There was a debate in the HoC yesterday on the performance of the DWP, an government department which, if it were a school would have been placed in special measures long ago. Ministers were keen to play down any suggestions that they might be getting anything wrong, while Labour MPs were keen to raise individual cases where pretty awful errors had been made. Glenda Jackson in particular made a decent stab at calling IDS out for the attitude of his department. Here is her speech taken from Hansard:
The hon. Gentleman will in future regret taking such pride in his Secretary of State. We have all become used to the way in which the Secretary of State avoids answering any kind of direct question or actively engaging in any of the serious issues about the destruction of the welfare state and his Department’s total and utter incompetence by opting for a self-serving, sanctimonious sermon as opposed to any direct speech. I seem to recall, to go back a very long way, that he stood at the Dispatch Box and avowedly took exclusive responsibility for the delivery of everything from IT systems to universal credit in order to take people out of poverty, when what he has in fact done is to plunge thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens into the most abject penury.
Today, the Secretary of State still managed to avoid any kind of reference to the realities of the situation for all those people affected when Atos had its contract for the work capability assessment renewed many months ago. I distinctly remember that the Select Committee was quite forensic in examining how Atos would prioritise, as the Secretary of State and the Government told us it would, the needs of disabled and vulnerable people, particularly those with mental health difficulties. Atos confirmed that that would be an absolute target. There would be champions for people with mental health difficulties and detailed examination of every single individual who came forward for a work capability assessment. Despite the Harrington recommendations, to which the Secretary of State referred, there have been no marked improvements for people who are waiting for ESA—we have already heard those figures.
I will give a precise example of just how chaotic the system is. One of my constituents, who is paraplegic, was placed on ESA. Another constituent is 26 years old and has the mental capacity of a six-year-old, and is consistently having to go for work capability assessments. I find it absolutely impossible to believe that Government Members have no constituents coming to them in similar or even worse situations; yet they find the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) hilarious. They find it really funny that we have seen an explosion in food banks being used by people who are working.
I point out to the Secretary of State that he furnished absolutely no evidence—no Government Member did—that the jobs that all Government Members are trumpeting have been created during his sovereignty of the Department for Work and Pensions are actually being created by his policies. Other Government Members trumpet that the new jobs are being created by the private sector.
One certain thing in an uncertain world is that 48% of appeals—I am talking about ESA; I do not want there to be any confusion—are upheld, yet people on ESA are waiting for months before their appeals are heard. During that period they are told to apply for jobseeker’s allowance, but they cannot do so because they are told that they are unfit for work. They are therefore without any financial support at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) said, the welfare state was created to protect people from falling through the cracks. But this particular Secretary of State, along with his Department, is pushing people through those cracks and hoping that the rest of the country will not notice that they have disappeared. I believe that the rest of the country is noticing that—that it is the most vulnerable in our society who are being punished.
That is a shame and an utter disgrace for the Secretary of State. At some point I am pretty certain that he will claim that he can walk on water, but he cannot. His Department is not delivering any of the promises that were made, not to the Opposition but to the people of this country. People are being maligned and bad-mouthed. It is being presented to the country as though there are plenty of jobs out there for those people but they are too idle ever to take them. That is not the case, as Government Members know, and as the Secretary of State should know. Perhaps he is floating so high in his self-appointed sanctity that he has forgotten what is actually happening out there in this country as a direct result of his incompetence and failure to accept his responsibilities.
UPDATE. Here’s a video of the speech: