A report published today by the Work and Pensions Select Committee says that the length of time disabled people are having to wait to find out if they are eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is unacceptable.
The report highlighted that some claims are taking six months or more to process and calls for urgent action to improve the current unacceptable service provided to PIP claimants.
Committee Chair, Dame Anne Begg MP said:
“Many disabled or sick people face waits of 6 months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable.
“It is vital that all disabled people, but especially the terminally ill, experience as little delay and stress as possible in making a claim. Basic failures – from appointments being cancelled without notice to unsatisfactory responses to queries about claims – are happening too often. Claimants, and their MPs, have often been unable to get any information about when a decision will finally be made.
“The Minister acknowledged that the service claimants were receiving from Atos and Capita – and in some cases from DWP itself – was not acceptable. Whilst this recognition is welcome, urgent action is also required. DWP should not only consider invoking penalty clauses in contracts, but must look at its own systems to ensure that the current dire situation is resolved.
“By the end of last year decisions had been made in fewer than 20% of new claims submitted since April 2013. It is essential that the backlog is cleared before the limited natural reassessment of existing DLA claims is extended any further.”
The Report also assesses DWP performance in a number of other policy areas. It found that the DWP needs to exercise care in the language used in accompanying press releases and ministerial comments in the media, to ensure it avoids the risk of feeding into negative public views about benefit recipients.
Dame Anne commented:
”Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.
“The UK Statistics Authority reprimanded DWP a number of times in 2013 for the way it was handling benefit statistics.
“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”
The report can be read in full on the Committee’s page at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/dwp-monitoring-report/
Further media coverage on the report can be read at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26615853
During a Backbench debate on Welfare Reform, Dame Anne Begg MP called on the government to launch a cumulative impact assessment on their reforms to the welfare system which are unfairly targeting people with disabilities. The Back Bench Committee allocated time for this debate after a WOW petition was signed by over 100,000 people.
As Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne has continually called for the government to carry out a full impact assessment of welfare reform to show the effect they are having on people with disabilities.
Dame Anne said
“Although the Government states it isn’t picking on disabled people or people with health problems, their policies are impacting that group the hardest
“When you look at the changes they’ve made to the welfare system – Work Capability Assessments, Employment Support Allowance and the new Personal Independence Payments, you can see who they are aimed at.
“The government has reformed almost every benefit in the welfare system. The migration of disabled people to Employment Support Allowance from Incapacity benefit[…] the ATOS Work Capability Assessment[…] the introduction of new Personal Independence Payments[…] reforms to Housing Benefit and Housing Allowance[…] are hitting the disabled and those with health problems the hardest.”
After the debate Dame Anne said
“I have been calling for years for a full impact assessment of welfare reform. The government has continuously refused. Either the government don’t want to know what the impact of welfare reforms have been or they don’t want us to know. Surely good policy making involves reviewing the effectiveness and impact of decisions you have made?”
Dame Anne Begg MP joined local Guide Dog users and activists Mary Rasmussen and Linda Slessor as well as Guide Dogs Community Engagement Officer Pamela Munro to take part in a blindfolded bus journey.
Dame Anne joined them on a bus journey in order to understand some of the issues people with sight loss face when travelling on buses. Recent Guide Dog’s survey, Road to Nowhere, revealed that 81% of people with visual impairment in the UK say they are unable to enjoy the freedom that others take for granted because they find travelling by bus so difficult. Examples of comments which were submitted by visually impaired people in Aberdeen are:
“I was left in the bus station in Aberdeen for almost 2 hours because no one would tell me when my bus was there, it took a member of the public to stay with me and took me to my bus when it came in.”
“I have many tales to tell including one of blatant discrimination on what was then the 307 operated by Stagecoach Bluebird in Aberdeen.”
Volunteer John Johnston and Evening Express journalist Adele Merson were blindfolded on the bus journey to experience the disorientation that people with visual impairment can feel when travelling by bus.
