Cost of Living: Financial Support for Disabled People

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Monday 22nd May 2023

(1 year ago)

Westminster Hall
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Tom Pursglove Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Tom Pursglove)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. May I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) for introducing this debate? We do not always agree on everything, but she undoubtedly speaks with great passion about these issues. I also thank Abigail and Katy for the work they have done to bring forward these petitions.

I thank Members from across the House for their heartfelt and thorough contributions. There is no question that any right hon. Member or hon. Member is not acutely mindful of the enormous pressures and challenges that people feel in the current climate. It is right that we come together and debate these issues. We debated them last week and are doing so again. I have no doubt there will be further opportunities going forward.

I want to set out the picture on disability benefit spending more generally to put the debate in context. Then I will go on to explain the package of support we have in place and the work that is ongoing to respond to the many issues that have been raised today. It is worth saying that we will spend around £77 billion in 2023-24 on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions, which is around 3.1% of GDP. In 2023-24, spending on PIP, DLA and attendance allowance will be £12.5 billion higher in real terms than in 2010. Total disability benefit spend in 2027-28 is forecast to be over £39.8 billion higher in real terms compared to 2010. This is despite Scottish disability spend being devolved in 2020-21.

That is not to minimise for a moment the challenges that households face in the current climate, particularly those that include members who are disabled. The difficulties they are experiencing at this time, particularly around energy affordability and the cost of living, are pressing. All of us are familiar with the root causes of costs being higher. The situation in Ukraine is a significant one, and it has resulted undoubtedly in energy market volatility. That has translated into households here in the UK being put under real strain.

I said this last week, but it is important to get it on the record again: we as Ministers are not complacent. We are adamant that vulnerable energy users must be able to afford their bills, and we recognise that there are inevitably higher costs associated with many of those households’ usage. That is why the Chancellor and the Prime Minister acted decisively to introduce the cost of living payments and provide structured support worth over £94 billion in 2022-23 and 2023-24. That is an average of over £3,300 per UK household.

As was mentioned in a number of contributions, we have also uprated benefits in line with inflation at 10.1%, which was the right thing to do. We listened to the views of disabled people, their representative groups, Members in this House and our constituents across the country, regardless of which party we represent. We concluded, having listened to the compelling arguments, that the right thing to do was to uprate benefits in line with inflation.

The Government prioritised paying cost of living payments worth up to £1,100 for some households during the 2022-23 financial year. The Department for Work and Pensions can be proud of the work that officials did to help us to ensure that the payment hit people’s bank accounts. Some 30 million cost of living payments were paid during the course of last year, including 8 million households receiving up to £650 across two payments, over 8 million pensioner households —[Interruption.]

Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (in the Chair)
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Order. As I said earlier, the sitting is suspended for 15 minutes for a Division in the House. If there is another Division, we will suspend for 25 minutes.

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Mark Hendrick Portrait Sir Mark Hendrick (in the Chair)
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Order. The sitting is resumed. The debate may now continue until 7.45 pm.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Resuming from where I left off, over 8 million pensioner households received an additional £300 on top of their winter fuel payments in 2022-23, and 6 million who were entitled to an extra cost benefit, such as a personal independence payment or an adult disability payment in Scotland, received £150.

The wider package of support for the financial year included the energy price guarantee, which capped fuel bills at £2,500 for average use. Colleagues from across the House will recognise that that support has been extended until next month. The package also included the £400 off domestic electricity bills received by every household in Great Britain, and the council tax reductions for bands A to D in England.

One part of our overall package that I think is particularly important is the household support fund, which we extended twice. Including support for the devolved Administrations in terms of consequential funding, the total has been £1.5 billion since October 2021. It is important discretionary help, which is designed specifically to allow local authorities to work with people in their communities whose particular needs are not necessarily able to be met through the wider structured package of support. This sensible, discretionary support can be provided locally on a case-by-case basis to the people who need it. It is a significant and important part of the support package, which reflects the fact that people’s circumstances are often complicated and do not fit into neat boxes.

I will turn to cost of living support for 2023-24. Again, colleagues will recall the Chancellor setting out in the autumn statement our intentions for the support package for the year ahead. Eight million low-income families on means-tested benefits will get £900. My Department has already delivered 99% of the first cost of living payment of £301 to the 7.3 million households in receipt of a means-tested benefit such as universal credit. That represents payments to a value of £2.2 billion.

