Published: 16:25, 02 August 2017
Ashford MP Damian Green faced a grilling from residents at a meeting this week over health services and disability benefits.
The First Secretary of State visited Park Mall shopping centre for a meeting organised by the Ashford Chronic Pain group.
More than 50 people – including carers and those with disabilities and long-term illnesses – attended the meeting at The Hub on Tuesday morning.
The aim of the meeting was to allow members of the public to raise their concerns with the Cabinet minister about the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment and regulations currently in place for those seeking financial help.
The meeting was hosted by Kent Labour Party campaigner Charlotte Cornell, who repeated a series of questions put forward by attendees ahead of the meeting.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a new benefit paid to people who live with long-term disabilities or long-term health conditions which affect daily life. It is replacing the Disability Living Allowance (DLA), for people aged between 16 and 64.
Residents spoke up to give personal experiences of issues they had encountered in the PIP Assessment process, with some claiming they had been penalised for being able to plan a journey – even if they could not take it in reality – and the ability to cook healthy dinners instead of eating ready meals.
A handful of people said they had been offered appointments more than 20 miles from Ashford, despite there being a centre in the town.
Speaking about the location of meetings, Mr Green said: “If we were to do all the assessments at home there would be huge delays. We’ve got these delays down a lot. Some people won’t like the assessment, that’s inevitable.”
Many asked about the NHS strains and the provision of ambulances at the William Harvey Hospital. Several complained of long wait times for serious conditions as a result of ‘bed blocking’.
Mr Green also said he would talk with KCC regarding discussions to withdraw funding for Disability Information Services Kent (DISK).
Following the meeting, MP Damian Green said: “The Ashford Chronic Pain Group asked me to go along to a meeting and I was happy to do so.
“It was a very useful meeting. It allowed people to bring to my attention specific issues they have.
“I will take these up with the relevant parts of the health service.
“A number of points were raised about ambulances and the William Harvey Hospital and I will take these up. Individual cases can illustrate what’s happening in the system.
“PIP is a better benefit than DLA. There was an independent report into how it could be improved which I was looking at in my position as Work and Pensions Secretary, which my successor will carry on with.”
Mr Green also said one of the areas looked at for improvement was in getting full information about people’s health conditions earlier in the process to avoid going to appeal.
Ashford Chronic Pain group leader Jenny Boardman-Holmes organised the meeting following a chance encounter with the MP in the town centre.
She said after the meeting: “It was a good meeting. It was highly attended and questions were answered.
“I just hope that it changes government policy and that they look at it and think ‘this is how it really affects people’."
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