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He knows he's in trouble: Mike Penning, staring down the hole in his claims about Atos.

He knows he’s in trouble: Mike Penning, staring down the hole in his claims about Atos.

The Liverpool Echo has reported the death of a woman who had been ordered to claim the new Personal Independence Payment – and was then denied any benefit payments for six months.

At the same time, we have learnt that disabilities minister Mike Penning has been caught giving false evidence to a Parliamentary committee on the way contracts for the assessment of disability benefits have been awarded.

The two are not unconnected, it seems.

Annette Francis was found dead at her home in Garston on May 22. She had been suffering severe mental illness but had not received a single penny of disability benefit for six months, since the Department for Work and Pensions had stopped her claim for Disability Living Allowance and told her to apply for PIP.

She did so – but was still waiting for her first payment at the time of her death. She leaves an 11-year-old son, who is currently in the care of his great-aunt.

Problems with the private companies that carry out work capability assessments for benefits including PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were discussed with disabilities minister Mike Penning in December last year – right around the time Ms Francis’s DLA was being cut off.

He told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee that problems with the firm carrying out the assessments – Atos – were created because it was not possible to make a profit on the contract it signed with the previous Labour government.

He said: “We are picking up the mess behind that.”

If he was telling the truth, he didn’t pick it up quickly enough. But it seems more likely that he was lying.

According to Sheila Gilmore, a Labour MP who sits on the Work and Pensions committee, “he is not entitled to access advice given to the previous Government on the assumptions Atos made as part of their tender”. In that case, he could not possibly have been aware of the terms under which Atos was employed by Labour and was therefore lying to his fellow MPs.

Readers of this blog know that – unless rectified by a timely apology and correction – this is an offence for which any MP may be expelled.

So we are left to ask which situation is worse – one in which a woman has died because a private company carrying out a public service was upset that it couldn’t make a profit, or one in which she died because the same public service has been unforgivably delayed while the private company and the government have been arguing about how much profit it should make?

Either way, unless Penning gets his apology and correction sorted out quickly, he should be booted out of Parliament in disgrace.

His boss is Iain Duncan Smith, who will be appearing on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday. Do you think this will get a mention?

Neither do I.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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