Oral Answers to Questions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 5th February 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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This Government have a range of initiatives to support disabled people and people with long-term sickness to start, stay and succeed in work. At the autumn statement, we built on that by expanding universal support, launching WorkWell pilots and establishing work on the reform of the fit note.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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My hon. Friend will know about the excellent work being done by people such as my Maltby constituent, Ian Birch, and all his colleagues at Reed in Partnership across the whole of Rotherham. They use DWP funding to help those with long-term issues of sickness and illness to get back into work and on their feet. What is her Department doing to make sure that those who go through these programmes stay in work permanently and contribute to the local economy?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the value of our local DWP programmes. In Rother Valley, the Reed in Partnership approach has given vital support to his constituents, helping them into work. It is vital to keep supporting them to remain there, and that is where that particular programme helps. Access to Work and our Disability Confident scheme are just some of the initiatives to support disabled people and those with health conditions while in employment.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
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Half the women surveyed with endometriosis had to take time off work often or very often because of their condition, and one in six women had to give up work altogether. Will the Minister meet the incredible women from Endometriosis Support Hull and East Yorkshire to discuss the work they are doing with the local trade unions to create a best practice charter for employers in Hull to support women with endometriosis in the workplace?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I was in Aberdeen on Thursday meeting women with health conditions and hearing about how we can better support women who are having debilitating impacts from the menopause. That was in the oil and gas sector, where it takes a long time to build up to a senior career. I would be interested to hear about the work that the hon. Lady’s local team are doing. Through the wider women’s health strategy, we are supporting women to have a thriving career all the way through. I am keen to hear from her and those women, and to support the women to stay in work.

Helen Morgan Portrait Helen Morgan (North Shropshire) (LD)
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3. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Child Maintenance Service in collecting child maintenance payments.

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Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
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7. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the carer’s allowance for people who care for more than one person.

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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This is a particular area of interest for me as a former carer and as part of a caring family. It is important that we get the right balance. The flat weekly rate for the carer’s allowance has never been linked to the number of people being cared for. The weekly rate will increase to £81.90 from April, which is almost an extra £1,500 a year since 2010.

Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick
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The hundreds of thousands of carers up and down the country are the unsung heroes of our society, who do a fantastic job. Whether it is caring for elderly parents with dementia or sacrificing full-time work to care for a disabled child, carers play a critical role, easing the burden on health services. For most carers, care is a 24/7 job, and they cannot take full-time work because of it. When will the Government realise that £76, and now even £81.90, is measly and does not scratch the surface of what carers have to put up with and pay for, particularly when many carers are caring for more than one person?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, which I appreciate as I have been in that situation of caring for two people. The primary purpose of the carer’s allowance is to provide a measure of financial support and recognition for people unable to work full time because of their caring responsibilities. I know there are very strong views on this. I am looking forward to meeting with Carers UK just after recess—I am afraid I cannot do so before, due to a funeral—and hearing the varying views and how we can continue to support our carers, who in every constituency and community do an amazing job.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
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8. Whether his Department is taking steps to reduce the time taken for personal independence payment mandatory reconsideration decisions to be made.

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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We have reduced clearance times from the peak of 79 days in 2021 to 36 days in October 2023 by improving processes and increasing decision-making capacity. We will continue to improve efficiency while ensuring effective decision making for all reconsiderations.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden
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In July last year, a constituent was not able to correctly fill out their PIP review form, which led to their payments being stopped. It took until last Thursday—six months from the mandatory reconsideration going in—for the payments to finally be restored. Because of the delay, my constituent fell into debt and became suicidal. Why are the Government not eliminating the delays that are letting down the most vulnerable constituents?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s constituent. Our aim is always to make the right decision as early as possible in the claim journey, and I would be keen to see the full details of that particular situation. On decisions, it is important to consider the context: 2.9 million initial decisions following an assessment have been made between June 2018 and July 2023; 5% have resulted in a completed tribunal hearing, with 3% overturned. I would be very keen to see what has happened in the case that the hon. Lady mentions.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) has just highlighted, the Department is in chaos and that is having a huge impact on claimants’ lives. As of October, there were 294,000 new personal independence payment claims waiting to be processed, with a further 445,000 claimants awaiting an award review. As of November, 24,339 people were awaiting Access to Work decisions. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of disabled people left in financial limbo, with tens of thousands waiting to start work. What message does the Minister think these huge backlogs send to disabled people, and how does she finally plan to get a grip of them?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Lady for making the important point about the numbers. I agree that behind each of those is somebody we should be concerned about, and I am absolutely looking at this point. We are continuing to learn from decisions overturned by appeal, and we will continue to make improvements to our decision-making processes to help people to get the correct decision earlier in their claim journey, and to be able to work and have the support where it is needed. Not everybody on PIP is out of work, so we need to be listening to the needs of the people in those queues. I am conscious that every one of them is not a statistic but a person who needs our support.

Andrew Western Portrait Andrew Western (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)
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9. What estimate his Department has made of the cost to the public purse of economic inactivity due to ill health.

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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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15. If he will take steps to simplify the benefits claims process for cancer patients.

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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Understandably, such a health diagnosis can be a shock for individuals, their families and, indeed, their finances—and I am conscious of saying this just after World Cancer Day. It is important to ensure that people have the right support as soon as possible, and as part of our reforms we will simplify the system to reduce the assessment burden and improve people’s experiences of assessments.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I thank the Minister for her response, but those changes cannot come too soon for my constituent Emily, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in November, is too ill to work, and is finding the benefits system impossible to navigate. DWP officials have pushed her from pillar to post, unable to decide whether she is eligible for employment and support allowance and universal credit. She has been forced to fill in countless forms, and was even required to attend a jobcentre appointment over Christmas, despite being seriously unwell. Does the Minister agree this is simply not good enough, and that we need to put those changes in place so that people like Emily do not have to go through this?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am sorry to hear about Emily’s situation. I would remind others in her situation that there is a help to claim service available through Citizens Advice and also a benefits calculator on gov.uk, but I would also be extremely keen to see the details of what has happened. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady or to look at the details, whatever she would prefer.

Tim Farron Portrait Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)
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17. What steps he plans to take to increase levels of employment in Cumbria.

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Alistair Strathern Portrait Alistair Strathern (Mid Bedfordshire) (Lab)
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From unanswered emails to unreturned calls, it has been heartbreaking to hear from so many vulnerable constituents who are in a state of limbo and distress, and trying to chase up personal independence payments. When will Ministers ensure that people can get the support that they need in a timely and straightforward manner?

Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples, I would be keen to hear from him and to look into them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.