Esther McVey’s first days in office have not gone well. Not only did the DWP lose a case in the High Court – which has ruled yet again that the Government have been acting unlawfully in denying benefits to the most vulnerable – but the cowardly McVey was called out for accepted the ruling in a written statement on a Friday, as opposed to making a Statement to the House of Commons.
This is a tactic often employed by the Tories to avoid facing Parliamentary scrutiny for their mistakes and climbdowns.
This means 164,000 vulnerable and disabled people will get higher disability payments that they were denied – many may also be owed money by the government that so callously made them suffer.
The best speech on the topic was delivered by the Labour Party’s Debbie Abrahams, who lambasted the Tory government first for the DWP policies, and now for the climb down (video at bottom of text):
“Any disabled person who listened to what was said by the Secretary of State will have been gobsmacked by the suggestion that there is a commitment to disabled people.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has described the Tory Government’s action as a “human catastrophe”.
The cuts that they have wrought on disabled people are an absolute disgrace.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) said when she raised a point of order yesterday, the Government sneaked out a written statement late on Friday, announcing that they would not appeal against the High Court judgment of 21 December, in effect reversing the emergency PIP regulations that they had introduced in February last year. Those regulations were introduced without a vote or a debate, despite two urgent questions and an emergency debate, and despite widespread concern about their impact. The Government’s own Social Security Advisory Committee was not consulted. I warned at the time:
“The move to undermine and subvert independent tribunal judgments is unprecedented, and … marks very troubling behaviour by the Government on cases they lose that could weaken such social security tribunal judgments’ reach, influence and effectiveness in making independent decisions.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 145.]
I am pleased that the Secretary of State and her Department have finally seen sense, but there are a number of questions that the Secretary of State must answer—questions that have already been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea. How many people does her Department estimate have been affected? How quickly will her Department be able to identify affected claimants, and by what process? Given the issues relating to letters from that Department, it is a little worrying if that is the only means.
How soon after identification will the Department make back payments? Will there be an appeal process for PIP claimants who are not contacted by the Department and who believe they should receive such payments? Will the Department compensate claimants who have fallen into debt and accrued interest charges? Will applicants be entitled to a reassessment if they were given the standard rate of the PIP mobility component after the February 2017 changes to PIP regulations, when the cause of the claim was “psychological distress”?
Finally, just how much public money has been spent by the Department on lawyers and legal advice seeking to defend the indefensible in the initial tribunal and the more recent court case?
This sorry debacle should serve as a warning to the Government of the dangers of seeking to undermine and subvert the decisions of our independent judiciary and the House of Commons.”