I want to turn to a subject that can have a big effect on people – the Welfare System. The Welfare System that we have today has been over a century in the making and is the work of each political party that has held office in that period. The system has grown and adapted as society has changed and thus it is likely that it will always need reform to meet new challenges and circumstances. By and large, the system works well to help get people into work so that they can support themselves and their families. In this constituency, we have one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country. This does mean job opportunities for some and in-work benefits where necessary. It also means support for the minority who cannot work through sickness, disability or personal circumstances. It is a mark of a civilised society that we look after those who cannot look after themselves. This may be life-long support for someone or support through a temporary difficult time.
In recent months, I have been concerned with the operation of aspects of the current system, particularly Personal Independence Payments which are in a period of transition, and may not be meeting the needs of some people. Thus some of the very people we seek to support are falling through the gaps. For example, I am concerned at the time assessments can take and also at the quality of some assessments. Where there is a discrepancy in an assessment, I am concerned at the time it can take to raise a concern and for reassessment. I am concerned, too, at the difficulties that seem to arise when assessing medical conditions with debilitating symptoms that are intermittent or erratic and which may just happen not to be apparent at the time of assessment.
I am concerned that this may be failing some of the vulnerable people in our society and therefore I have raised my concerns with the new Secretary of State for Welfare as a matter that needs addressing urgently. I await her response.