Disabled people suffered in benefits 'fiasco', MPs warn

North East residents were used as guinea pigs as a controversial new benefit was introduced

Catherine McKinnell MP
Catherine McKinnell MP

Controversial new benefits piloted in the North East have been a “fiasco”, MPs have warned.

Disabled people in Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham were used as guinea pigs for the introduction of Personal Independence Payment, a benefit which replaced Disability Living Allowance.

But they faced long delays getting claims approved because the Government under-estimated how long it would take to assess each case, the Commons Public Accounts Committee found.

Ministers then pressed ahead with the new system nationwide, even though it had not been properly tested.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: “The Department of Work and Pensions has let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom have had to wait more than 6 months for their claims to be decided.”

She was speaking as the Committee published the results of an inquiry into the introduction of the benefit, which is designed to help people with disabilities live independent lives and in some cases to find work.

It was piloted in the North East and North West in April 2013. New claimants were told to apply for Personal Independence Payment, rather than the previous benefit, if they lived in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Durham or Teesside.

Firms including Atos and Capita were bought in to assess claims but by June 2013, only 660 assessments had been completed and only 360 decisions had been made out of the 9,100 new claims made.

Ministers decided to expand the benefit nationwide from June 2013 anyway.

The Committee’s report warned: “We heard evidence of a claimant requiring hospital intervention as a result of the stress caused by the delays suffered, and another claimant who was unable to afford the specific diet required for diabetes and gastric problems, while waiting for a decision.”

Newcastle upon Tyne North MP Catherine McKinnell said the report echoed the experiences of her Newcastle constituents.

She said: “The Personal Independence Payment implementation has been a complete disaster.

“The failure to properly trial the process has led to significant backlogs, many of my constituents waiting in excess of six months for decisions on their claims.

“I am seeing more and more constituents distressed and frustrated with the process. One who has significant mobility problems has been left housebound waiting for her case to be assessed as she is no longer able to afford taxis and public transport to get around.”

Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said: “The old Disability Living Allowance system was extremely outdated, with the majority of claimants getting the benefit for life without systematic checks on their condition. Personal Independence Payment includes a face-to-face assessment and regular reviews to ensure support goes to those who need it most.

“The Public Accounts Committee report is based on old statistics. I have introduced a faster process for people with terminal illnesses, with clearance times reducing to our target of ten days. And a higher proportion of people are getting the highest rate of financial support for daily living under Personal Independence Payment than Disability Living Allowance.

“The National Audit Office report in February acknowledged this reform started on time and budget, and we have reduced risk by rolling it out in phases.”

 
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