Personal Independence Payment: More Haste, Less Speed

Today I’ve written for the Huffington Post about the Government’s decision to delay the roll-out of Personal Independence Payment. I’ve reproduced my article in full below.

DWP Ministers once more find themselves making a virtue out of a necessity as they announced on Saturday that the roll out of Personal Independence Payment would be slower than planned. Of course it is better to do things properly even if that means more slowly, but this stands in sharp contrast to the history of this piece of ‘welfare reform’.

A short history of PIP
Disability Living Allowance is a non-means tested benefit that helps people with the additional costs that arise from disabilities. Back in December 2010 George Osborne committed to cutting £2 billion from the DLA budget in his first Spending Review, and a consultation document was quickly rushed out, proposing DLA be replaced with an entirely new benefit – Personal Independence Payment, or PIP.

Back then things were so urgent that the period within which people could respond was shorter than the Government’s own guidelines, and fell over the Christmas holiday. This could have been an attempt to realise these savings as soon as possible, or to present the new Coalition Government as ‘dynamic’. Either way, many of those responding questioned whether it was necessary to introduce a new benefit in the first place.

Initially Ministers intended to start the roll out to new claimants in April 2013, with the migration of all existing DLA claimants to be completed by April 2016. At a Work and Pensions Select Committee meeting with the then Disabilities Minister Esther McVey in 2012, Dame Anne Begg queried the practicality of the timetable, pointing out that this implied carrying out more assessments per month than were happening with the ongoing migration of people from Incapacity Benefit (IB) to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which was proving difficult in itself.

Unsurprisingly Esther McVey came to the Commons a few months later in December 2012 to announce that the timetable had been revised. New claims would start as planned in April 2013, but only those DLA claimants whose existing time limited award came to an end or who reported a change in circumstances would be reassessed before spring 2015, with the end date now 2017.

As the details of PIP were emerging the DWP was at pains, given the growing criticism of the assessment used in ESA claims, to argue that the PIP assessments would be very different, and that lessons had been learned. Indeed so anxious was she to stress this thatEsther McVey began talking about these assessments as a ‘conversation’ and said each would take as long as it needed.

Exactly how this could be reconciled with the overall timetable was never made clear, nor how this would work in practice, since it could be highly unsatisfactory if claimants were kept waiting for a long time while earlier assessments overran. And I was sceptical about how it fitted with a contractual arrangement which presumably paid the companies involved for a certain number of assessments per week or even day. The need for the contractors to deliver their obligations and still make a profit made me suspect that Ministers’ descriptions of how assessments would take place was something of a fantasy.

What’s going on?
So now we are told that assessments are taking longer than expected and the scheme would be phased in more gradually. So maybe I was too cynical? Maybe there really is an attempt to do a more in depth and relaxed assessment?

More prosaically it may simply be that the contractors are not coping. PIP assessments have been divided between Atos and Capita. Atos of course is still the sole contractor for ESA assessments. In July the DWP announced that they were having to retrain many Atos employees, and that additional contractors would be sought from early 2014.

Another sign of the ‘strain’ has been the increasing number of people being migrated from IB to ESA who are being assessed on paper evidence only. For some this can be a relief, but it has led a number of incorrect results due to the limited nature of the paper evidence requested. One irony is that, to justify changing from DLA to PIP, Ministers lambasted the previous system for doing paper assessments, and not seeing people face to face!

Last week I visited a local project supporting people with mental health problems. They have only had a few people making PIP applications so far, but were already noting that claims were taking time to be processed. One early claim, lodged in early July, had been given a date for a face to face assessment of October 25th. Before the DWP announcement I had been thinking that things were very quiet on the PIP front. Perhaps all was better than feared for claimants, but the silence is probably down to very few claims having been completed.

The impact on people
Throughout this process people with illnesses and disabilities have been worrying about what would happen to them. The change was initially introduced as a cuts measure. All the language about people getting DLA too easily and being abandoned to benefit dependency increased these worries. The insistence that everyone would have to go through a face to face reassessment inevitably increased anxiety.

Now it turns out that people have been worrying too soon. Campaigners and support groups have been accused by Ministers of ‘frightening’ people. But the mood music of haste and urgency to reduce spending was set at the outset by the Government. Told that too many people were now in receipt of DLA, it is not surprising that people worried that they might be counted among the ‘too many’.

Uncertainty remains. Over the coming months many people’s existing time limited DLA awards will be coming to an end. Will their awards be extended? If so for how long? Or will they have to go through a DLA reassessment? But that too will be time consuming and carried out by the same people who are struggling to cope with the volume of assessments.

