Thank you for your email about the Lords’ amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill.
I understand your concerns about the Government’s welfare reforms, and I have raised my constituents’ views with Ministers on a number of occasions. There is a broad consensus that urgent reform of the welfare system is needed, so that help is better targeted at those who need it, including disabled people and those with long-term conditions. The current financial situation also means that welfare reform must be an important priority.
However, like you, I want to ensure that proposals for welfare reform are implemented carefully, with appropriate transitional measures put in place where necessary. I sat on the Committee which scrutinised the Welfare Reform Bill at its Commons stage, when I took the opportunity to seek such assurances from Work and Pensions Ministers. They have been keen to listen to disability groups, constituents and MPs, and have made a number of concessions in the light of these representations – for example, retaining the mobility component of DLA. This move has been welcomed by, among others, the Leonard Cheshire charity, who described it as “a great example of the Government listening to and working with disabled people and their organisations”. I recently met with representatives from Leonard Cheshire at an event to mark International Disabled Day at the Randall Close Day Centre in Battersea. We had some useful discussions about the challenges disabled people face and what MPs can do to highlight this.
One issue which has been raised frequently with me is the decision to time-limit contributory Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to one year. I was present throughout the debate on the Lords’ amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, when the Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling, addressed this point. Here is a link to Mr Grayling’s speech; as you will see, he stresses that the Government is sensitive to the varying and individual needs of those with long-term illnesses. I was also encouraged by his assurances, echoed recently by the Prime Minister, that most cancer patients will go straight into the ESA support group indefinitely, and will not have to undergo a face-to-face assessment.
I hope you find this helpful, and thank you for taking the trouble to contact me.
Well. It's better than a poke in the eye with a short stick, but I'm not completely convinced. The problem is that unless that sensitivity to the varying and individual needs of those with long-term illnesses is enshrined in law and regulations, it's all going to be down to interpretation. And the last thing someone with a long-term illness or disability needs is to be arguing interpretation and dependent on the whim of the assessor.
If you have a view on this, make sure you email your MP. Tell them what you think and why (politely, with examples) and ask them to support the Lords' amendments and not let Chris Grayling just ignore them.