A minister has refused to promise that the government will protect disabled people from further benefit cuts in next month’s budget.
Lord Freud, the welfare reform minister, had been asked by the disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell (20.00 onwards) whether disabled people’s support – through the new personal independence payment (PIP) – would be “protected” in the budget.
She told fellow peers that the prime minister, David Cameron, had promised during the election campaign that he wanted to “enhance” and “safeguard” PIP, which is replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
But Lord Freud said only that the government would “continue to support the disabled and the vulnerable in months to come”.
The question was repeated by Labour’s Baroness Sherlock, a shadow work and pensions minister, who added: “The government want to make £12 billion of welfare cuts. Will he say today that none of those will fall on disabled people?”
Lord Freud replied: “I repeat what I said: we will continue to support disabled people and the vulnerable through that process.”
Another Labour peer asked him to clarify his response, asking him: “Did he say that the government will protect disabled and vulnerable people during the forthcoming cuts, as the prime minister said they would, or did he say that they will not protect them?”
But when Lord Freud said again that the government would “support disabled and vulnerable people through this process”, Baroness Campbell intervened to say: “Protect!”
The Liberal Democrat disabled peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas had earlier raised concerns about last week’s high court judgment, which found that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had been “unreasonable”, “irrational” and had acted “unlawfully” by delaying payments of PIP to two disabled people.
The court said the delays of up to 13 months were “unacceptable”.
Baroness Thomas said she accepted that waiting-times had fallen, but that the judge’s comments had been “pretty scathing about the introduction of PIP before all the systems were fully in place”.
She asked Lord Freud whether he was confident that the full rollout of PIP to the bulk of existing DLA recipients – currently scheduled to begin in October – was “entirely safe”.
Lord Freud said average waiting-times had fallen from 30 weeks to seven, and added: “On that basis we are confident about the full rollout, although we will and are doing it on a safe and controlled basis.”
Earlier in the week, disabled people’s minister Justin Tomlinson (pictured) had released an article about the court’s ruling, in which he claimed the government had taken “swift action” to correct the problems in the system that had led to lengthy delays and backlogs.
He claimed DWP had “doubled the number of staff working on PIP and we drove the assessment providers to make radical improvement to their service”.
Those providers, Capita and Atos, now employ “almost four times more health professionals than they did in early 2014”, he said, and had opened new assessment centres.
Tomlinson said: “We simply cannot afford to put this progress in jeopardy. I remain absolutely committed to the further rollout of personal independence payment – but in a way which ensures we learn from our past experiences.
“I am clear that the next and final stage of PIP roll-out, which will reassess those on lifetime DLA awards, must be carried out in a safe and controlled manner.”