Nor is this irrelevant to the ‘taxpayers’ Ministers love to counterpose against ‘claimants’ (ignoring the fact that claimants pay tax too). A slower roll out must mean postponed savings – so how will the shortfall on projected savings be met? More cuts somewhere else, or more borrowing?

What can be done?
There are things which could be done if the Government would stop insisting that all is going to plan. Changes to the testing for ESA would reduce the pressure on assessors as well as resetting the timetable for PIP:

  1. An urgent review of the frequency of repeat ESA assessments should be undertaken. There are still examples of people being called in annually even when their conditions are clearly unlikely to change. This would free up time for PIP, and reduce stress for claimants.
  2. The advice to people making initial claims for both PIP and ESA should be improved to ensure that applicants send in as much information as they have to hand.
  3. Assessors should be required to seek medical information at the outset, again for both benefits. This would reduce the need for face to face assessments without risking poorer decisions. We know this doesn’t happen at present, meaning that the first time many people have their additional medical information looked at is their appeal.
  4. Pending the completion of the testing of the proposed new ESA descriptors for mental health and fluctuating conditions, the further migration of IB claimants in these categories should be paused, as several charities have suggested.
  5. The rollout of PIP should be reset to to ensure that there is sufficient capacity – even if this means re-tendering or investigating the capacity of the NHS as a contractor. This would also give time for realistic review of why assessments are taking longer than expected. A formal ‘reset’ would reduce anxiety for claimants who are left not knowing when they will be asked to go through a PIP assessment.
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Press Release: MP: Craigmillar Regeneration Must Be Family and Community Led

MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore has today led discussions with community representatives and senior housing leaders to discuss future regeneration and housing provision in Craigmillar.

Hosting the summit at the newly reopened White House Roadhouse, Ms Gilmore has highlighted the need to build more family housing and create quality open spaces, in addition to purpose built housing for elderly households. Ms Gilmore spoke of the need to ensure that a regenerated Craigmillar provides high-quality accommodation which varies in size, format and shape ensuring residential diversity.

Ms Gilmore called the meeting as the City of Edinburgh Council revealed the number of people who have Gold Priority for rehoming due their medical or disability needs has risen to over 600. At the same time more than 700 families are living in homes which are too small for their needs. These families are at least two bedrooms short. While their priority for moving home has been recognised but the homes needed to rehome them become available at a rate of about two a month.

Regeneration in Craigmillar has slowed since the financial crash in 2008 and following cuts in government grants to build new homes, leaving vast areas of brownfield land undeveloped without housing, or a new Castlebrae Community High School. Ms Gilmore has identified that the time is now, before regerneation begins in earnest, that the vision is family and community led.

Cllr Cammy Day, Vice Chair of the City of Edinburgh Council Health, Wellbeing and Housing Committee and Cllr Gordon Munro, Vice Chair of the Economy Committee attended the round table event along with Alister Steele, Managing Director of Castle Rock Edinvar, and Ewan Fraser, Chief Executive of Dunedin Canmore housing association.

Speaking after the event, Ms Gilmore said:

‘The impetus to arrange this meeting came following a number of discussions I have had with community representatives and other elected representatives, as well as with housing developers and providers.

‘What is key is the need to build a good mix of house sizes and types to create a balanced community, where families can move on as their circumstances change. But now is the time to introduce those changes and ensure we rebuild Craigmillar to maximise the success of regeneration.

‘All too often developments are made up of two bedroom flats, because they are cheaper to build and developers can achieve the densities required to ensure they get a sufficient return on investment, but that does not necessarily meet the needs of those looking to be homed. To ensure that the future community of Craigmillar is diverse and encourages all families to live here, we need greater variance in the stock we build.

‘After the difficulties of the last few years caused by the recession it is of utmost importance that City of Edinburgh Council to recommit strongly to the rebuilding of Craigmillar with the involvement of the local community. Progressing with this ambitious reconstruction would provide opportunities not just for those living in the area but for the many people looking for affordable housing in the city’.

ENDS

Notes

1. Following a Freedom of Information request Ms Gilmore obtained data from the City of Edinburgh Council which indicated the numbers of registered ‘Edindex’ users who hold valid priority and are waiting to be rehomed. See responses attached.

2. That data, dated 31/03/13 and 30/09/13 provided details of applicants in the following categories:

a. Gold – due to medical or disability needs;

b. Silver – Homelessness;

c. Silver – Demo or Officer Panel (special award of priority);

d. Silver – Overcrowded (i.e. requiring two or more additional bedrooms);

e. Silver – Underoccupation (i.e. with two many spare bedrooms);

f. No Priority – regarded as adequately homed;

g. Total – the number of Edinburgh residents looking for affordable housing.

