it is late in the transition period, good progress has been made in this area and we hope to get the deal over the line. EU negotiations are renowned for going down to the wire, and the sticking points are well documented. We do not take it for granted that there will be an agreement, and the Government are prepared for all outcomes and have been communicating to citizens the importance of being prepared for rules in this area to change in all scenarios.

These affirmative-resolution regulations offer an opportunity for the House to approve the changes we are making in social security co-ordination before the end of the transition period. It would clearly not be appropriate to continue the unilateral export of benefits that are only paid overseas due to EU rules after we have left the EU and the transition period in the absence of reciprocal provisions. The principle of reciprocity is widely recognised as the basis on which international agreements on social security are operated. Therefore, the Government would seek to put in place reciprocal agreements with member states swiftly if no agreement can be reached with the EU.

Clearly, some member states attract a higher proportion of UK state pensioners and UK-based employees than others. The UK previously had 20 bilateral agreements with the EU, EEA states and Switzerland, including reciprocal provisions on the state pension and national insurance contributions—priority areas for my Department and HMRC that cannot be effectively operated on a unilateral basis.

The Government have committed and remain committed to publishing an updated impact assessment once the outcome of negotiations is known. The relevant people covered by the withdrawal agreement are not impacted by this instrument. The measure does not impose any costs on businesses and ensures, once SSC rules cease to apply between the UK and the EU, that businesses can apply the standard rest-of-the-world rules for national insurance where no reciprocal agreements is in place.

Citizens do not need to have moved by the end of the transition period, and that has been consistently clear in communications. Those who move after the transition period and are subject to new social security rules may also be subject to new immigration residency requirements imposed by the country in question. My Department has been undertaking a communications campaign in this area since before the summer. Guidance is included in the gov.uk transition checker tool for anyone thinking of moving to the EU, EEA or Switzerland. In November, we launched advertising on post office screens in more than 250 locations across all four nations of the UK targeting those who may be undertaking activity in readiness for a move to the EU, EEA or Switzerland.

My Department is ready to implement changes from 1 January and has been preparing for a variety of outcomes while working closely and collaboratively across Government with other Departments. We have new processes in place to ensure that the right rules are applied to the right customers. While DWP policy is transferred in Northern Ireland and partially devolved in Scotland, the Government’s position is that the foreign affairs reservation applies in this context and the revocations are UK wide, and I have exchanged written correspondence with the relevant Scottish Minister on that specific point.

The regulations are an essential part of the legislative programme and have been laid in preparation for the end of the transition period as we reset our relationship with the EU. Not proceeding with this legislation would result in the UK unilaterally operating EU rules after the end of the transition period, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. That would be undesirable for the reasons I set out in my opening speech, and I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 30th November 2020

(11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of statutory sick pay during the covid-19 outbreak. (909474)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Statutory sick pay provides a minimum level of income for employees who are unable to work. We have made temporary changes to support people to follow public health advice on coronavirus.

Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood [V]
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At £95.85 a week, the level of statutory sick pay is just too low, and it excludes 2 million of those on the lowest pay. To qualify for the Government’s test and trace support payment, people need to be receiving social security payments like universal credit; according to the Resolution Foundation, seven out of eight workers will not qualify for it. What assessment have the Government made of the number of people who are ineligible for either statutory sick pay or the test and trace support payment? Will they commit to increasing the level of statutory sick pay and extend it to everyone, including the low-paid and the self-employed?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Those required to stay at home by NHS Test and Trace could be eligible for the additional £500 of financial support if they are on UC, working tax credits, employment and support allowance, jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit or pension credit, and that is just part of our wider targeted welfare safety net.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones [V]
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For testing and tracing to work effectively, people need the reassurance that they will be able to feed their families. Statutory sick pay is not adequate to support people who need to self-isolate, so will the Minister give us hope that the Government will provide the necessary support to allow people not to have to choose between their health and their livelihoods?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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The hon. Member is right to highlight the importance of this matter, and that is why statutory sick pay is part of the wider targeted financial support that we offer. Depending on eligibility for individual households, they could also get support through universal credit, new-style ESA or the self-employed income support scheme.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy [V]
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I have been inundated with constituents contacting me about low statutory sick pay and problems claiming the isolation benefit. One said:

“I work as an agency nurse. If I don’t work I don’t get paid. My husband tested positive who works and so I had to self-isolate. I fulfilled 3 of the 4 isolation criteria so I didn’t get a penny. As a result I have lost 2 weeks wages. I am NOT happy. I can very easily see why people don’t bother to get tested and go into work even if they have symptoms or have been in contact. Simply lack of income.”

What will the Minister do to stop people on low incomes being financially punished when they are trying to do the right thing?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy rightly have been introducing stronger and clearer guidance for employers. Employees who are not able to get reasonable adjustments put in place should either speak to their union representatives or can go through ACAS to seek resolution. Nobody should be going into work when they are meant to be self-isolating or are sick through covid.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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What steps her Department is taking to support universal credit claimants as a result of restrictions on face-to face appointments during the covid-19 outbreak. (909450)

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Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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What steps she is taking to increase promotion of the Access to Work scheme to employers. (909461)

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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We are committed to ensuring that people with disabilities and long-term health conditions get the vital support that Access to Work provides. That includes working with more than 19,000 Disability Confident employers to enable them to promote access to work through their networks.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse
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According to recent research, 42% of employers feel discouraged from hiring people with a disability because they are not confident about how to support their needs through the pandemic. Will the Government consider fast-tracking Access to Work applications for disabled people through the kickstart scheme, as recommended by the charity Leonard Cheshire?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I thank the hon. Member for that question. I know I am meeting the hon. Member on 14 December to discuss this in more detail. I am also meeting the new chief executive of Leonard Cheshire, so I will discuss that report in detail. I am very proud, as a Government, that we have delivered record disability employment, and last year 43,000 people benefited from Access to Work—up 20%. Through schemes such as Access to Work and Disability Confident, and our highly trained and skilful work coaches, we will continue to engage with employers of all sizes to give them the confidence to take advantage of the huge wealth of talent that is available with a diverse workforce.

Christian Wakeford Portrait Christian Wakeford (Bury South) (Con)
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What steps she is taking through the Plan for Jobs 2020 to help people of all ages back into work. (909464)

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Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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The decision to deny disabled people on legacy benefits the crucial £20 uplift has been a bitter blow to those who already face years of navigating barriers in the welfare system. Will the Department commit to using the welfare Green Paper and the national disability strategy to ensure that disabled people have access to a welfare system that provides financial security without cruel sanctions?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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The Department for Work and Pensions will work with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations and disability stakeholder groups on the Green Paper to shape the way we provide financial support and general support across our services. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that this year, there has been a 5% increase—up to £20 billion—in supporting people with disabilities through benefits, and that the legacy benefit increases also impacted on the changes in the local housing allowance. There has also been the increase in discretionary housing support, the various employment support schemes and additional support from local authorities, from which many disabled people will have benefited.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I say thank you to Secretary of State Coffey and her team—we have cleared everyone on the list. Thank you, everybody—we have all worked well together.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Work and Pensions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(11 months, 1 week ago)

Ministerial Corrections

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Department for Work and Pensions
Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
-

The unit is the eyes and ears of disability issues across Government, making sure that disability issues are embedded in policy development. It is personally supported by the Prime Minister, which makes my job much, much easier. Disability issues are brought up at Cabinet and in interministerial groups, where I get to instruct other Ministers about their importance. We are an asset across Government, because we spend—I in particular spend—a huge amount of time on stakeholder engagement. In the past seven days, just as part of my ongoing work, I have met representatives of all the national charities that have been mentioned in the speeches today. I enjoy talking to people with real lived experience, and we then flag up that experience with the relevant Department if it is not DWP, and it makes a tangible difference.

[Official Report, 15 October 2020, Vol. 682, c. 235WH.]

Letter of correction from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson):

An error has been identified in my response to the debate on a disability-inclusive response to covid-19.

The correct response should have been:

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Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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The unit is the eyes and ears of disability issues across Government, making sure that disability issues are embedded in policy development. It is personally supported by the Prime Minister, which makes my job much, much easier. Disability issues are brought up at Cabinet and in interministerial groups, where I get to instruct other Ministers about their importance. We are an asset across Government, because we spend—I in particular spend—a huge amount of time on stakeholder engagement. In the past few weeks, just as part of my ongoing work, I have met numerous national charities that have been mentioned in the speeches today. I enjoy talking to people with real lived experience, and we then flag up that experience with the relevant Department if it is not DWP, and it makes a tangible difference.

Oral Answers to Questions

Justin Tomlinson Excerpts
Monday 19th October 2020

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to ensure that the job entry targeted support programme supports jobseekers to move into growth sectors of the economy. [907669]

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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19 Oct 2020, 2:34 p.m.

Our new JETS scheme has started rolling out across the country and blasted off in my hon. Friend’s constituency on 5 October. The scheme has £238 million of funding that is dedicated to helping people who have been out of work for three or more months and may be at risk of long-term unemployment. JETS will see a variety of providers work at our local jobcentre networks to offer a range of bespoke services, including important advice on how people can move into new, growing sectors, as well as help with CV building and interview coaching.

Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates
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19 Oct 2020, 2:35 p.m.

I am glad that the scheme is already helping my constituents in Penistone and Stocksbridge, many of whom are now struggling to find work as a result of the pandemic. However, getting people back into work will require a national effort, so will he provide a broader update on the roll-out of the scheme?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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19 Oct 2020, 2:35 p.m.

