Medals, Disabled Payments and Cuts to Deaf People


20 December 2012

2.15 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, in your now traditional role of the Speaker's version of Santa Claus, giving presents of eight minute speeches to the Back Benchers. I hope that next year we will see you enter into the spirit a little more, with something less sombre than your morning suit-perhaps a pair of antlers, a red nose or some such. We look forward to that with great expectation.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker), who uses these debates in the way they should be used by Back Benchers. He had great support in all parts of the House as he spoke. We commend him on the resilience he has shown in looking after the interests of the children from Chernobyl.

In a way, that shows the value of these debates and, indeed, the Backbench Business Committee, which some colleagues who are new to the House might rather take for granted. Those of us who have been here a little longer know what a hard fought campaign it was-including on our side of the House, through those on our own Front Bench-to get the Backbench Business Committee and give Back Benchers the voice they deserve in their own legislature. I hope we will soon add the other half of the brace that was recommended by the Wright Committee, which is to have a House business committee-the promise is to do that this year-which will allow this Chamber some measure of participation in setting the business of the whole legislature, rather than leaving it entirely to the Government. I hope that colleagues will join together in progressing that over the next year.

I would like to place on record my thanks to the Prime Minister for announcing yesterday that medals will be awarded not only to Bomber Command, but to the Arctic convoys. I have followed this issue for the best part of two decades. If I can be blunt, I think it was a stain on the record of the last Government that so many of us had to work so hard-and fruitlessly-and that by the time the Prime Minister announced this recognition yesterday, so many of the brave men and women who fought in the Arctic convoys, Bomber Command or elsewhere had sadly passed away. Only their families will now have the honour and admiration from all of us for the sacrifices those men and women made. I hope that the Ministry of Defence, which is notorious for its bureaucratic ways and failing to recognise the sacrifice of service people, will have learnt a lesson and will now act expeditiously where the needs of servicemen are raised by colleagues in this House, from whichever part of the House they come.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): My understanding is that those in Bomber Command are getting a clasp to an existing medal, probably the Europe Star, that says "Bomber Command"-I hope not, but that is my understanding. I would like to see a medal, just like for those in the Arctic convoys.

Mr Allen: It is important for those who served in Bomber Command and survived-it had the highest attrition rate of any theatre of combat in the second world war-get the full recognition they deserve. Finally the Arctic convoy veterans have got it. They have been honoured effusively in the former Soviet Union-what is now Russia-and indeed continue to be, in a way that we had to struggle for in our own country.

Having said that these are valuable moments for Back Benchers, let me raise a number of constituency and Back-Bench issues that are sadly all too familiar in my constituency.

The first concerns the treatment of disabled people in my constituency. Many who are applying for incapacity benefit have to go through work capacity assessments with the Department for Work and Pensions through its stand-in, the French firm Atos, which colleagues in all parts of the House will have had experience of.The waiting time for a disabled person in my constituency to hear an appeal for their rightful entitlement because of their incapacity is 57 weeks, in some cases. It is unacceptable in a civilised society that they should have to wait that long for a decision on appeal.

That is not the way we should treat our disabled people. It would not be good if it happened to just one person, or even if it happened to 10% of the people who appeal and who get what they deserve at the end of the day, but in fact, one in three cases are overturned on appeal. Those people need their incapacity benefit to live their lives effectively. The situation is unacceptable, and I have recently written to the Justice Secretary to express my concern. I was assured, in a letter from him dated 5 December, that extra resources were being brought in to press the numbers down and to enable the cases to be dealt with more expeditiously. I am very grateful for that but, sadly, two days later I received a letter from the Tribunals Service saying that the waiting times had gone up, and that it was now taking an average of 57 weeks for these cases to be dealt with.

I have a constituent named Susan Goldsmith who had her assessment in August 2011. She heard in October that she had failed. She felt aggrieved and immediately appealed. She lodged her appeal with the Tribunals Service in November and, following interventions by me, her appeal was finally heard this month. The judge took only a few minutes to decide to allow her appeal and to dismiss the opinion of Atos. My constituent, who needs her incapacity benefit, had experienced a delay of 54 weeks. I have had many similar cases, as have colleagues throughout the House. The system is a shambles, and I hope that colleagues will continue to write in about it until we get this right and start to treat our disabled people with the respect they deserve and to deal with their cases in a timely manner.

Secondly.There are more than 500 young children in Nottinghamshire who are deaf or have a degree of deafness, and the National Deaf Children's Society has asked me to raise a specific issue that is pertinent to them. I am going to write to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and ask him to look again at the personal independence payment that will replace the disability living allowance on 26 April next year. I am afraid that the change could result in a step backwards for many of those deaf young people. Following the abolition of the bottom rate of DLA, all those affected will have to apply for the bottom rate of the personal independence payment but, inexplicably, that will not be available to deaf young people unless they use sign language. In other words, those who use lip-reading or some other means of communication will fail to qualify for those payments, despite having previously been entitled to DLA. Only 10% of deaf young people use sign language, which means that 90% of them will not be entitled to apply for the PIP. I hope that that is simply an unintended consequence, and that my writing to the Secretary of State will result in his looking at the regulations and putting this right, so that all those deaf young people will not be hit disproportionately by this measure.