March data: EDIR 883 Information
September data: EDIR 1607 Response

 

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Natural Neighbourhoods – What’s Your Patch?

If someone asks you which part of the city you come from, what would you tell them?

Abbeyhill or Albion Road, Brunstane or Baileyfield, Craigmillar or the City Centre?

The Council is consulting on the “natural neighbourhoods” within the city. These are communities which local people would immediately recognise as having a distinct and important identity. The online survey is on the Council’s website.

The survey is short, it comprises two questions:
1.       Please tell us your postcode
2.       The city of Edinburgh is made up of many small communities, each with their own identity.  Which area of the city would you say you lived in?

This information is to be used to help improve the Council’s understanding of Edinburgh residents and service delivery.

Perhaps more rucially, the project will inform two forthcoming consultations:

It is expected that both ward boundaries and datazone boundaries will change as a result of these processes and the natural neighbourhoods work provides an opportunity to ensure that the outcome of both projects reflects the views Edinburgh’s communities.

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November 2013 Restalrig Lochend Speaker column: Taxing Issues

THIS month, before the festive hubbub and the Christmas rush, we will remember our loved ones who fought for Britain in the First and Second World Wars. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank our parents and grandparents who bravely supported our country without question or criticism.

The day I’m writing this piece to you, temperatures have taken a tumble and many people have had to crank up their central heating. But to make things worse SSE, one of the ‘big-six’ energy companies, was the first to announce inflation busting price increases ahead of winter.

Since May 2010 energy bills have gone up by almost £300. The energy firms argue that this is due to increases in wholesale prices, but when these fall those same firms fail to pass on the savings to consumers.

So I’m delighted that Ed Miliband has announced that if Labour wins the next election in May 2015, we will freeze prices until the start of 2017.

We will also break up the big energy companies so that we can all get a fair deal. This will save a typical household £120. To date the SNP have said they will not commit to matching this pledge.

Ed Miliband also announced that a future Labour Government would abolish the Bedroom Tax. This was introduced by the Conservatives in April and around 660,000 council or housing association tenants with spare rooms have lost on average £12 per week.

Ministers claim that the policy should encourage people who are in their view ‘underoccupying’ to move to smaller accommodation, but a shortage of one-bedroom properties – particularly in Edinburgh – means most people have simply taken the hit. And those that have ‘downsized’ have generally ended up in the private rented sector, where rents are higher, meaning this policy could push the Housing Benefit bill up
rather than down.

So on energy bills and the Bedroom Tax, Labour has set out policies that will really help people in areas like Lochend and Restalrig. I’ll be taking this message to doorsteps across East Edinburgh from now until polling day!

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Press release: Edinburgh MP reiterates backing for High Speed Two

  • Sheila Gilmore submits response to consultation on Phase Two of project
  • Edinburgh-London journey times set to be cut by an hour by 2033
  • Improved links will boost jobs and growth, and potentially reduce carbon emissions

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore today reiterated her backing for High Speed Two, emphasising that passengers in Scotland will benefit from reduced journey times immediately.

This followed her submitting her response to the consultation on Phase Two of the project, which will extent the line from London to Birmingham on to Leeds and Manchester. It also comes ahead of an important vote in parliament on Phase One on Thursday.

Under the Government’s current plans phase one from London to the West Midlands will be up and running by 2026. Phase two will extend the line to Leeds and Manchester by 2033/34. Trains will travel at speeds of up to 250mph.

Passengers in Scotland will benefit immediately as the high speed network will be linked to existing lines, meaning trains will continue up to Edinburgh and Glasgow at conventional speeds. Once the second phase is complete, the Edinburgh to London journey will be cut by an hour to 3 hours 30 minutes.

Sheila Gilmore said:

Passengers in Scotland will benefit from HS2 immediately as it will be linked to existing lines, meaning trains will continue up to Edinburgh and Glasgow at conventional speeds.

Once the first phase from London to Birmingham is complete in 2026, the Edinburgh to London journey will be cut by 30 minutes. Once the second phase to Leeds and Manchester is finished in 2033, this time-saving will rise to an hour.

Improving links with London and England’s other major conurbations will make Scotland a more attractive place to do business, which will boost jobs and growth.

In addition it will allow for genuine competition with air travel, encouraging modal shift to rail and lowering our carbon emissions.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Sheila Gilmore’s response to the consultation on Phase Two of the project can be found here.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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