I spoke on the issue of the Government's changes to the welfare system and how it was adversely affecting constituents in Enfield North.
Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) on securing the debate. I am here today to raise the issue of my constituent Cathy Walsh, though her case is representative of many others. She suffers from severe generalised dystonia, a condition that results in uncontrolled spasms, affecting her limbs and speech. She has been disabled since birth and has tremendous difficulty moving unaided. With a seriously disabling disability, she has been on disability living allowance for 23 years. On Friday 18 December, Ms Walsh was notified that her application for the advanced-rate mobility component of PIP had been turned down, and she was distraught—her car, which had been invaluable in allowing
her to lead an independent life, would be taken from her. That life-changing decision was based on one assessment conducted over an hour. It took the Atos consultant longer to write the report than it took to undertake the assessment. Ms Walsh’s neurological consultant has
“strong reservations about the value of this assessment.”
“no idea how ATOS’ assessment could have been made, it is clearly incorrect… At best she can walk up to 20 metres and on a bad day significantly less.”
On those terms, it is obvious that Ms Walsh has a very strong case to qualify for the higher-rate mobility allowance. Instead, she has had to go down the extremely stressful route of a mandatory reconsideration and an appeal to a tribunal, which is making her condition worse. Her independence has been severely curtailed, at least until the tribunal decision is known, which could be months away.
Ms Walsh will have to rely on others even to help her cash the £2,000 transitional support cheque from Motability, as she cannot get to the bank on her own. That raises another issue: why cannot this money be transferred directly into her account? Even when the £2,000 has been deposited, Ms Walsh will be in a state of financial limbo. If she wins her appeal but decides to keep the money, she would not be able to return to the Motability scheme for six months.
Let us assume that Ms Walsh wins her case and wants to return to the scheme as quickly as possible, which she is keen to do. She would then have to return most of the £2,000. I do not disagree with that in principle. However, if the tribunal drags on for several months, Ms Walsh will inevitably need to use some, if not all, of the transitional payment to pay for other forms of assistance and transport. She would then be in debt while having to go through the process of reapplying for the scheme when her car should never have been taken from her in the first place. The Government say that what we have now is a “fairer assessment process.” Well, it does not feel fair to Ms Walsh. She is deeply distressed. I do not think it is fair; her friends do not think it is fair; and, more to the point, her consultant, who understands her condition as well as anyone, thinks it is very unfair. If her treatment is typical of the way in which thousands of other cases have been dealt with, the process has not been fair to them, either. The Government must be willing to conduct a thorough review of the process, which is not fit for purpose in its current state. I look forward to hearing how the Minister intends to resolve these issues.