The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) suggested that not much has changed since we met last week. However, I am able to provide one update that last Friday, my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression laid in Parliament the regulations that will allow us to pay an additional £150 to more than 6.5 million people on an extra cost disability benefit. Those payments will land in people’s bank accounts starting from 20 June. That is important help, and I am pleased that we are now able to give certainty around the timetable. We have also laid regulations that will allow pensioner households to get an additional £300 on top of their annual winter fuel payment this winter, as they did last year.

I recognise that one of the petitions focused specifically on the disability cost of living payment, and arguments about its adequacy. I want to reiterate what I said in the debate last week, because the statistics on this are quite significant. I want to stress that the rationale for each of the cost of living payments is different. The Government believe it is right that the highest amount goes to those on means-tested benefits, given that those on the lowest incomes are most vulnerable to rises in the cost of living. Having said that, we estimate that nearly 60% of individuals who receive an extra cost disability benefit will receive additional support through the means-tested benefit payment. Over 85% will receive either or both of the means-tested and pensioner benefits, which goes in some ways to the heart of the debate.

I assure hon. Members that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people and people with health conditions receive the support that they need. That is why in 2022-23 we spent nearly £69 billion in real terms on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. We will continue that throughout 2023-24 by uprating disability benefits in line with last September’s CPI inflation figure, as I have set out, meaning that we expect to spend around £78 billion in 2023-24—3.1% of GDP.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The Minister is setting out very clearly the Government’s support, which we all acknowledge is there, but some of the questions asked by Opposition Members, and indeed by the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), were about those who have equipment such as mobility scooters, lifts to get in and out of the bath, pumps and other extra medical costs. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and I also asked about those who have dietary issues. In other words, there is an extra cost factor. Will the Minister please tell us whether the money that he has just spoken about will get to those who need it the most at this time?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I will happily elaborate on those points. A lot of points were raised during the debate that I will respond to directly, but we are of course determined that the support must get to those who need it the most. That underpins the entire ethos behind the package of support that is being provided, and I will come to some of the specifics that have been raised shortly. As I said earlier, by 2027-28 total disability benefit spending is forecast to be over £41 billion higher in real terms compared with 2010-11. Spending on the extra cost disability benefits will alone amount to some £35 billion this year, all paid tax-free in addition to any other support, financial or practical, that disabled individuals may receive.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), I will happily meet her and the charity to which she referred. I am always happy to meet colleagues. I think that colleagues would say that I am always willing to engage as a Minister, and that I try my best to say yes to as many requests as possible. It is really important to hear the experiences of disabled people and their representative organisations, so that we have a constructive dialogue, as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), indicated is important. I completely accept that, and it is reflected in the work that I do, and the engagement that I have week to week. I will happily say yes to that engagement with the hon. Member for Putney. She talked about evaluation of the adequacy of the cost of living payments. I can confirm, as I did in our debate last week, that the Department is planning to do an evaluation relating to the cost of living payments later this year.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
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What the Minister says about an evaluation is interesting. I have asked many parliamentary questions and made freedom of information requests and so forth around the Government publishing and being open and transparent with their evaluations. When that evaluation takes place, will he ensure that it is published?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I will happily take away the shadow Minister’s request for publication of the evaluation.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft
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Is that a no?

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Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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The Secretary of State and I, and other Ministers in the Department, have been very willing to try to provide more information to the House. The hon. Lady shakes her head, but that is not right: we have come forward, for example, around the structural reforms in the White Paper. The decision that I have made within the Department, because I think that it is important for Parliament to have this information, is to provide a significant statistical release around it so that colleagues on both sides can look at the reforms and reach informed decisions when it comes to votes on the specifics of the policy. There are good reasons for the policies that we intend to pursue, and that statistical release will allow colleagues to form their judgments. I will happily take away her specific request around publication.

We provide significant statistical releases as a Department, as well as reports that are put into the public domain at their conclusion. We are in the early stages of that work, but I am happy to look at it through that lens. We provide information to support parliamentary debate and to support those we work with to get packages of support right, and it is not unhelpful, wherever possible, to provide that information in a way that is accessible beyond the Department.

The disability unit is also seeking to understand and evidence the full impact of the current cost of living on disabled people across a range of sectors. That work is ongoing. There is good dialogue and engagement with disabled people and their representative groups about it, so that we can look at the situation in its totality, understand the interventions that we have made to date and understand the needs that exist. That is relevant to some of what I will go on to say about the other points that were raised in the debate.

Let me turn to energy costs specifically. It was helpful that the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), was here, albeit for a short time. She heard some of the debate, and I will happily relay to her the contributions that were made, because of course the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero leads on energy policy. Many hon. Members understandably referenced energy costs, particularly in relation to the cost of equipment. The Government supported families across the UK last winter through the energy price guarantee, which places a limit on the price that households pay per unit of gas or electricity. As announced at the spring Budget, households continue to be supported throughout the spring with the extension of EPG at £2,500 per year for the average household until June 2023. That will give the average British family an average saving of £160 per household throughout this period. Support is also provided through cold weather payments and the warm home discount.

I want to touch, as I did last week, on the priority services register, which is run by energy suppliers. It offers additional free services to people who are of pensionable age, are registered disabled, have a hearing or visual impairment, or have long-term ill health. The register helps to ensure that people in vulnerable situations can access extra help when needed, such as when there is a power cut.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley
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I wonder whether the Minister will say more about the warm home discount, which many of us raised on behalf of people who found that they could not get it, including people who had the discount before: I felt that that was very harsh this winter. It is unacceptable that people were excluded from it because of assumed characteristics of their bills. We had quite a long exposé of various ideas about how to calculate it, but I hope that the Minister will admit that the scheme that he adopted is pretty crude. I know that it has left people on very low incomes in cold homes, and it should be looked at again.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Again, I am happy to deal directly with that point, but I want to touch on the longer-term thinking around energy costs, which is led by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
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I want to take the Minister back very briefly to what he said about priority customers and those who are elderly or disabled. In my speech, I mentioned that accessible information is not being provided to a number of disabled people, whether those who have a learning disability or those who are blind or partially sighted. What analysis or work is the Department doing on that? Providers have a legal duty to ensure that information is being provided to people in the right format. There is no point in having a priority scheme if providers are not meeting the needs of those they are prioritising.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I will ask the Minister who was here earlier to provide an update to the hon. Lady on that particular point. Given that it relates to interaction with energy companies, it is important that the Minister is given the opportunity to comment on the point in question.

Before I move on to energy costs, I want to touch on the point that the  hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) made about water schemes. Again, I am happy to take that away. I recognise that, as she said, water companies provide support, and I am happy to raise that issue with ministerial colleagues with a direct responsibility for water policy.

The hon. Lady mentioned the work that Marie Curie is doing and spoke about people at the end of life. I want to put on the record my thanks to Marie Curie for its brilliant advocacy and campaigning, and the work it did with my Department and officials at the DWP to help us get the changes to the special rules for end of life right. That will be a significant help to many families across the country; they should be spending that time with their loved ones—their family and friends—not worrying about their finances. The changes to the special rules for end of life, which allow the fast-tracked help to be provided for longer, are important. Members of this House and the charitable sector campaigned for them—I am proud that we introduced them collaboratively —and gave us fantastic insight, guidance and support to help us get that policy right. The changes were introduced a few weeks ago, and will be helping families across the country today. The second tranche of benefits is now subject to the changes. I am pleased to say that when those applications come in, they are dealt with very quickly—within a matter of days—so that people can get that important help. I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight that.

Looking to the future, the Government recognise that we need to consider energy affordability in the longer term, and as part of that we intend to move away from universal energy bill support and towards better targeted support for those most in need. As set out in the 2022 autumn statement, we are working with consumer groups, charities and industry to explore possible options for a new approach to consumer protection, such as a social tariff from April 2024 onwards as part of wider retail market reforms. There is ongoing engagement between Ministers and disabled people’s organisations and representative groups to understand what that might look like. We will ensure those views are included as we do that work.

That work includes thorough engagement with disability organisations to consider the costs for people with medical equipment and assess the potential need for specific support for vulnerable and disabled people using energy-intensive medical equipment in the home. That new approach will be aligned with our objectives of delivering a fair deal for consumers, ensuring the energy market is resilient and attractive to investors over the long term, and supporting an efficient and flexible energy system. Any new approach will also need to promote competition within the energy markets and be consistent with our wider objectives of improving energy security and delivering net zero.

We are looking at medical equipment on a cross-Government basis. The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England are supporting the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s review of the energy rebates and refund schemes that are currently available for users of medical equipment at home. They are also supporting the Department’s policy development work in this area, which they plan to publish for low-income, vulnerable energy consumers post April 2024. I understand that there are arrangements in place involving specialised NHS services and integrated care boards, which we will no doubt want to consider carefully as we move forward with the energy reforms I have described.

