The inadequacy of health and disability benefit assessments is demonstrated by the high success rate in challenging their outcomes – the latest Government figures show that 76 per cent of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and 74 per cent of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeals had the initial decision revised in favour of the claimant. Z2K’s own success rate at Tribunal was over 90 per cent in 2020.
In April, Z2K surveyed 1,420 people who have been through the assessment process for disability benefits. 70 per cent of respondents felt the assessor did not understand their condition. For many, the process of the assessment and attitude of the assessors debilitates any meaningful understanding of their condition, and instead creates a traumatising and sometimes harmful environment. Respondents shared how assessors work strictly from a script – treating people as numbers as opposed to individuals:
‘During my very 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.’
This isn’t new. Over the years we and our clients have spoken out in the media, we have submitted responses to select committee’s and published substantive evidence such as our 2018 Access Denied and 2020 Blunt, bureaucratic and broken reports, which show how the Government’s harsh policies prevent disabled and people and people with health conditions from getting the disability benefits they are entitled to:
‘My mental health deteriorated, I was put on stronger medication, I was more tearful, I wasn’t eating properly… My son was even thinking of not going to university. He really didn’t want to leave me, I was in such a distressed state.’
Two years ago, the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) announced it would publish a Green Paper with proposals to reform health and disability benefits, including assessments. In July, the Paper was finally published. It was notable to see stated in its introduction its independent research which ”surveyed and interviewed thousands of people claiming health and disability benefits,”. Yet, in its final chapter: Exploring Ways to Improve the Design of the Benefits System, it includes a hugely concerning long-term proposal of having one single assessment for all health and disability benefits. This has been frequently rejected by Deaf and Disabled led organisations (DDPOs), charities, disabled people and people with health conditions. It is no wonder that in our People Before Process report published months before the Green Paper was released, nine in ten respondents said they were not confident that the Government will consider the changes disabled people want to see made to the assessment process.
We need a system that treats people with dignity, respect, and results in decisions being made right first time, so people receive the vital income they are entitled to without being subjected to a lengthy and stressful appeals process. This Green Paper is a missed opportunity to deliver that kind of fundamental reform.
Ultimately, this Government must fulfil its 2019 manifesto pledge to empower and support disabled people and be an ally by co-producing a new health and disability assessment process with DDPO’s and those with experience of the system. This Government must start putting people before process.
Join our #PeopleBeforeProcess campaign to let Government and your MP know that DWP’s reforms to health and disability benefits must go further.
Read our full response to the Health and Disability Green Paper.
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