Press release – #PeopleBeforeProcess, new research

Disabled people left feeling suicidal and in physical pain by discriminatory and degrading benefits process, research reveals


Disabled people have spoken of how the UK Government’s benefits assessment process has left them feeling suicidal, in tears and in physical pain in explosive new research by anti-poverty charity Z2K, published today.

Participants in Z2K’s research described finding the benefits assessment process ‘hostile’, ‘discriminatory’ and ‘degrading’ with claimants asked to perform physical tests despite being in visible pain.

“During my first assessment, the assessor waved her hand at me when I tried to explain my mental health issues and said ‘I’m not interested in that, I want to know if you can touch your toes’.  I received no points during that assessment.”

More than one person told Z2K that the stress of the whole process – from assessments to appeal – had driven them to consider ending their life.

“It caused a massive amount of distress and I seriously considered suicide many times throughout the process.”

The research revealed a high overturn rate of negative decisions when challenged at independent Tribunal, a long process disabled people found challenging and distressing.

The research also exposed a deep lack of trust among disabled people that the UK Government’s forthcoming health and disability consultation would lead to the system being positively reformed.

In a survey of 1,420 disabled people carried out by Z2K:

  • Nine in ten (89%) said they were not confident that the Government will consider the changes disabled people want to see made to the assessment process
  • Nearly three quarters (74%) think the Government won’t make the required changes to the process
  • Over two thirds (70%) felt the assessor at their disability benefit assessment did not understand their condition
  • 87% who appealed a negative decision at the Social Security Tribunal were successful

The charity and disability campaigners are calling for Ministers to urgently publish their plans for reforming the system and commit to engaging with disabled people during the consultation.

Anela Anwar, Chief Executive of Z2K, said
: “For far too long benefits assessors and Ministers have ignored the plight of disabled people who have endured a decade of discrimination and degradation at the hands of a fundamentally flawed system which all too frequently puts blunt processes before people’s wellbeing.

“How many more people will be forced to endure these distressing and damaging assessments while Ministers continue to drag their feet? Government has lost the trust of disabled people who don’t believe their experiences will be heard or acted upon. This Government must urgently publish its much promised Health and Disability Green Paper and ensure the views of disabled people are at the heart of a long overdue systemic reform. They simply can’t afford to get this wrong again.”

Lee*, Disabled Campaigner for Z2K and research participant said: “From 2006 DWP already knew there was no cure for my chronic conditions. Yet from Income Support to ESA, from Incapacity Benefit to PIP, I continue to be reassessed every two years. The fundamental aim of these assessments is flawed and rather than toiling over cosmetic changes to procedures, this Government needs to revisit the core value of helping those who have met adversity in life, not to render their lives more difficult and fearful than they already are.”


For press enquiries please contact: Ella Abraham, Policy and Campaigns Officer, Z2K. E: T: 020 7259 0801 (press option 1 & ext. 210)

Notes to Editors

  1. Read a summary of Z2K’s research
  2. Z2K surveyed 1,420 people who have been through the assessment process for disability benefits – 1,220 had been assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), 885 for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and 166 for the Limited Capability for Work (LCW) elements of Universal Credit (UC), 14 -28 April 2021.
  3. Benefits applicants are assessed by one of DWP’s privately-contracted assessor companies to determine their eligibility and fitness for work. Awards are often only 2 or 3 years and applicants are then called back for reassessment.
  4. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service statistics show that over three-quarters of those disabled people who appeal to the Tribunal are successful in overturning negative decisions. However, those statistics also show that many have to wait six to 12 months for their hearing.
  5. Z2K is an anti-poverty charity that uses advice and support to prevent people becoming homeless and help low-income households to access the Social Security benefits they are entitled to. Last year, we supported over 1,200 households, including over 250 disabled people appeal against DWP decisions.  In 2019/20, prior to the pandemic, we helped 450 people.  93 per cent of those clients won.
  6. Z2K’s #PeopleBeforeProcess campaign can be found here.

Lee* case study

Lee is 63, lives in London, and lives with Amyloidosis, Fibromyalgia, Carpel Tunnel syndrome, and Chronic Pain. She receives Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She has been assessed and reassessed for some form of disability benefit (originally Incapacity Benefit, then Income Support, now ESA and PIP) every second year since 2006. She finds the assessments to be inadequate because the people conducting them are not necessarily doctors or specialists in the conditions they are assessing. As she says, “this is clear, because if they had an understanding of your condition, they wouldn’t ask the questions that they do…the questions themselves are superficial and don’t allow for a truthful reflection of someone’s condition. You can’t railroad conditions into rigid criteria.” For her, the whole process is simply a form filling exercise, which fails to see people as individuals, and as a result fails to support people. The level at which reassessments happen is exhausting “before one appeal is done, you’re called for another assessment…you’re frazzled and fearful all of the time…they should just use the evidence they have instead of making you come to appeal.” Lee is sceptical that the Green Paper will generate meaningful change to the process, and instead thinks it will just scratch the surface of the issue, because there is not appetite or aim for anything radically different.

Suzanne case study

Suzanne is 38, lives in Bradford, lives with MS and receives Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She found the assessment process for receiving PIP ineffective – her assessor’s report described “somebody that I could only wish to be.” She was denied both the daily living and mobility components of PIP, and after challenging that decision through MR and at appeal was awarded the mobility component. But the whole appeals process caused so much stress that her MS flared up, so she requested to be reassessed on the basis that her condition had worsened. As a result, she now receives both the daily living and mobility components. She feels strongly that the assessments fail to understand conditions like MS – that vary from person to person and over time – because they don’t fit neatly into the tick box criteria. She also wished the people doing the assessments were qualified in the condition they assess. She has little faith that the Health and Disability Green Paper will generate desired change to the process, because she feels the Government “doesn’t put people at the heart of things, they do what suits their own interest only.”

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