Plymouth Moor View MP Alison Seaback has highlighted the issues faced by many of her constituents, and Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris has called for more flexible working.
According to the TheyWorkForYou site, Alison said:
I thank my hon. Friend Tom Greatrex for securing this debate, which has not come a moment too soon for many of my constituents. The principle that people should be supported into employment when they can work is the right principle. The problem is that the system is not achieving that. It is causing untold grief and serious concern to many vulnerable people. There are several issues.
Will the Minister explain why there is still confusion between ESA and JSA? Cases have been brought to my attention of constituents being passed back and forth, with both the relevant Departments feeling that the benefit is not the right one. A constituent of mine was claiming JSA and was notified by her hospital that she had to have an operation on her wrist. She was told by the jobcentre adviser to claim ESA instead of JSA, because no one would employ her for five or six weeks. She was then refused ESA, because she scored no points, and was left in limbo, with no money. That is not acceptable.
That incident occurred over a relatively short period, but some of my constituents have had to wait up to 18 months for a tribunal decision. When they sought updates on progress one was told that no update was available, because there was no one in the area to hear her case. Consequently, other benefits to which people are entitled are not given to them. A constituent applied for cold weather payments and was told that because her position had not been resolved she could not claim them. She might have frozen to death in the meantime, during the bad weather, while a decision was reached.
There are many incidents of poor claim handling by Atos. I am sure that every hon. Member in the Chamber has dealt with tens of them. A constituent recently came off contribution-based ESA. He was assessed by an Atos nurse who advised him that he needed a wheelchair but at the same time assessed him with no points. Another constituent had a major cancer operation. The GP’s report said that she was “currently in wheelchair, not fit for travel”, but it took three goes to get a home visit for her.
Eventually, she was given a wheelchair, received DLA and had home adaptations. Then Atos said it wanted to see her, and insisted she should come, with the threat that if she did not her money would be stopped. She had to cancel a hospital appointment to do so. That is not acceptable.
I ask the Minister whether independent assessments can be considered at the front of the process, not the back. That would, I am sure, save untold numbers of appeals in due course, as well as saving my constituents untold misery. They feel—particularly those with multiple issues, including mental health issues—that the medical advisers who are asked to assess them do not fully understand their cases. The Government should be ashamed of the slump in Atos’s performance that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West has highlighted. It has had an unacceptable impact on disabled people, particularly in my constituency.
During the debate Anne-Marie commented:
Although it is a good idea to help people who can work, we need to look at providing a more flexible work opportunity. At the moment, there are permanent job opportunities, but there is nothing flexible such as working from home for those who have mental health problems, which would help to achieve what the Government want. To make the system work better and to save taxpayers’ money, the people who will never be able to work again—people who have very serious problems with blindness or mental health problems—ought to be in an exclusion category so that they do not get reviewed.