Evidence in the face of DWP denial

After an incredible two years at Z2K, this week is my last. One thing that has become resoundingly clear through my time here, is how vital on-the-ground front-line and lived experience evidence is in rebutting the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) often unfounded claims of its good practice and improvement.

From the testimonies in the ‘Blunt, bureaucratic and broken: how Universal Credit is failing people in vulnerable situations’ report I wrote, to research conducted with over 1,400 people receiving health and disability benefits, it’s clear that our Social Security system isn’t just failing to support people, but in many cases is actively making peoples’ lives worse. Yet DWP refuses to engage with the evidence demonstrating this.

This was made most clear to me when reading their response to a recent Work and Pension Select Committee inquiry into benefit assessments. There is a breadth of evidence demonstrating how these assessments repeatedly result in incorrect decisions and cause a great deal of emotional, financial and in some instances physical hardship. One respondent to our survey told us “I repeated several times how much pain I was in, which was visible. They still asked me to do physical ‘tests’ leaving me in tears and in severe pain.” Yet DWP simply ignores evidence like this.  Similarly, it made the following inaccurate claims in its evidence:

  1. DWP said the majority of their decisions about entitlement to benefits are correct. This is in complete contradiction to the Department’s own figures, which show in 2020/21 76 percent of decisions to deny someone the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) they were entitled to, were successfully challenged at a Tribunal.[1] Z2K’s own success rate at Tribunal in 2020 was 93 percent. While the latest period for which figures are available show a slightly lower success rate of 67 percent for PIP, it is important to note that the number of appeals not getting to a Tribunal because DWP decides its decision has no legs and lapses the appeal is increasing – it was up to 35 percent in 2020/21 from 29 percent in 2019/20, and is now 13 percent overall since PIP was introduced in 2013.[2] Z2K is calling on the Government to fundamentally reform benefit assessments.
  2. DWP says that decisions are overturned on appeal mainly because new evidence is provided. But as our client Carlo recently experienced, it’s the Tribunals’ attitude towards and engagement with the existing evidence that often changes the outcome. Carlo has long-term mental health problems linked to a traumatic past, and when his standard rate of PIP for Daily Living (DL) and mobility came to an end, he was reassessed as no longer being entitled, despite his health having deteriorated. Z2K completed a very detailed MR for him, which came back unchanged, and Z2K lodged an appeal. The appeal was lapsed after just two weeks, using exactly the same evidence as the MR decision maker had, and Carlo was awarded double enhanced for an ongoing period.  
  3. DWP also says the majority of people receiving a Limited Capability for Work (LCW) element on UC, do so after serving a three month ‘relevant’ period similar to the ESA assessment phase. While people are meant to be awarded the backdated Limited Capability for Work and Work Related Activity (LCWRA) element from three months after they first provided information about their health condition, our clients often have this calculated incorrectly, and their LCWRA is only awarded from the date the decision is made. Our client Adil had been providing fit notes since June 2021, and at his assessment was awarded LCWRA. He should have been entitled to this extra element from September 2021 – three months after he submitted his first fit note – but DWP said he would be awarded it from January 2022. If it wasn’t for Z2K challenging this, Adil would have gone three months without the extra income he was entitled to. We also see this issue especially with people who are in the LCW group and sent a UC50 review form, and whose award is then changed and they are given LCWRA. DWP frequently treat the start of LCWRA as the date the decision was made, as opposed to the three months following their provision of associated evidence, which for many is resulting in months of lost income.

DWP should be engaging with and acting on evidence like that listed above, which is provided by those receiving Social Security and their advocates. It is only by doing this, that their services can be effectively reformed.  And it is vital that services like Z2K and people with lived experience of our Social Security system keep using their voice to challenge Government’s inaccurate claims. I’m sad to be leaving, but I know Z2K will continue to provide this vital evidence until our Social Security system starts adequately supporting people to live stable and dignified lives.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tribunal-statistics-quarterly-july-to-september-2021

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/personal-independence-payment-statistics-to-july-2021/personal-independence-payment-statistics-to-july-2021

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