Dame Anne has been supportive of Guide Dog’s campaign for Audio Visual Announcements in the chamber of the House of Commons and she will continue to press the Governments in Westminster and Holyrood to encourage bus companies to introduce this technology.
Dame Anne was delighted to meet with Ellie Simmonds as part of Sainsbury’s Active Kids for All Inclusive PE Training programme, an initiative designed to improve the quality of PE provision for young disabled people in mainstream schools in the UK.
As part of their 2012 Paralympic Games legacy, Sainsbury’s developed Active Kids for All Inclusive PE training to give teachers the confidence and skills to provide high quality PE for all young people. Sainsbury’s will be investing £1 million over four years in Active Kids For All training courses that will ensure over 500,000 young disabled children will lead healthier and more active lifestyles.
Dame Anne said “I know what an important part many of my constituents have played in collecting Active Kids vouchers, which is helping young children understand cooking and healthy eating from a young age. With the ‘Active Kids for All’ teaching programme it’s great to see how well the scheme is developing and the important part it plays in today’s educational society. I hope schools, groups and clubs across Aberdeen have fun collecting over the next few months and I hope even more will join this great scheme”
Dame Anne was delighted to visit the Shaw Trust and their centre to witness its work in action.
The visit included a tour of the centre, meeting with people with disabilities on the programme and holding discussions with staff. Dame Anne was introduced to Shaw Trust job coaches and employment advisors who provided detailed, step-by-step overviews of the intensive, tailored support Shaw Trust provides its beneficiaries to guide them into sustainable employment and independence.
Staff at the Aberdeen centre emphasised the holistic nature of the support Shaw Trust offers, highlighting the assistance given to the charity’s beneficiaries to help them overcome the challenges facing them.
Work Choice is the Government’s specialist disability employment programme designed specifically for people who, due to their disability or health condition, may find it difficult to find or keep a job. Shaw Trust delivers the Work Choice employment programme as a subcontractor to prime provider, Momentum Skills, in Aberdeen.
Dame Anne Begg said of the visit:
“Nearly half of all working age people with disabilities are out of work, underlining the need for effective employment support. People often need to be supported over a long period of time to ensure they are successfully guided into independence and long-term employment. Programmes like Work Choice, as delivered by Shaw Trust, can help get more people with disabilities into work.”
Tanya Gilchrist, Shaw Trust head of operations for Scotland, added:
“Work Choice is proving an incredibly effective programme, with over 2,500 people supported into work in Scotland so far. As a charity, Shaw Trust offers help to the most vulnerable members of society in need of extensive support. Many of our beneficiaries contend with a range of severe disabilities and health conditions, and as a result, require intensive and long-term support.”
MP for Aberdeen South, Dame Anne Begg spoke out in support of Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign in a debate on disabled access to public transport.
During the debate, Dame Anne highlighted the need to ensure buses are accessible for blind and partially sighted people through the installation of audio visual announcement (AV) technology.
Guide Dogs’ 2013 Road to Nowhere report showed that 89% of blind and partially sighted passengers have missed their stop because of the lack of AV and the Transport Select Committee recommended the installation of AV announcements in their report into Disabled Access to Transport. However, the Government has since ruled this out.
A long term supporter of the Talking Buses campaign, Dame Anne highlighted her disappointment during the debate that the Government’s response had been that there was no economic case for audio-visual systems stating that “it is not just disabled people but tourists and those who are unfamiliar with a bus route that benefit from the speaking buses.”
Dame Anne also commented: “This is an issue which a number of my constituents have contacted me about and, having used the talking buses in London, I am aware of the benefits they could have in Aberdeen.
“I have also raised this issue with transport leaders in Aberdeen and I will continue to lobby the Government to see the implementation of AV technology on all new buses.”
Aberdeen South resident and Guide Dogs’ supporter, Mary Rasmussen was one of the constituents who contacted Anne in support of AV technology. She stated: “Talking Buses make a huge difference to blind and partially sighted people. They are the difference between getting off at the wrong stop and having to cross a dual carriageway with no knowledge of where the crossing is. This is extremely dangerous and potentially life threatening.”
