Dame Anne Begg MP has called on David Cameron to urgently deal with a huge backlog for Personal Independence Payment assessments affecting 660 people in Aberdeen North & South. According to the latest DWP figures and independent House of Commons analysis, Personal Independence Payments introduced last year to replace Disability Living Allowance is beset by delays and rising costs. 529,000 people have applied for PIP, but only 206,000 have received a decision about whether they qualified for help – leaving 323,000 people in limbo across the country.
Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee said,
It’s absolutely disgraceful that 660 people across Aberdeen are still waiting for a Personal Independence Payment assessment. David Cameron must step in and sort out this backlog which is leaving disabled people waiting months and months for an assessment.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP) provide vital support to cover the extra expenses faced by disabled people. Many are having to borrow money to meet the extra costs while they wait for a decision and without knowing whether they will eventually qualify.
The Minister for Disabled People has appeared in front of my select committee twice in the last few months saying this backlog is reducing but it doesn’t appear to be so. This is yet another example of Tory inefficiency which is causing hardship for hundreds of people in Aberdeen who have been left in limbo by this Government.
A breakdown of the figures shows 440 people in Aberdeen North, 220 in Aberdeen south and 180 across Gordon, covering Aberdeenshire and parts of Aberdeen, are waiting for an assessment.
Dame Anne Begg MP is calling for local organisations to take part in Parliament Week, an annual programme of events to inspire people across the UK to participate in democratic life.
Parliament Week 2013 begins on 15th November and will see organisations around the country join in a week long programme of activities and events– all designed to inform, inspire and connect people all over the UK with parliamentary democracy.
Part of this year’s programme will focus on Women in Democracy – celebrating women’s contribution to UK democratic life and exploring how women’s voices can be better heard. Dame Anne is urging any organisations who would like to take part in this year’s programme, to get in touch with her.
Parliament Week is also looking for organisations around the UK to join its existing 130 partners already taking part in this exciting week.
Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South said: “Parliament Week is a great opportunity for organisations here in Aberdeen South to engage their audiences or members in this national programme. There are many ways you can get involved – put on an event such as a debate, exhibition, or lecture or visit the Parliament Week website for more ideas. Become a Parliament Week partner and, along with over 130 other organisations, add your voice to this exciting project.”
Dame Anne has also written to local schools inviting them to take part in Parliament Week through specially created resources such as debate packs and assembly plans.
Dame Anne Begg, the Labour MP for Aberdeen South who was vice chair of the speaker’s committee, said that some modest progress has been made to improving the representation of women at Westminster. “Labour was emboldened to continue with its all women shortlists which meant that at the last two general elections more than 50% of the Labour MPs elected were women. Because of the historical imbalance that still only means that a third of the parliamentary Labour party are women. But the figures are improving.
“The Tories are much further behind but they had their A list. David Cameron felt he had right on his side to get a bigger variety of candidates into the winnable seats. But looking across the chamber the look of the parliamentary Conservative party is very different from the one pre-2010.
“The one party that didn’t do much was the Lib Dems. That is partly because they are Liberals and will not put in place these top down mechanisms. Liberals are not particularly in favour of quotas, they say we want the best person for the job. Our argument is if the best person hasn’t even applied for the job you can’t get them.”
Anne is urging people to pack peace of mind when purchasing their holidays this year, by making sure they book an ATOL-protected trip.
The ATOL scheme is there to protect people against the risk of their travel company going bust: ensuring they can continue their holiday and return home safely if the company collapses whilst they are away; or providing refunds if they’re yet to travel. And with over two million ATOL-protected air holidays expected to be sold in the UK during January – the scheme will give holidaymakers in Aberdeen South and across the country peace of mind that their hard earned holiday will not be lost.
During 2012, Parliament agreed two key changes to the scheme to widen protection and help people understand when they are protected. Holidays known by the industry as ‘Flight-Plus’ are now included in the scheme, as well as traditional package holidays. A ‘Flight-Plus’ booking is one that includes a flight plus accommodation and/or car hire, so long as these separate parts of the holiday are booked with the same company and within a day of each other.
The second change agreed by Parliament in 2012 saw the introduction of the ATOL certificate; offering consumers greater clarity on how their holiday is protected. Anyone who books an ATOL-protected trip will now receive an ATOL certificate from their travel company as soon as they make any payment. The certificate tells them what is protected, who is protecting it and what to do if something goes wrong.
Dame Anne said: “At this time of year many people will be planning their summer holidays. It is always sad to hear about people missing out on the holiday of a lifetime through no fault of their own. However, if your booking is ATOL-protected, the protection on your holiday should now be clearer and you don’t need to worry about losing out.”
Anyone wishing to book an ATOL-protected air holiday can check if a company provides protection by looking for the ATOL logo on their promotional material, or searching the company’s name at http://www.packpeaceofmind.co.uk. More information about what’s covered by the scheme and how the ATOL certificate works is also available from this site.
Dame Anne is also advising people booking trips not covered by the ATOL scheme such as those without flights or holidays booked directly with airlines, to seek alternative methods of protection such as insurance or paying with their credit card.
www.packpeaceofmind.co.uk includes FAQs, information on how to check if a company is ATOL protected and an explanation of the ATOL Certificate.
Dame Anne attended Scope’s Parliamentary reception in Westminster which launched the charity’s campaign for better local services for disabled children and their families.
To launch the campaign, Sally Phillips (known for her roles in ‘Miranda’ and ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’) was at the reception.
Taking centre stage during the reception was a giant Christmas tree adorned with handmade ‘wish stars’ decorated by members of the public and inscribed with messages to the MPs stating why supporting disabled children and their families matters.
Dame Anne said: “I am in support of Scope’s campaign and share their belief that it is vital for all who need services to have access to them in their local area.”
A report released by Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports warns that APD could cost Scotland more than two million passengers a year by 2016, costing the Scottish economy £210 million in lost tourism spend per annum.
Dame Anne said: “It is clear by the 800 emails that I received from my constituents that the impact of APD is deeply felt by people in Aberdeen. We depend on air travel as there is no electrification of the railway line north of Edinburgh and it is highly unlikely that high speed rail will ever reach us.
“Passengers leaving Aberdeen are often connecting to routes via hubs like Heathrow. However, APD and the congestion caused by the lack of a third runway are making it difficult for Heathrow to compete with hubs such as Schipol, Paris or Frankfurt. Travellers are therefore choosing these airports where taxation is charged at a much lower rate or, is in fact, not levied at all.
“In Aberdeen, we have a lot of business travellers who want to be connected to emerging markets. Whilst I would like to see more direct flights from Aberdeen, it is crucial to the UK airlines that those travellers choose to fly via Heathrow and not other European hubs.”
“Many of my constituents cannot even get moderately fast broadband. They are therefore desperate for the introduction of superfast broadband, but 2015 is too far away. Aberdeen will be bidding to become one of the superfast cities. Can the Secretary of State give us an assurance that the criteria will include not only ease of installation and density of population but factors such as the industries that will depend on having superfast broadband? Aberdeen is an important economic driver in the north-east of Scotland.”
“The Paralympics were a huge success and the Channel 4 coverage was wonderful. Does the right hon. Lady agree that it was particularly insensitive of Atos to sponsor not only the games but the lanyards, so that every Paralympian was forced to wear the name of Atos around their neck? Perhaps Atos had a perverse reason for doing that, because a much wider audience now knows how it has been treating disabled people in the work capability assessment.”
Also in the debate, Katy Clark MP pointed out that “in contrast to the fantastic performances by the Paralympic athletes, the performance of Atos was slammed by the National Audit Office.”