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that tackling the impacts of covid will require a national effort, and the DWP stands ready to deliver this with our network of local jobcentres, which we will be expanding. The JETS scheme started two weeks ago and is now live right across England and Wales, and we are contracting anew in Scotland. We anticipate that as JETS continues to roll out across Great Britain, it will help 280,000 of our claimants to find work and build the skills to pivot into new sectors if required.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for people in the sectors worst affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [907670]

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Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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What recent discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on extending the temporary measures introduced by her Department in response to the covid-19 outbreak. [907695]

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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Earlier this year, we suspended face-to-face assessments. That suspension is still in place and is kept under review in line with the latest public health guidance.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson
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The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 1.3 million people across Scotland will lose out if the DWP does not make the £20 increase to universal credit permanent and extend it to legacy benefits. The Resolution Foundation also reports that one in three working-age families in the so-called red wall constituencies will be £1,000 a year worse off if the planned cuts to universal credit go ahead. How exactly is that levelling up?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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I refer the hon. Member the answer that the Minister for Welfare Delivery has already given. The Government have introduced a package of temporary welfare measures worth £9.3 billion this year to help with the financial consequences of the pandemic.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald [V]
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19 Oct 2020, midnight

More than ever, with millions facing unemployment and reduced hours or earnings, our social security system must be properly funded. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has rightly pointed out that cutting social security takes money out of the economy by reducing consumer spending. If the Minister is not yet convinced that cutting universal credit is grossly unjust, will he at least consider making this permanent to stimulate the economy?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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19 Oct 2020, midnight

As I have just set out, we as a Government, through our £9.3 billion-worth of temporary support, which we continue to keep under review, have shown throughout these unprecedented times that we will be flexible and provide the support, including our comprehensive £30 billion plan for jobs, to make sure that we are standing side by side with those who are navigating the challenges of covid.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)
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If she will extend the suspension of benefit deductions for the recovery of universal credit and legacy benefit overpayments during the covid-19 outbreak. [907680]

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James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to ensure that the welfare payments that people receive meet the needs of the recipient. [907683]

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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19 Oct 2020, midnight

By law, benefit levels must be reviewed annually to determine if they are at the appropriate level. The most recent review resulted in the uprating of 1.7%. On disability benefits specifically, spending this year has increased by almost 5% from £19 billion to £20 billion.

James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies
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Recently, I was pleased to meet my constituent, Tony Davies, who sadly lives with motor neurone disease. On behalf of Tony and the MND Association community, will the Minister kindly announce when he is likely to publish the outcome of the review into access to benefits for the terminally ill?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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We have been clear, following our comprehensive review, that there will be three themes: we will change the six-month rule, we will improve consistency and we will raise awareness of the support available. Only last week, I met the MND Association and the Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care as we work at great speed to bring forward those much-needed changes.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of universal credit in reducing levels of poverty. [907686]

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Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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What steps she is taking to help people with disabilities into employment. [907687]

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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As a Government, we are proud that 1.3 million more disabled people are in work since 2013—a record high. We continue to offer support through the Work and Health, intensive personalised employment support, Disability Confident and Access to Work programmes.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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The disability employment gap in my constituency is 25.4% and there are concerns that it will widen as the economy suffers from the impact of covid-19. What reassurance can the Minister give me that disabled people will get the specific help they need to find work —for example, through tailored support or the funding of reasonable adjustments on the kickstart scheme?

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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It is absolutely the case that Access to Work is available and works hand in hand with schemes such as kickstart so that reasonable adjustments can be made for disabled employees. I have written to Disability Confident leaders to encourage them to sign up to kickstart.

David Davis Portrait Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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What steps she has taken to support the welfare of people ineligible for the Government’s economic support packages during the covid-19 outbreak. [907688]

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Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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The Knaresborough Connectors community group and Knaresborough chamber of trade are working together to build a scheme to enable participation in the kickstart scheme for smaller businesses in the area. It is good work and I am keen to help it. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State be encouraging the Department to work with local community organisations to ensure that all areas, urban and rural, and all businesses, small and large, can access the benefits of kickstart? [907738]

Justin Tomlinson Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Justin Tomlinson)
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My hon. Friend is always a champion of his local organisations and constituents. Yes, absolutely; many local authorities, charities and organisations, such as North Yorkshire County Council, have agreed to act as gateways or have submitted bids for funding.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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Many disabled people have lost carers and are struggling to employ replacements during the covid crisis. This can mean that they have lost vital support in applying for benefits. I spoke to a constituent today who flagged up that there is nowhere on the system for people to indicate that they have a high support need, so that extra care is taken in dealing with their application. She has missed the benefit deadline because of that. Will Ministers look into this matter and ensure that we help disabled people when they apply for benefits? [907735]

Justin Tomlinson Portrait Justin Tomlinson
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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Our forthcoming Green Paper will look specifically at the importance of advocacy in the system, and at increasing it. That need should have been identified at the initial application. If he sends through the details, I will be happy to ensure that the claimant is not lost from the system.