Talking Buses have the potential to transform the lives of blind and partially sighted people who were shown to have routinely missed hospital appointments, job opportunities and family occasions due to a lack of talking buses.
As part of the UK Parliament Week, Dame Anne Begg MP visited Camphill School Aberdeen, an independent charity offering day and residential education care and therapy for children and young people with additional support needs, and met with four members of the Pupil Council with whom she debated Scottish independence, democracy, elections and representation.
Prior to this she met with members of the School’s Council of Management to hear their concerns regarding the National Framework for Residential Child Care and the ramifications that will follow from its implementation. In addition she was shown around Camphill House, where the international Camphill Movement began in 1940, and the much newer therapy centre.
Dame Anne said: “I have had an interesting and stimulating visit discussing my job as an MP as well as Scottish Independence and other issues of the day. The young people were a credit to the School and all that it has achieved. It was most impressive.”
Klae Russell, Pupil Council member said, “As Government is such a complex thing it was interesting to find out more about the riddle and maze that it is.”
Following the Select Committee’s recent inquiry into the Work Programme, Dame Anne led a debate in Westminster Hall highlighting that, while the programme might be delivering sustained job outcomes for some people, it was not effective in helping those who have major barriers to work, in particular, those who have a disability or health problem.
In fact, where previous specialist welfare-to-work programmes for people with disabilities achieved job outcomes between 10% and 30%, recent statistics show that the Work Programme has achieved a success rating of only 5.8%.
Dame Anne said: “The Work Programme is failing those furthest from the labour market.
“Major changes to the way in which the contracts are delivered, and to how the differential pricing structure works, need to be made if the Work Programme is to begin properly delivering job outcomes for those with the highest barriers to work.”
The new Minister for Employment, Esther McVey MP admitted that the Work Programme was “not perfect”.
A full transcript of the debate can be read here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131010/halltext/131010h0001.htm#131010h0001.htm_spnew22
Guide Dogs’ created fun at this year’s Labour party conference by challenging individuals to putt around street clutter on their mini golf course raising awareness of their Streets Ahead campaign on keeping streets free from clutter.
Street clutter, such as shop advertising boards and wheelie bins, is a real blight on the UK streetscape and a major problem for pedestrians. It is dangerous and disorientating for blind and partially sighted people – a recent Guide Dogs survey found 97% of visually impaired respondents reported finding it a problem on a daily or weekly basis, 57% had suffered an injury from street clutter and 9% had to receive medical treatment.
To tackle cars parked on pavements, the most common concern, Guide Dogs is campaigning for a nationwide law prohibiting pavement parking, unless specifically permitted, as currently in place in Greater London. This will help get rid of this barrier to mobility and encourage blind and partially sighted people to get out and about on their own.
Dame Anne said “This was a fun way to spread this serious message and I scored two holes in one!
“Street clutter has the potential to deter blind and partially sighted people from leaving home alone and I am happy to support Guide Dogs’ call for safer pedestrian footpaths.”
Dame Anne Begg joined the disabled children’s charity Whizz-Kidz at a star-studded awards ceremony to celebrate the achievements of young disabled people from across the UK.
The Kidz Unlimited Awards, held in the House of Commons, and hosted by Channel 4’s Rick Edwards, showcased the talent and achievements of Whizz-Kidz Ambassadors from across the UK.
The Aberdeen South MP met with young Ambassadors from the charity to congratulate them on their achievements and talk about their aspirations.
Dame Anne said: “It was fantastic to meet the Whizz-Kidz Ambassadors at the Kidz Unlimited Awards – they really are an inspirational group of young people.
“Whizz-Kidz do great work locally providing disabled children and young people with wheelchairs and with life skills through their work placements programme and wheelchair skills training
“I’m very proud to be one of the charity’s Parliamentary Champions and to support their work in Aberdeen and across the UK.”
For more information about Whizz-Kidz’s work providing disabled children and young people a chance of a childhood and the skills for a bright future, visit www.whizz-kidz.org.uk.