Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Our welfare state was established to protect the most vulnerable in society, and to protect us all with support in times of need, so that whether we are young or old, sick or unemployed, we are not reliant on charity. I am incredibly grateful for the work of Nottingham’s churches, faith groups and voluntary organisations, which are seeking to mitigate the worst impacts of the Government’s welfare changes, but their work in trying to meet unmet need is no substitute for citizens’ rights.
We need a social security system that is fair and affordable, and one that supports those who need help while tackling the underlying causes of that need, be it worklessness, low pay or lack of affordable housing. The Government have launched a series of reforms that are failing to deliver. Key programmes are behind schedule and over budget. Taxpayers’ money is being wasted and those who need support are being left to rely on food banks or, worse still, to go hungry.
My constituents deserve so much better. Alex McEwan became ill in May 2013 and applied for personal independence payment in September. His claim was referred to Capita for assessment. Twice, visits from Capita were arranged, and twice they were cancelled at the last moment. It was not until mid-January that Alex’s assessment was carried out. It was almost a further three months until Capita provided sufficient information for the DWP to reach a decision. It took precisely seven months for Alex to receive the help he needed.
When I raised Alex’s case with the Minister, he said that his officials had looked into it, but that
“unfortunately there have been quite significant delays with this case.”
I am not sure whether the Minister believed that to be an adequate explanation. It seemed to me and my constituent that it was nothing more than a statement of the blindingly obvious. Alex told me that the delays had caused him great inconvenience and financial hardship when he simply wanted to get a semblance of his life and independence back. The Government let Alex down, and he is not the only one.
Pamela Brown suffers from multiple sclerosis and her husband Mike has given up work to care for her. She applied for PIP in July 2013 and faced numerous difficulties just to secure an assessment. Finally, the Browns succeeded in booking an appointment in October, only to arrive at the assessment centre to find that Capita had cancelled the appointment without notifying them. Pamela’s next appointment was a home visit three and a half weeks later. Capita failed to turn up and, when challenged, said that it had cancelled the appointment. It again failed to notify Pamela and Mike. It took more than five months for that couple to get the support they needed. They asked me to raise their case because they wanted others who apply for PIP in future not to suffer the same troubles.
Pamela suffers from a progressive neurological condition for which there is no cure, and yet five months later, she has to undergo reassessment. The last process was extremely stressful, and Pam and Mike believe it made her MS symptoms even worse. Mike described Pamela as being in tears at the thought of having to go through it again. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for disabled people, has agreed to meet me to discuss the case. I hope he can provide answers on why my constituents are treated so badly, and more importantly on how he is seeking to fix the problems. Unfortunately, my constituents are not the exception, but the norm.
Advice Nottingham advisers met the DWP recently to discuss some of the issues they face. They face delays and cancellations of assessments and decisions; clients waiting more than six months simply to be reassessed; and delays to mandatory reconsideration requests. How can it be right that claimants have only 28 days to seek mandatory reconsideration, but there is no time limit for the DWP to respond, despite people waiting with no benefit while appeals are ongoing? It is no surprise that people have to turn to food banks, but in the 21st century, it really should not be necessary.