Labour accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of acting ‘illegally’ as it was savaged by MPs during an angry parliamentary debate. But if sick and disabled people were hoping for some answers from work and pensions secretary Esther McVey into the latest DWP scandal, then they’ll be sorely disappointed.
Another day, another DWP scandal
As The Canary previously reported, judges forced the DWP to admit that it had been interpreting its own guidelines over the personal independence payment (PIP) incorrectly. The department’s climb-down was in relation to two court cases where it had previously denied two disabled people PIP. This was on the basis they did not meet its criteria for the “daily living” component of the benefit.
After tribunals disagreed and told the DWP it must give the two claimants PIP, the department was going to appeal. But on 30 May, it told law firm Garden Court North Chambers that it was withdrawing the appeals. The DWP also said that it will be reviewing all PIP claims this may affect.
A parliamentary question
So on Monday 4 June, Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams raised this in an Urgent Question to McVey in parliament. Abrahams asked McVey:
if she’ll make a statement on the withdrawal of her appeals in relation to personal independence payment claimants with chronic conditions and what further action she’ll be taking.
McVey said that she was “absolutely committed” to supporting sick and disabled people. But regarding Abrahams’ specific question, she would only say that the two claimants in question would have their money backdated, and would be paid in “days”.
As The Canary previously reported, the government has not stated how many claims are affected by its admission of error. Also, when The Canary asked the DWP to comment, it failed to respond. Now, McVey is also refusing to give any information on the situation. This left Abrahams less than impressed.
She said the situation “raises serious questions” for the DWP and McVey:
As Abrahams noted, in another previous case where judges ruled the DWP had made an error in its interpretation of its own rules, it had to review 1.6 million people’s claims. Her claim of ‘illegality’ by the DWP was echoed by Garden Court North Chambers, which said the DWP’s withdrawal of its appeals:
may cast doubt on the legality of the changes [which the DWP] made to the regulations in March 2017…
But despite all Abrahams’ questions, McVey refused to answer any of them. Shouting can be heard coming from the opposition benches throughout McVey’s response:
The anger from opposition parties to McVey’s refusal to answer questions continued throughout the debate, as did the criticism of the DWP.
Labour’s new shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood accused McVey of being “dismissive” about MPs’ concerns. She said the DWP had “again got the law wrong” on its own guidance, and fired numerous questions at McVey. Greenwood summed up by asking:
What reason do disabled people have to believe that her department is fit for purpose?
McVey couldn’t answer most of that, either.
The SNP’s Alison Thewliss then put it to McVey that the DWP’s reputation “lies in tatters” and that it was “in no fit state” to be rolling out Universal Credit. Labour’s Angela Eagle, meanwhile, repeated Abrahams’ claim that the DWP had acted “illegally”.
But it was Thewliss who perhaps summed the situation up best, saying [11:54]:
The fact remains that they [the DWP] had to be dragged through the courts in the first place in order to be proven that they are wrong.
McVey gave no guarantees as to when this latest scandal will be dealt with, leaving disabled people’s lives once again on hold. But it’s the arrogance of the DWP and McVey that truly beggars belief – and opposition MPs fully expressed their disgust during this debate.