Written evidence from Anonymous HAB0140


Health Assessments for Benefits

1) The DWP could improve the quality of assessments for health related benefits by removing itself, Capita, Maximus and Independent Assessment Services (formerly Atos) from the entire process. The DWP is institutionally ableist and draconian, and has shown repeatedly that it has no intention of changing. The private companies are motivated by money and arbitrary targets. None of them should be anywhere near sick or disabled people.

a) I am not aware of any improvements since 2018. My most recent experience, in the last few weeks, is of being required to fill in a review form ten months before the actual review is due, and being threatened with losing all money if the form isn’t returned within a set short time. Their letters still take a week to arrive in the post, which is then lost from the return time, bank holidays are ignored altogether and the phone option to “hold and speak to an advisor” when one finally does get through doesn’t work, sending one back to the beginning of the confusing and frustrating phone menu.

3) The descriptors for PIP still fail to accurately reflect health conditions in which energy and pain levels can vary. I received no points for depression in my last assessment despite expressing suicidal ideation (aggravated by having to endure the assessment process). Anxiety and depression are not taken seriously unless one is on a lot of medication and “in the system” for mental health care, which most sufferers are not. If one is unable to leave the house, even on a variable basis, because of anxiety, depression, pain or fatigue, that’s a mobility issue, requiring a separate section with its own points. The “planning a journey” requirements are too strict, and the 20 metre rule is utterly nonsensical, cruel and arbitrary.

4) When I first claimed ESA I was turned down for the support group, despite being unable to leave the house for large parts of the day, because the tick boxes didn’t match my health condition. The DWP lost at appeal, and fully deserved to.

5a) I would prefer my PIP assessments to be paper based, as I find face-to-face ones traumatic. Video and phone assessments are not the way forward for everyone, as being recorded can severely aggravate mental health conditions.

6) A clinician’s report should be enough in many cases to avoid the need for an additional assessment, provided the clinician engages properly with their patient. In my personal experience this is more likely to happen with a cancer diagnosis and treatment than with a chronic pain or ME/CFS one. There is a real need for patients to be able to get the right support from someone involved in their health care to avoid being bullied by the DWP when they are at their most vulnerable. This includes for conditions like long Covid, which the DWP tries to dismiss as “anxiety”.

7) Appeals generally find in favour of the claimant because the assessment process is so shoddy, with the DWP and private companies working to targets, trying to cut corners, copying and pasting reports and even auditing them, whilst assuming the whole time that the claimant is lying.

8) Whilst combining assessments might sound sensible and “streamlined”, it would lead to the same bungling disaster as the Universal Credit benefits merger. It’s painfully apparent that one size doesn’t fit all, and it’s too dangerous for the claimant to “fail” a single combined assessment and be left with nothing.

9 a) I would personally hate to have to sign in with a portal and rely on an unstable internet connection. Digital-only is exclusionary and ableist, and the DWP’s refusal to release the report on how many of its websites and other digital services are breaching accessibility laws shows that it doesn’t take disability or claimant ease-of-process seriously.

b) Trust in the process is so damaged that getting rid of private companies is not enough. The DWP is a tainted brand with a terrible record of how it treats its own disabled employees. As Tom Pollard from Mind said in his report after an eighteen month study, it needs to be removed from the process too.

10) It should be up to the claimant whether they want to claim online, on paper, by phone or by video, as the claimant is the best judge of the impact this will have on their health.

a) I can’t see any need for a claimant to have a face-to-face assessment, which puts them at risk of increased stress, exhaustion and catching Covid or whatever else is going around. If one is already low or immunocompromised, even a cold can have negative consequences.

13) The best way of addressing the severe damage claimants experience at the hands of DWP and private assessors is to have an independent nationalised assessment process that involves charities, DPOs and the NHS, with no financial gain beyond normal wages for services, and no money-saving targets.

14) If the DWP didn’t have to keep trawling through and correcting hundreds of thousands of claims every time it loses a court case, it would have more time to process new claims and reviews. If it wasn’t so obsessed with fighting disabled people at every turn the process would be significantly quicker.

a) All benefits need to increase substantially to keep up with the rising cost of living. They were inadequate before the pandemic and are truly abysmal now. This is a government that doesn’t believe in investing in people, only in private enterprise. It would rather pay a company millions of pounds for years on end to deny extremely sick people benefits than invest that money in higher benefits, decent health and social care or affordable housing, all of which would contribute towards better public health.

16) If the DWP did actually work with Disabled People’s Organisations the assessment process wouldn’t be in the state of carnage it is now. Instead, it refuses to listen to them or the string of poverty and welfare charities or claimants themselves, who are experts by experience. It hasn’t addressed the “human catastrophe” for disabled people highlighted by the UN, and the only time it fixes any of its copious blunders is when it loses a court case. The long and tragic run of benefits deaths has still not been properly or independently investigated and Freedom of Information Requests are routinely ignored or responded to after the legal time limit. Legitimate requests are labelled “vexatious” and valuable information that would benefit the public is deemed to be not in our interest, or “too expensive” to look into, or the relevant evidence (if even gathered in the first place) is mysteriously destroyed. DWP’s flippant responses to Select Committees over many inquiries have shown that it considers itself to be above transparency and accountability, and the public statements by its anonymous spokespeople are insubstantial and misleading.

a) There are many steps the DWP could take to engage better with stakeholders, but it will avoid doing anything requiring it to change. Various ministers have insisted for years that no one will be worse off on Universal Credit, but some of the sickest people with the greatest financial need will have their UC frozen for years until their Severe Disability Allowance is completely eroded. Therese Coffey denies that DWP has a duty of care to claimants, so we can expect the migration from legacy benefits to UC to be mangled more than “managed”. The DWP would rather see people struggle and fail than transfer them automatically, believing with Esther McVey that food banks are “right”, or “uplifting”, as Jacob Rees-Mogg called this national disgrace.  We are not even claimants but “customers” on a “journey” and that level of idiocy alone tells us everything we need to know about DWP’s direction and “commitment” to supporting people.


May 2022