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The APPDG meets with Mike Penning

08 January 2014

Philip Connolly, DR UK Policy and Communications Manager reports on the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Disability Group (APPDG) with Minister of Disabled People Mike Penning Monday 9 December 2013.

 Straight talking from the new Minister of Disabled People

The new minister for disabled people Mike Penning met parliamentarians and disabled observers on Monday (December 9th) and left us with one word ringing in our ears – the word abuse. In the course of his presentation and answers to questions it was there 11 times. The minister seemed to feel that this was also a concern for the audience, “I have had delegations in the last couple of weeks, for instance, from the deaf lobby saying to me that for instance signing, the cost of signing in some cases is being abused and we will investigate that extensively now and make sure that the right people are getting the work.” Clearly he is intent upon rooting out financial abuse by people allegedly falsely seeking Government support such as that provided by Access to Work and perhaps this was with the purpose of ensuring that more deserving people should get the benefit instead. However there was no mention of where the evidence is of money saved from tackling benefit fraud then being used to expand the budget of Government support programmes.

David Buxton of the British Deaf Association sought to balance the argument and referred to a fraudulent claim rate of 0.3% for signing interpretation support, the minister appeared unmoved and spoke of the deaf community “actually you are taking a disproportionately higher amount of money from the system.”

The Minister did talk of his commitment – as a more senior Minister for disabled people than previous Ministers – to work across government in the interests of disabled people. He also responded positively to a question from Philip Connolly of DR UK concerning individuals being able to contract for their own employment support. The minister, who is responsible for all DWP contracting, said “….so individuals can have as much scope for purchasing their provisions in the way they want, not the way we want to.  So bottom up rather than top down.” He also praised Access to Work as an effective programme.  

The minister then appeared to pose the choice between spending money on the welfare of disabled people and our armed forces: “it is around 37 billion a year the welfare department's budget - a fraction under 4 billion a week if you include pensions, so you can see 9 weeks of my department's budget is the whole of the money we spend on the Armed Forces and we want to make sure the nation is safe.”

The Minister certainly couldn’t be said to be evasive. In a response to a question from Baroness Wilkins he said there were no plans to look at the cumulative impact of Government policies on disabled people. He went on, “Whether it is true that people with disabilities have been disproportionately affected, I have not seen the evidence to that.  But I will continue to look.”

Naturally the minister couldn’t speak about the judicial review over the reduction from 50 m to 20 m in the PIP assessment, given legal issues, but he did venture one opinion, “It was arbitrary at the time, there were some court cases around it way back but actually it was an arbitrary figure and is the 20 metre figure an arbitrary figure?  Yes it is.” He also couldn’t, for similar reasons, answer questions about the judicial review of the decision to close the independent living fund that the Government has lost.

Finally the minister offered to remove the barriers to disabled people getting jobs that health and safety procedures and policies often create. Referring to health and safety as a government policy that he has the remit for he said,

“One of the reasons I want that within the disability portfolio is because there are a load of myths out there as to why you can't employ people, can't have access to a building and the huge excuses that health and safety can be, to prevent opportunity. What a load of tosh!”