The new disability minister has failed to express any concern over figures showing Access to Work waiting-times have almost doubled, while more than 20,000 people have been waiting over six months for a decision on their disability benefit claims.
Tom Pursglove refused to say if he thought the figures showed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was in crisis.
The figures show more than 25,000 disabled people are waiting for their Access to Work (AtW) application to be dealt with, while the average clearance time for an application has risen in just 11 months from 32.5 days to 63.1 days.
Just 12 months ago, there were about 14,000 people waiting for a decision on their AtW application, and in February 2020, at the start of the pandemic, there were about 8,500 people waiting.
In May, DWP said it was “working hard” to make sure AtW applications were “progressed as soon as possible”.
Since then, the AtW waiting-list has risen even further, from 20,909 to 25,281.
Other figures released by DWP show that 21,600 disabled people have been waiting longer than six months for a decision on their personal independence payment (PIP) claim.
The figures were released by Pursglove in response to questions from Labour MPs Alan Campbell and Jon Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary.
But Pursglove failed to express any concern about the AtW and PIP figures after questions were submitted to the DWP press office by Disability News Service (DNS), or to say if he thought they showed the department was in crisis.
Instead, a DWP spokesperson directed DNS to answers given by Pursglove to written parliamentary questions.
On the Access to Work figures, Pursglove told Ashworth there had been “a significant increase in applications over the last year” and that DWP had “recruited new staff to meet the increased demand and reduce the time it takes to make decisions”.
He said DWP gives priority to new applicants who are starting work within four weeks, or those who have an AtW grant that is coming to an end and needs to be renewed.
He added: “We are also transforming the Access to Work service through increased digitalisation, that will make the service more efficient, will make the application process easier, and improve the time taken from application through to decision.”
And on PIP, in response to a question from independent MP Margaret Ferrier, Pursglove said: “Reducing customer journey times for PIP claimants is a priority for the department and we are working constantly to make improvements to our service.
“We are seeing an improvement in average clearance times for new PIP claims and the latest statistics show that the end-to-end journey has steadily reduced from 26 weeks in August 2021 to 18 weeks at the end of July 2022.”
He said DWP was using phone, video and face-to-face assessments to “support customers and deliver a more efficient and user-centred service”, while also prioritising new claims.
But he failed to point out that the long-term trend for PIP waiting-times has been rising since 2018, although it has fallen since the peaks caused by the pandemic.
In March 2018, the average waiting-time was 10 weeks, in January 2019 it was 15 weeks, and in July 2022 it was 18 weeks.
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