Today we will urge the government to come clean about the impact of delays, chaos and failing programmes at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Today we will urge the government to come clean about the impact of delays, chaos and failing programmes at the Department for Work and Pensions
In February a constituent came to my surgery after her husband had suffered a stroke. She had given up work to look after him, they were getting behind on mortgage payments and couldn’t afford to get by.
They had tried to claim Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) but were forced to wait months for an ATOS assessment.
We referred the couple to a local food bank and pressed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to act quickly. But tragically her husband died in March without ever having had his ATOS appointment.
His wife is now ill and struggling to cope following her bereavement. She too has tried to claim Employment Support Allowance, but has come up against appalling delays and is still waiting for a decision about her claim.
Sadly there are thousands of people across the country who have done the right thing but are being failed when they need help the most because of the government’s chaos, delays and incompetence.
And Iain Duncan Smith’s failure to deliver an effective benefits system not only affects the lives of those like my constituent who needs, it undermines the prospect of a fair and affordable system for everyone because public money is wasted on crisis management and failing IT projects, rather than on supporting those who really need it.
That’s why Labour will demand Iain Duncan Smith gets a grip of his failng department in a debate we have called in parliament today. We are urging the government to take three simple steps to improve its handling of the benefit system.
First, we want the government to tell people like my constituent just how long they should expect to wait for a disability benefit assessment and to set a time limit to stop the unacceptable delays.
The government’s chaotic handling of disability benefits has caused huge distress for thousands of people and the cost of clearing up the mess threatens to cost taxpayers millions. Over 700,000 people are stuck in the backlog waiting for decisions about Work Capability Assessments which they need to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
And delays aren’t confined to Employment Support Allowance with thousands of people stuck in an enormous backlog for Personal Independence Payment assessments. This is causing huge uncertainty, stress and hardship for thousands of disabled people waiting for decisions on new claims.
And tragically, people have died waiting for assessments. At the current rate it will take over 40 years to clear the huge assessment backlog which ministers have allowed to build up.
So today Labour will urge the government to guarantee a time that disabled people will receive an assessment for PIP rather than leaving people waiting for month after month for a decision.
Second, the government must urgently get a grip on its chaotic Universal Credit programme, which is currently wasting millions of public money on failed IT. Chaos within the £12.8 billion programme has brought delivery of Universal Credit shuddering to a halt. Iain Duncan Smith promised one million people would be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014, but the latest figures show less than 6,000 people are receiving this new benefit.
David Cameron once said that sunlight ‘is the best disinfectant’, but this doesn’t seem to apply to the DWP. For months ministers have refused to publish important documents which will reveal problems with Universal Credit.
Last week an upper tribunal judge refused consent for the government to appeal a previous ruling that the government should comply with a freedom of information request to publish the risk register and other documentation relating to the delivery of Universal Credit.
If the government continues to refuse to be open and transparent about the failings which have left Universal Credit in crisis the problems will only get worse. That’s why we’re calling on the government to publish the risk register, and to call in the National Audit Office to conduct a full review of the programme, and help work out just what is going wrong.
Third, we’re calling for the government to be clear about just how much delays and waste at the DWP are costing, and how this will affect the government’s cap on spending. Since 2010 David Cameron’s government has spent £13 billion more than planned on social security because of their failure to deal with the causes of rising benefit bills from low pay to lack of housing.
In March 2014 the Office for Budget Responsibility in March 2014 found projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance alone had risen by £800 million since December and earlier this month the BBC reported the government was in danger of breaching it’s welfare cap because of these rising costs.
The cost of the government’s failure to control social security costs will fall on taxpayers. We believe it’s completely unacceptable that people who have worked hard and have paid in are threatened with a huge bill to pay for the government’s chaotic and incompetent handling of social security. Ministers have refused to reveal how rising costs will affect their spending plans.
Today we will urge the government to come clean with the public about the impact of their delays, chaos and failing programmes on the social security budget.
David Cameron cannot allow the chaos, delays and waste within the DWP to continue. The huge backlog of disability assessments, spiralling delays to Universal Credit and threats to the social security budget are causing huge distress and hardship for thousands of people and threaten to add hundreds of millions to the welfare budget.
The government must act now to end the appalling indignity which so many vulnerable people are experiencing when they most need our support.
Rachel Reeves MP is shadow secretary of state for work and pensionsLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.