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist
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On the costs for machinery, it seems that there are different understandings of what support is available. Will the work that is currently being done ensure that it is widely known and widely available to people who need it?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Again, we had a good debate about awareness last week. One of the things I undertook to do was to see what more we could do to increase awareness. That is why having such thorough engagement, including with disabled people and their representative bodies, is key, because we want to ensure the reforms reflect their views, experiences and needs. The awareness piece is fundamental to ensuring that people are aware of the support available to them. With that in mind, as set out in the energy security plan released in March, the Government intend to consult on options for this new approach this summer. We will invite and welcome the public and our stakeholders to use the consultation to feedback on our proposals.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who quantifies or decides what amount of electricity or energy is used by someone with a medical device? Will there be input from the charity and from organisations to agree the figure? I welcome the Minister indicating that that will be the case. Who will agree what the final figure will be?

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Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I entirely recognise the challenge of identifying that figure because inevitably people’s circumstances will differ, which is exactly why, as I explained earlier, we introduced the discretionary household support fund to ensure there was that discretionary support in place in the wider health landscape to capture those circumstances. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a specific figure today, but I go back to the point that this is exactly why the engagement piece is so important. These are issues we will no doubt want to explore in conversations to work out precisely what people need, what the average cost is and how costs above that average might best be met.

There are also other variables at play. We talked about how the situation in Ukraine has played into the higher costs that people are experiencing, particularly around energy. All of us hope the conflict will come to an end in short order, but inevitably the timings and nature of the conflict play into the levels at which those costs come through and the ways in which they are presented to people here in the UK. They are reflected in the energy bills turning up in people’s letterboxes or in their emails, which people are often worried about and, of course, are having to find the money to pay. We need to look carefully at these issues in a way that tracks the nature of the energy market and how it is being affected by what is going on in the world. It speaks to the Prime Minister’s determination to get inflation down and, as a Minister in his Government, I absolutely support him in that because, again, that plays into the costs people are experiencing.

I want to touch on the warm home discount scheme, which has been mentioned. We reformed the scheme in England and Wales to provide more rebates automatically and to focus the support on households in fuel poverty and on the lowest incomes. As the overall funding for the scheme is limited, we have focused support towards those on the lowest incomes and those who receive means-tested benefits. Disability benefits are not means-tested.

Overall, our analysis showed that 160,000 more households where a person is disabled or has a long-term illness would receive a rebate. In addition, the proportion of rebates received by households where someone has a disability or a long-term illness would remain higher than the proportion of the fuel-poor population with a disability and higher than the proportion of the overall population with a disability. Again, I will happily take away and reflect on the views expressed in the debate and will ensure that Ministers elsewhere in Government are aware of them.

On prepayment meters, which were briefly touched on, Ofgem published a new code of practice on 18 April. That has been agreed with energy suppliers to improve protections for customers being moved to a prepayment meter involuntarily. That is, of course, a step in the right direction, with better protections for vulnerable households, but the code of practice is not the end of this process. We have always been clear that action is needed to crack down on the practice of forcing people, especially the most vulnerable people, on to prepayment meters. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will continue to work closely with Ofgem and the industry to see that the code leads to positive changes for vulnerable consumers and will not hesitate to intervene again if necessary. And I have no doubt that if we do not see the progress that we want, we will have more debates in this House around this issue. I know it is of real concern to people, having seen egregious cases reported in the media, which is also reflected in our inboxes as constituency MPs.

I also want to say something about energy efficiency, because the best way of protecting households is by lowering the costs of the energy that we consume and reducing our usage, and that means taking further steps on energy efficiency. This Government have set a new and ambitious target to reduce final energy demand from buildings and industry by 15% by 2030, and we have created the new energy efficiency taskforce, which is charged with driving improvements to bring down energy bills for households and businesses.

Based on proposals announced last year as ECO+, our new energy companies obligation scheme will deliver £1 billion of additional investment by March 2026 in energy efficiency upgrades, such as loft and cavity wall insulation. It will extend help to a wider group of households in the least efficient homes in the lower council tax bands, as well as boosting help for those on the lowest incomes.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
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The Minister is absolutely right to talk about energy efficiency in one context. On the other hand, however, it is important to truly acknowledge that disabled people face additional energy costs because of their disability. Energy efficiency is one thing, but really this issue is about addressing the challenge faced by disabled people right now in relation to the costs of living, in particular energy costs.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I entirely accept that, and I do not think that I have suggested otherwise, but of course where we can help with people’s energy costs in the whole, we should do that. It is right that as a Government we do our bit to try to help, through those schemes, to provide that insulation support, which inevitably assists with some of those challenging costs that we are dealing with through the wider support that I have described.

We plan to lay legislation by the summer to take forward those measures that I have just set out. Energy efficiency measures in the fabric of our buildings, such as loft and cavity wall insulation, will lead to less demand on the electricity and gas grids, which in turn could help us to mitigate the impact of high and volatile international gas prices. This could also reduce energy bills for consumers, as well as helping vulnerable households out of fuel poverty.

Finally, I wanted to say something about the White Paper reforms that the Government proposed six weeks or so ago. It is absolutely right that we unlock the potential of those who wish to work and to do that with the right support. I mention this issue because there have been a few comments about it and I was able to say that we will be providing that statistical release, which I think will give colour to those reforms and allow people to make judgments about them and understand the rationale behind the direction of our proposals.

However, I regularly hear from disabled people who would like the opportunity to work, but that structural barrier within the system—that worry, or jeopardy, about trying work and it not working out, and then having to go through reapplication and reassessment processes—just cannot be right. Undoubtedly, though, that is getting in the way of so many people unlocking their potential and taking on work, if that is something they want to do.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) touched on opportunities for part-time work. Those are exactly the sort of opportunities that we want to unlock for people. Getting rid of the jeopardy that people feel is in the system and, undoubtedly, that work opportunity will help with households’ resilience when it comes to the costs that they experience more generally.

The hon. Gentleman asked specifically what sort of support we are putting in place around that. For example, there was the announcement that the Chancellor made around universal support. The pioneers for that are the individual placement and support in primary care. We know that works; it has a 68% success rate with the supported employment model of identifying an employment opportunity that is right for someone, supporting them into that role and then helping them to retain it.

Schemes such as Access to Work Plus are also exciting and provide great opportunities. We are currently evaluating some of our initial testing of that scheme, but it is about crafting a job role and working with an employer that is keen to take on a disabled person, ensuring they are able to unlock that opportunity in a way that is right for that individual. It is about working with them on a tailored, personalised basis, which is exactly the basis that I am determined we will progress the White Paper reforms on. The overarching sentiment, and the fundamental safety net, is that we would never ask anyone to do something that is inappropriate for them.

Alongside those measures, we also want a better journey through the benefits system for people who need support. I am not complacent about that. There have been contributions today that touched on PIP journey times, and I can confirm that they are down to 14 weeks. That is where we wanted to get to. Previously, people were experiencing unacceptable waits. I am also asking officials to stretch and see what more we can do to take that further and get certainty for people as early in that journey as possible.

Some of the measures we talked about in the White Paper speak to the wider effort we want to make to improve experiences of the benefits system. With the severe disability group, for example, I hope to be able to say more about the work we will do to kick that on and test that model. We think the model is right, because it reduces the assessment burden on people, particularly where their conditions are unlikely to improve. I would argue that scrapping the work capability assessment provides a good opportunity. We have many debates in this House on that over the years. I am also thinking back to debates before my time here—that was a very controversial issue. Scrapping that assessment is the right thing to do, and it allows us an opportunity to focus on quality decision making over and above the current picture.

We want to better gauge fluctuating conditions in the benefits systems, and we want to test that to see what we could do to provide better-quality support and help for people navigating the benefit system with fluctuating conditions. That is as well as the feedback that came through loud and clear in the responses to the Green Paper: they said that they wanted to see the Department matching expert assessors with their particular conditions, because they think that greater understanding will lead to better outcomes. I am looking forward to the opportunity to debate those issues in the weeks and months ahead.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley
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It seemed like the Minister was winding towards his last few sentences, so I did not want us to end the debate without once again thanking carers and the We Care Campaign, who have done such a wonderful job. The Minister has not mentioned carers much, which is disappointing given that carers were mentioned such a lot previously. The Minister talked about people with disabilities wanting to get back into work, which is admirable, but we ought to be constantly thankful for the hundreds of thousands of people who have given up work so that they can care. We owe them a massive debt.

