Budget week is usually fairly frenetic in Westminster and last week was no exception, however the subsequent events have very much overtaken the Budget itself. I have learned during my time as an MP that the full contents of any Budget do not become fully understood for a few days afterwards. The headlines are always well reported, but it takes some time for experts, and indeed MPs, to go through the fine print to fully understand all the measures and their consequences.
This was demonstrated this week over the changes to disability benefits talked about by the Chancellor in his Budget statement. In my column last week and on my website I outlined the proposals for changes to Employment Support Allowance, however the proposals to the changes in the way assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are done is a separate thing, and in the days following the Budget it became apparent that they were potentially a step too far in the quest to reform welfare.
Naturally when benefits like this are being looked at it raises concerns for myself and colleagues, so we were having numerous discussions on Friday and Saturday in between various events and commitments we had. Even before the resignation of the Secretary of State, we were all greatly concerned about the proposals and their impact.
We had all been given the facts that the number of people qualifying for PIP solely on the basis of aids and appliances had trebled in the last 18 months, so I understood that it could be revisited to ensure that the system is working properly, i.e. ensuring that those who need the payment are getting it and at the correct level, but also looking at what the driving factors are in such a steep increase, and how the Government should deal with them.
The overriding concern though is that as spending on PIP increases each year - and this year the Government are spending £50bn in support for sick and disabled people - it is given to those who need it the most. It is regrettable that what appears to be a ham-fisted attempt to review this has led to so much upset and concern for the people who would potentially be affected.
We now have a new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb MP, who, in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, scrapped the changes. I’m pleased that the poorly thought out PIP reforms have been abandoned, and I hope lessons have been learned and a repeat of the weekend’s events can be avoided.