This morning (Wednesday 28 January 2015), Mark Harper, the Minister of State for Disabled People, was questioned by the Department for Work and Pensions Committee in a one-off evidence session.
The Committee questioned the Minister on a range of welfare issues including:
- progress in tackling the backlog in Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claims and assessments
- findings of the independent Litchfield review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA)
- progress in reducing delays in the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) claims process
- findings of the first independent review of the PIP assessment.
Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at Mencap, comments:
While defending his department’s performance on PIP to the Work and Pensions Committee, Mark Harper stated that Capita are performing better than Atos in clearing the backlog of claims, reigniting fears that people claiming PIP face a lottery based on who their local assessment provider is. The committee highlighted the shocking disparity between how long it takes people in different areas to get to an assessment and concerns that some people having to travel for up to an hour and a half each way to assessment centres. For many people with a learning disability, a three hour round trip with an hour long assessment is simply not possible, yet home visits are few and far between in many areas.
It is unacceptable that the Minister refused to share vital information with the committee on how long the entire PIP claims process takes, from the first phone call a claimant makes, through to receiving a decision. We know that there are substantial delays throughout the process and the government must disclose the extent of these.
Meanwhile, over 500,000 people are still waiting for their work capability assessment. On top this, thousands of disabled people are enduring a lengthy appeals process because they have not been given what they are entitled to. While people with a learning disability are left waiting for their claim to be reconsidered, they are not entitled to claim any ESA and all too often find themselves without the financial support they need – many have told us that they areunable to buy food or heat their homes – and, as a result, can fall into a dangerous spiral of borrowing and debt.
We and other organisations have been warning the government that waiting times for both PIP and WCA assessments are unacceptable and that these delays are causing great anxiety and hardship to thousands of people with a learning disability. Aiming for a target of 16 weeks just to have a PIP assessment is completely inadequate and we urge the Minister to halt plans to roll out PIP assessments more widely until the backlog of claims is cleared. If even more people are added to the queue, the whole system could collapse, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without the support they need.
There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.
Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap Direct on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.
People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.
Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.