Hilary Benn MP writes


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Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn
Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn

I am seeing more and more people in my surgeries complaining about how they’ve been assessed by ATOS as to whether they are fit for work or not under the Employment Support Allowance.  I’m talking about cases in which someone’s GP says they’re not fit to work while ATOS says that they are, and about people who suffer from mental ill-health who may be okay one day but not the next. In one recent case, the manager from the DWP was so concerned about the assessment that ATOS had undertaken – which had found my constituent supposedly fit for work when she clearly wasn’t – that he overturned the recommendation on the spot. I am grateful to him, but the system needs changing.

The principle that we should assess what people are capable of doing rather than what they can’t do is one that most people would agree with. But it is being completely undermined by what is happening locally and nationally where between 35% and 40% of appeals against the initial assessment are successful. You may think it’s alright for those who get a wrong decision overturned, but people have to wait a long time without the help they are entitled to and then there is all the stress that the process causes to those who are often vulnerable because of their medical condition. I think what’s happening is a disgrace and the ATOS contract should be scrapped. Whoever replaces them should treat people with greater respect rather than as a number to be processed. If you are aware of this happening and you are a constituent of mine, then please get in touch.

We secured a victory for community effort recently in Middleton when one of the telephone cabinets was finally upgraded to superfast broadband. It has been a long struggle for the residents, the three ward councillors and I to persuade BT Openreach that they should do this. They repeatedly said that upgrading the cabinet was not commercially viable, but they got it wrong as shown by the huge number of applicants they have received since the cabinet went live. I suspect they looked at the postcode and thought “we won’t sell a lot of broadband there”, but now they have realised their mistake I do hope that they will upgrade other cabinets in the area. A decent internet connection and broadband is becoming more or less essential, and when building new homes then we should see broadband in the same way as we do roads, drains, gas and electricity.

The news of Nelson Mandela’s passing rang out around the world in a way that has touched many people. In Leeds, we remember the day in April 2001 when he came to receive the Freedom of the City. He was an extraordinary man who showed magnanimity towards those who had imprisoned him and who understood that reconciliation was the best way to bring about his vision of a non-racial and democratic South Africa.  May he be granted in death the peace for  which he campaigned so hard in life.

There has been a large number of festive community events locally of late. Holbeck Christmas Fayre was a great success as usual, and last Friday a big crowd descended on Cross Flatts Park to sing carols and enjoy mince pies. The organisers deserve a big vote of thanks for making the park look so magical. There were lines of white lamps – like flare paths – lighting the way and guiding us to where we needed to be, and I am sure that the children who came along will never forget it.

Have a very Happy Christmas and New Year.