Disabled people should not feel as though they are being “put on trial” for claiming state benefits, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has said.
In a keynote speech to the disability charity Scope, Ms Rudd said she wanted to “change the landscape” for disabled people in Britain as she set out a series of reforms to the benefit system.
In an apparent softening of the Government’s rhetoric she said disabled people had enough problems to overcome without the Department for Work and Pensions adding to their difficulties.
“People with disabilities and health conditions have enough challenges in life and dealing with my department should not be one of them,” she said.
“Some disabled people have said to me they feel as though they are put on trial for seeking state support. Nobody in government wants that.
“So we need to do more to close the gap between our intentions and your experience.”
Ms Rudd drew on her own family experience to underline her commitment to ensuring that people received the help they needed.
“My father became blind in 1981. For 36 years his blindness was a normal part of my family’s life. Of my life,” she said.
“I reflected on my father’s lack of sight and how it affected his life and the lives of those who loved him, as I considered my role now in supporting disabled people in Britain.
“I was close to may father, he meant everything to me. I want to believe I have felt his anxiety, the struggle his blindness brought as he stumbled in dignity, in frailty.
“These weren’t intellectual exercises to me, they were visceral.”
Ms Rudd said that she would be reviewing the Government’s target to get 1 million disabled people into work by 2027 with a view to making it more ambitious.
The Government would also be looking to combine the separate assessment processes for PIP, Employment Support Allowance and Universal Credit into a single integrated service from 2021.
It was also carrying a small-scale test to explore the viability of combining PIP and work capability assessments (WCA) in a single assessment.
She expressed concern that too many PIP and WCA claims were being referred to tribunals, with the majority finding in favour of the claimant.
Between July and September in 2018 alone, 72% of PIP appeals heard found in favour of the claimant.
“That number is too high. We should do more to gather the evidence we make the right decisions early so that fewer claimants have to seek redress through tribunals. I will be looking at this matter over the coming months,” she said.
However the chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Frank Field, warned that changing the processes was not enough.
“Claimants are let down by the repeated failings of an evidently shoddy, error-ridden process,” he said.
“These measures being announced today must be implemented with the key objective of making the whole process more manageable for disabled claimants, but changing the process alone will not fix the core problem.
“DWP must focus on bringing the quality of assessments up to scratch.”