A Tory minister has been forced to repeatedly admit that some disabled people are being wrongly refused access to vital disability benefits, adding further weight to accusations that cuts have left the welfare system unfit for purpose.
On three occasions, Penny Mordaunt, the disabilities minister, was forced to defend the Government’s treatment of people with disabilities, after opposition MPs cited a number of examples of their constituents being messed around by the Tory welfare system.
MPs from across the House rose to speak about how disabled people in their constituencies were struggling to claim the support they desperately need, during Work and Pensions Questions on Monday 27 March.
Labour MP Lilian Greenwood told Mordaunt about a constituent who has had to wait months for an assessment by the private firm Capita, who carry out assessment for PIP eligibility on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions.
Greenwood told Mordaunt: “A constituent contacted me after she submitted a claim for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and then had to wait twelve weeks for the home assessment appointment she needed.
“Capita finally telephoned giving less than 48 hours notice of the visit only to cancel 10 minutes before the appointed time.
“After three and a half months she is still no nearer to receiving the support she needs. I know that she is just one of dozens of people being let down by her department, when will she address this catalogue of failure.”
Responding, Mordaunt admitted the long wait was “unacceptable”, adding the private contractor was “falling below the performance and the courtesy, quit frankly, that we would want from our providers”.
SNP MP Philippa Whitford spoke about a former soldier who was now suffering with severe mental trauma and depression after serving in the Gulf War.
She told the minister: “Former sergeant William Bradley, who is one of my constituents, developed severe PTSD and depression while serving in the Gulf War, and was medically discharged from the Army in 2003.
“Having been on the enhanced PIP rate since 2014, he was cut to the lower rate last year. On appeal it has now been removed completely.
“And the reply from the PIP hotline was that ‘someone with mental health issues can work and that this is really a benefit for people with severe physical disabilities.”
Mordaunt admitted the case Whitford had described was “truly shocking”, but appeared to question its validity.
She replied: “What the Honorable lady has told me has happened is truly shocking.
“I would be incredibly surprised if somebody manning that hotline said those things. I’m not saying that I doubt her story but I would like to see that and I would like to know if possible the exact time that the conversation took place because that is quite wrong.”
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael told the minister about one his disabled constituents, whose benefits had been cut by the DWP after missing an assessment appointment because she was in hospital.
Carmichael said: “Last week I had to deal with a constituent who’s benefits had been stopped because she had missed an appointment to be assessed for PIP.
“She missed that appointment because she was an inpatient in hospital in Aberdeen.
“Even after evidence of that had been exhibited to the minister’s department, they twice refused to reinstate her benefits because they said they had done ‘nothing procedurally wrong’. Is the minister content that that is how the system is supposed to work?”
Yet again, the DWP minister was forced to apologise: “That’s not how the system is supposed to work”, she said.
“If there is a reasonable reason why someone has not attended an appointment then that should not count against them.
“I would be quite happy to look at the Hon. Gentleman’s case but I would state that that is not what should be happening.”