Written evidence from Lauren Stonebanks (HAB0023)



Suitability of assessments


1. How could DWP improve the quality of assessments for health-related benefits?

They could actually listen to disabled people and actually collect information from GPs and other healthcare professionals like the forms say they will. I've never known them to do this.


a. Have you seen any specific improvements in the process since the Committee last reported on PIP and ESA assessments, in 2018?



2. Are there any international examples of good practice that the Department could draw on to improve the application and assessment processes for health-related benefits?

They could actually listen to disabled people and actually collect information from GPs and other healthcare professionals like the forms say they will. I've never known them to do this.



3. Do the descriptors for PIP accurately assess functional impairment? If not, how should they be changed? They aren't enough points placed on requiring supervision. That costs about as much as needing someone to do it for you entirely.


The mobility descriptors are so low as to be useless. I know housebound people who cannot go out without a wheelchair who have been denied the mobility component of PIP. I've yet to see how anyone can actually manage life whilst walking no more than 20 - 50 metres. They do not adequately take into account fluctuating conditions or the repeatability of this. They're supposed to but they don't. These should go back to what DLA had.


The rest seem okay.


4. Do the descriptors for ESA accurately assess claimants’ ability to work? If not, how should they be changed?

Yes. Do not remove any of these. They are all necessary.


5. DLA (for children under the age of 16) and Attendance Allowance usually use paper-based rather than face-to-face assessments. How well is this working?


a. Before PIP replaced DLA for adults, DLA was also assessed using a paper-based system. What were the benefits and drawbacks of this approach? It is less stressful to write things down than to have to remember every little detail in an incredibly stressful 60 minute assessment.


6. How practical would it be for DWP’s decision makers to rely on clinician input, without a separate assessment, to make decisions on benefit entitlement? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of such an approach? That only works if the clinician knows the disabled person. I hardly ever see the same GP twice.


7. Appeals data shows that, for some health-related benefits, up to 76% of tribunals find in favour of the claimant. Why is that? Because your assessment process is so flawed and based on targets that have no basis in reality.


a. What could DWP change earlier in the process to ensure that fewer cases go to appeal? Score assessments accurately. Believe people. Get rid of targets. It's not exactly rocket science.


8. Is there a case for combining the assessment processes for different benefits? If not, how else could the Department streamline the application processes for people claiming more than one benefit (eg. PIP and ESA)? No. There's isn't a case for this. It would just increase stress amongst disabled people around assessment time because they'd risk losing both benefits at once. Having two assessments means you're less likely to lose both at once leaving you destitute.


9. What are your views on the Department’s “Health Transformation Programme”? What changes would you like to see under the programme? Sounds good in principle.


a. (For people claiming) Would you like to be able to manage your benefit claim online? Not for everyone. Yes for me but only if this is optional. I live in a flat and letters go missing or are misdelivered on a regular basis. I also know several people without internet access who would not be able to access this online.


b. What would be the benefits and drawbacks of DWP bringing assessments “in house”, rather than contracting them to external organisations (Capita, Atos and Maximus)? In particular, would this help to increase trust in the process? I'm not sure that possible under a Conservative government. If you could get rid of targets and just trust people when it comes to their own health then you might increase trust. In house would be better. For profit companies have proven repeatedly that they cannot do this accurately. They're a disaster.


The impact of the pandemic


10. What lessons should the Department learn from the way that it handled claims for health-related benefit claims during the pandemic: for example, relying to a greater extent on paper-based assessments, or using remote/telephone assessments? That telephon appointments don't suit everyone. That video calls can be extra stressful for anyone who has suffered CSA. That awards are way too short currently. That most people do tell the truth on paper.


a. Is there a case for making some of the changes permanent?


11. Most assessments for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit were suspended during the pandemic. What has been the impact on people trying to claim IIDB?


a. Some IIDB claimants will receive a lower award than they might have, due to the suspension of assessments, because IIDB awards are linked to age. Should the Department compensate these claimants? How?


b. What lessons could the Department learn for how it deals with these claims in future, in the event of further disruption to normal services?


12. DWP believes that applications for some benefits dropped sharply at the start of the pandemic because claimants weren’t able to access support (for example, from third sector organisations) to complete their applications. What are the implications of this for how the Department ensures people are able to access health-related benefits consistently? More funding for third sector organisations so they can help people remotely by phone or video call. Signpost people to places who can help remotely.


a. How can the Department best help the third sector to support claimants in their applications?

More funding for third sector organisations so they can help people remotely by phone or video call.



The impact of assessment/application on claimants


13. DWP recently published research on the impact of applying for PIP or ESA on claimants’ mental and physical health. What would be the best way of addressing this? Introduce a universal income so no one would have to worry about becoming destitute if their assessor doesn't believe them. Stop all the Conservative Government benefit scrounger rhetoric. Stop making benefits harder and harder to get. Stop using targets. Stop moving the goalposts. Treat people with dignity. Many of us would love to work but the fluctuating nature of our conditions combined with a fear of the DWP and horrendous tapers makes that more detrimental rather than beneficial to our health.


Waits for assessments


14. What could the Department to do to shorten waits for health-related benefit assessments—especially for ESA/UC? Lengthen awards. They're far too short in many instances. My depression, anxiety, emotionally unstable personality disorder, fibromyalgia, asthma, autism and ADHD haven't changed in the past 20+ years. There's unlikely to be a change any time soon. Lengthening awards would decrease the wait because fewer people would be reassessed every year.


a. How effectively does the “assessment rate” for ESA cover disabled peoples’ living costs while they wait for an assessment? Is there a case for introducing an assessment rate for other health-related benefits? The ESA assessment rate is better than nothing. An assessment rate for PIP would be fantastic.


Health assessments in the devolved administrations


15. The Scottish Government intends to introduce its own assessment process for the Adult Disability Payment, which will replace PIP in Scotland from 2022. What could DWP learn from the approach of the Scottish Government?

How to treat people with dignity and provide advocacy support.


a. PIP started rolling out in Northern Ireland in 2016. Is there evidence that the Department learned from the experience of rolling out PIP in the rest of the UK?


Policy development


16. How effectively does DWP work with stakeholders—including disabled people—to develop policy and monitor operational concerns about health-related benefits? Very poorly. Complaints get ignored or fobbed off. I've never seen a feedback form for the DWP but I they keep saying that they always get glowing praise on these. I've never seen one. No one I know has seen one either. Who gets them?


a. What steps could the Department take to improve its engagement with stakeholders?

Don't be evil. Treat people with respect and dignity. Believe people. Bring in a universal income.



November 2021