The government has launched an independent review of its new disability benefit, the day after MPs heard fresh evidence of delays and misery caused by failures in the system.
The Labour MP Susan Elan Jones, who had secured a debate on the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) in Wales, told fellow MPs that the new benefit – which is replacing working-age disability living allowance – was “failing woefully” and was “a scandal of national proportions”.
She described the case of a constituent who applied for PIP soon after being diagnosed with breast cancer last August, and has since had two operations and is undergoing chemotherapy, but has still not received any support.
Another constituent, who was forced to leave her job with arthritis, is still waiting for a PIP decision 10 months after making her claim.
Elan Jones said: “I called for the debate today because my constituents are being left without any information about their cases; they are waiting on calls that are not returned; and they have no way of highlighting their situation, complaining or seeking help.”
She said that Capita, which is delivering PIP assessments in Wales, was “letting down people in real need”, while the government was “letting struggling people down by not stepping in and getting the mess sorted out”.
Labour MP Kevin Brennan told how Capita had promised before the introduction of PIP “that there would not be these kinds of delays, that it had the right plans in place, that it knew what it was doing and that there would be no repetition of the mistakes made by other private contractors, such as Atos [in its delivery of "fitness for work" tests]“.
Another Labour MP, Chris Ruane, said Capita had now admitted underestimating the number of staff it needed. It initially put 140 people in place, but will need to more than triple that to 450.
He described the case of a wheelchair-user with mental health issues, who has so far waited six months for her case to be resolved.
Because of the delay, she has lost other benefits and funding, including her disability living allowance, and so lost her Motability car.
He said: “Things that help people with mental health issues include visiting relatives, joining voluntary organisations, going to a place of worship and getting out in nature, none of which she could do because her car was taken away.
“All the things that could have helped her were taken away from her by government action, or inaction.”
Peter Hain, the Labour MP and former work and pensions secretary, said the importance of “getting the decision right in the first place” should not mean “waiting unacceptably long times such as six, seven or eight months for a decision that could dramatically affect somebody’s life and income”.
He said: “Action must be taken immediately to address this inexplicably lengthy and prolonged system that is causing misery and despair for applicants.”
His Labour colleague Sian James said she had been told of people who were undergoing chemotherapy but were now dependent on their local food bank.
Mike Penning, the Conservative minister for disabled people, asked MPs to pass details of constituents who were facing serious delays to DWP.
And he said he was “appalled” at the length of time it had been taking for claims by terminally-ill people to be assessed and for payments to be made to them.
He said: “I think that when I arrived in this post, the period was around 28 days. Under the previous disability living allowance system, which was not strictly comparable, the period would have been about 10 days.
“I want it to come down; I have anecdotal evidence that it is around three to eight days now.
“As I said to the work and pensions committee, an average of five days is perhaps where we need to be. We need to ensure that these people who so desperately need help get it quickly.”
Penning said in a written statement to MPs the day after the debate, that the government was now launching the independent review of PIP it had promised to hold within two years of its introduction.
The review will be carried out by Paul Gray, who chairs the government’s social security advisory committee and is former executive chairman of HM Revenue and Customs and managing director of DWP’s pensions and disability section.
He is an associate of Praesta Partners, an executive coaching and mentoring firm, and originally trained as an economist.
Penning said the review, which will be completed before the end of this year, would “provide valuable independent insight into how the assessment process is operating in its early stages”.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com