Hugh Gaffney MP: Ministers' casual disregard for the real human misery caused by the introduction of PIP must be held to account
Out of the torrent of bad legislation introduced by the Tories, for sheer nastiness, coupled with spectacular incompetence, the Welfare Reform Act 2012, also supported by the coalition Lib Dems, takes the prize, says Hugh Gaffney MP.
This is a pretty strange time to be a new MP.
For someone like me, rooted in the trade union movement, it has always been clear who I was sent to Parliament to stand up for.
And yet for the past 15 months it feels that we have spent more time talking about obscure constitutional law than about the bread and butter issues which blight so many of my constituents’ daily lives.
Before Brexit, the buzzword was austerity and we must not let the current shambles act as a smokescreen for the damage that discredited agenda is doing.
There was such a torrent of bad legislation brought into force after the Tories returned to power in 2010 – the Health and Social Care Act, the EU Referendum Act to name but two – that it’s hard to pick a winner.
But for sheer nastiness, coupled with spectacular incompetence, the Welfare Reform Act 2012, also supported by coalition Lib Dems, takes the prize.
In laying out the framework for the introduction of Personal Independence Payments it has created a situation where my surgery and the surgeries of MPs across the UK are full of people driven to breaking point.
If the purpose of these changes was to make the lives of disabled people of working age that little bit harder, then I suppose you could say mission accomplished. And it has proved a nice little earner for Capita and Atos, the firms tasked with carrying out the Government’s dirty work.
But as far as the disgusting stated goal of achieving savings for the taxpayer at the expense of some of our most vulnerable citizens is concerned, it has been an utter flop. The Office of Budget Responsibility has progressively downgraded its estimate of the savings from the introduction of PIP.
For some claimants the degrading assessment system has, at least, been a rare opportunity to see how the other half live. Some have been conducted in private health clubs and spas, while others have taken place at inaccessible venues many miles from where claimants live, resulting in long, painful and difficult journeys.
A Labour government would scrap the entire current privatised assessment system. That doesn't mean a free-for all, but it would mean adopting an approach which accepts one size cannot fit all. It also means acknowledging that mental as well as physical health has an impact on capacity to work.
It’s not uncommon for there to be teething problems when new benefits are rolled out. I get that, even if I can’t comprehend ministers’ casual disregard for the real human misery these mistakes cause. But we are no longer talking about teething problems here. And the situation is getting worse, not better.
According to figures from the House of Commons Library, the average waiting time from appeal to PIP decision from January to March this year was five-and-a-half months – two months longer than over the same period last year.
With PIP as with Universal Credit, UK Government policy now seems to be to blunder onwards, never pausing to learn from mistakes. While north of the border the SNP administration tries to turn its own inaction and failure to use devolved powers to scrap PIP assessments into political capital and grievance.
Just calling an adjournment debate on the rollout of PIP, as I am doing today in the Commons, is not going to halt the Tory welfare cuts juggernaut on its own.
But I hope it will, just for a moment, turn the Parliamentary spotlight back on the people we are in this place to serve, rather than on the self-serving antics of Brexiteers and deep division in the Tory ranks.
Because I don’t believe there is a single MP here who can claim their constituency is unaffected by PIP. My office staff and caseworkers across the country are listening to harrowing stories week in and week out and applying sticking plasters to an open wound.
A strong government would never have turned the weak into scapegoats. A stable government could have admitted its mistakes. This government is neither of those things. We must hold it to account.
Hugh Gaffney is Labour MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill