Disabled People on Benefits: EHRC Investigation Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Disabled People on Benefits: EHRC Investigation

Joanna Cherry Excerpts
Thursday 23rd May 2024

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I reiterate to the House, and to the hon. Gentleman, that we take our obligations under the Equality Act incredibly seriously. I have spoken about the changing nature of conditions, understanding and learning, and the public sector equality duty, and we will continue to co-operate and engage with the commission on its investigation. As I said, we do not believe that an investigation is necessary, but we do take its concerns seriously. I undertake to the House that the Department will be focused on those new terms of reference so that we can work constructively with the commission, in its investigation, to better understand its concerns. [Interruption.] I understand the concerns of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who is chuntering again, but I reiterate to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) that we are very much determined to work with the commission as a way forward. I agree that it is very disappointing that we have not been able to come to a mutually agreeable position. I assure him that, over the past five years, this very large Department, which deals with many different areas and complex case, has put at the heart of what we do—of which I am extremely proud—a dedicated understanding of the individual and their needs.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) on securing this urgent question and continuing her fantastic work in this Parliament on the rights of disabled people. I also congratulate the Equality and Human Rights Commission on opening this important investigation and on retaining its A-grade status as a national human rights institution in the face of malicious attempts to undermine the work that it does for equality and human rights for all.

I work with many fantastic disability charities in my Edinburgh South West constituency, including Health All Round, Tiphereth and Garvald, but charities should not have to fill the huge gaps left by the Government’s dereliction of their duties. Discrimination against disabled people is a human rights issue, and that is something about which I care passionately as the elected Chair of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

As we are about to go into a general election period, will the Minister take the opportunity to give a cast-iron guarantee on behalf of her party that she will end discrimination against disabled people in the benefits system and end her Government’s continuing breaches of disabled people’s human rights?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I appreciate that there is a general election coming but, when it come to the most vulnerable people, this is not a morning for politicking. It is about being compassionate, it is about understanding disabled people’s rights and it is about listening and learning. We are focusing on individuals by working with the domestic abuse commissioner and through WorkWell’s universal support, the national disability strategy, the action plan and the trauma-informed approach.

Vitally, as the hon. and learned Lady says, it is about hearing not just from disabled charities but from disabled people across the country to understand their needs. It is incredibly important that we take this seriously, and we are determined that, if the investigation under the terms of reference gives us a deeper insight into the concerns— I have spoken to the Select Committee about how the Department deals with the most complex cases—we will take every step to address any improvements identified by the commission. I hope that gives the hon. and learned Lady, disabled people and those with health conditions comfort that we take their needs and wants extremely seriously at the heart of Government.