I think I am right in saying that his Government have not done anything like as much work as previous Governments have for carers. They do not have a national carers strategy any more, which we did under previous Governments. It is a pity that, it having been raised so many times in this debate, he has not mentioned carers more.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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I have not finished my remarks yet. It is important to thank carers, who do a remarkable job and provide incredible support, often to loved ones, family members, and friends. I recognise that is often very challenging, which is why we provide support through the carer’s allowance. The hon. Lady was not in last week’s debate, but I committed to look at carer’s allowances and the thresholds. It is an issue that is being raised fairly regularly in the context of these debates, and I repeat that commitment today. I want to see if the balance relating to carer’s allowance is right, and whether there is more that we can do.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
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I would just like to add the needs of young carers to this conversation. There is an all-party parliamentary group on young carers and young adult carers, and we have heard powerful testimonies from young carers, as I have from my constituents. It is welcome that the delay to payments is being reduced from 18 weeks to 14, but that is still over three months’ rent, which is unaffordable for many people. They will often lose homes and have to give up many opportunities, and it is very crippling. I have been to the national assessment centre for PIP, and I do not know what the barrier is—I do not know why the delay is not coming down further and why the process cannot be streamlined. I wonder whether the Minister could say what is stopping it coming down any further. Has the national PIP assessment centre been set a target date?

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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Where we are at the moment is that the journey time for PIP is 14 weeks. I am happy to provide the hon. Lady with some more information separately, and I will gladly write to her, but the whole thrust of the reforms that we are seeking to introduce is about trying to get journey times down as much as possible and getting more decisions right the first time. I think all of us would want to see greater certainty for people as quicky as possible, and I am keen to hear people’s experiences and expertise about how we can best do that, which is precisely why the tests and trials were included in the White Paper package. The package features a holistic set of reforms and is undoubtedly the largest welfare reform that we have seen for over a decade, but we have to get it right, because there is such an opportunity here. I really hope that over the course of the coming weeks, months and years, we can have a constructive debate in the House about how we take such opportunities forward. I think that would be a valuable insight as we progress with that work.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
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Can the Minister elaborate a bit more? We all know that an personal independence payment is an extra costs benefit, but under the proposals in the White Paper, the Government are seeking to use that assessment framework as a replacement for the WCA. We have called for it to be scrapped for years, and we are really pleased that the Government have finally listened to disabled people, the Opposition and others, but does he recognise that PIP is an extra costs element of support? Therefore, using it to try to replace an income replacement form of social security cannot be right.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove
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The feedback that we hear time and again is that people want to see the assessment burden considerably reduced. I would like to hope that all of us can rally round and say that we think that is the right thing to do, so that we can respond to the feedback and act on it. I am not envisaging fundamental change to the PIP assessment being required but, again, what we will do within the new system—we will come forward with more detail about the specifics and the mechanics of how it will work—is to see greater tailoring and a greater opportunity to work with people to understand their needs, aspirations and requirements.

Where work is appropriate, we will work with people to try to explore that work outcome. Things such as universal support and IPSPC—individual placement and support in primary care—are important parts of that. The additional work coach time commitment that we have made, which has just gone live in the second third of jobcentres and will go live in the final third in very short order, is really important in helping to set out the direction of travel that we are looking to take, and it will give a feel for the system that will be in place. But we obviously require primary legislation to deal with the fundamental challenge, which is the jeopardy that people feel within the current system around trying work, it not working out and then having to go back through reassessment and reapplication processes, which is highly undesirable. It is right that we address that, but I am not anticipating there being fundamental reform to the PIP assessment.

I want to add a bit more on carers before concluding, because it is a theme that came up consistently during the course of the debate. We are focusing support on the carers who need it most, and about 380,000 carer households on UC can already receive around £2,000 extra through the carer element. Where a household is in receipt of UC with a carer element, they will be entitled to up to £900 in cost of living payments and, if the disabled person lives in the same household, a £150 disability cost of living payment. For carers who can undertake some part-time work, we increased the carer’s allowance earnings limit to £139 a week from April.

But I hear the arguments that the hon. Lady makes. I made a commitment last week that I would go away and really think hard about the thresholds and the levels at which they are set. I will consider the wider context of these debates and also the structural reforms and the wider picture. Undoubtedly, the learning from covid and opportunities for people around work are perhaps markedly different from what they were prior to the pandemic, and different people’s care and responsibilities will take a different form. Fundamentally, I am willing to look at that issue. There is a lot of cross-Government work going on around a host of issues relating to disabled people and people with health conditions. I am very willing to raise her wider points with DHSC colleagues.

I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys: there is a lot more consensus in these debates than is often credited. All of us want to see the same outcome, which is that people are properly supported and receive the help that they need to get them through these difficult times. As I said earlier, it is right that the Prime Minister wants our Government to focus on getting inflation down, because inflation is playing a significant part in the costs that people are experiencing.

We have been responsive to date in the support that we have provided, but our minds are not closed. We continue to engage and will continue to keep under review the package of support. There are some important measures coming down the track and there will be a lot of opportunity for colleagues and disabled people and their organisations to help influence that to make sure we get it right.