After several months of inquiry and an unprecedented 3,500 submissions from individuals – outnumbering all other parliamentary inquiries by an order of magnitude – the Work and Pensions Select Committee have published their report on the assessment systems for the major disability benefits, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The need for change
Z2K has been calling for fundamental changes to these systems for years. We have witnessed the injustice of inadequate assessments and the hugely damaging impacts of this on our clients – some of whom have been pushed into depression, poverty and even starvation because they were wrongly denied the support they need.
While we continue to challenge individual decisions and represent our clients through their appeals, it is clear to us – and countless others – that the system needs to change.
It is therefore heartening to see that the Committee have taken the views of disabled people and the organisations that represent them into account, and have made some relevant suggestions on what DWP can do to improve their experiences.
The report highlights a number of recommendations which, if taken up by DWP, could certainly help to increase transparency and claimants’ understanding of the assessment process. Their key recommendations include:
- Providing audio recording of assessments and a copy of the assessor’s report to claimants by default
This would be an essential first step towards making the assessment system more transparent, and returning some agency to claimants by showing how their evidence was taken into account.
- Improving auditing and holding contractors to account
The Committee’s criticism of DWP for failing to demand the necessary standards of its contractors is both justified and promising; crucially, their suggestion that audio recordings be used to audit could force assessors to improve their practices.
- Learning from decisions overturned at appeal and reviewing past Mandatory Reconsiderations (MRs)
This recommendation is an important recognition that instead of overturning incorrect decisions, MRs often uphold them – forcing claimants to undergo the long appeals process in order to get their rightful award.
A long way to go
Throughout their inquiry, the Committee have made a clear choice to focus not on the ‘eligibility criteria, but [on] the way that applications, assessments and decision-making are carried out.’ Although their report acknowledges that the real problems extend far beyond this, it does not address how fundamental improvements could be achieved.
This limits the extent to which their recommendations can bring real progress because, as our CEO Raji Hunjan says, “the very design of the assessment is flawed. Asking someone with visual impairments whether they can lift their left arm, or determining the severity of a mental illness by how many metres someone can walk unaided, shows a fundamental refusal on behalf of DWP to truly understand how health conditions and disabilities affect people’s lives.
If PIP and ESA are really going to provide support for those who need it, then the government must start by listening to the people who are living with disabilities and health conditions – and learn from them about what they need. This report is a welcome first step but, as the experiences of our clients show, there is still a long way to go.”
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