Written evidence from the Young Women’s Trust (HAB0109)

 

 

About Young Women’s Trust

 

Young Women’s Trust offers support to young women aged 18 to 30 who are living on low or no pay and want to build a better future. We campaign for economic justice and equality for young women, and our research examines what young women’s lives are really like. Young women are at the centre of the charity’s work: leading, designing and participating.

 

About the response
 

The below responses are based on research conducted for our latest report “One Size Fits No One”[1]. The report explores young women’s experiences of navigating inadequate employment opportunities and the benefits system.

 

Using a Peer Researcher model[2], our Peer Researchers carried out 23 semi-structured telephone interviews with young women in England and Wales who had recent (within the last two years) experience of unemployment, underemployment and/or claiming benefits. We also commissioned a survey of 1,012 young women in England and Wales with current experience of unemployment, underemployment and/or claiming benefits. The findings from this recent research form the basis of this response. 

 

Only five questions have been answered as they were identified as the most relevant to our work here at Young Women’s Trust. However, if you would like any further information or if the Committee would like to hear directly from young women about their experiences of health assessments please do not hesitate to contact

 

Summary of recommendations

 

 

Suitability of assessments

7a. What could DWP change earlier in the process to ensure that fewer cases go to appeal?

The latest research report from Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, highlighted young women’s experiences of accessing the benefits system.

29% of young women who completed our survey, and who are unable to work due to an illness or disability, told us that they had to appeal a decision they did not agree with. This is compared to 14% of respondents overall.

Young women told us that the process is discriminatory and inaccessible, especially for those with intersectional experiences.

39% of young women in receipt of benefits have experienced discrimination whilst claiming benefits[3].

1 in 5 young women who took part in our latest research, who are unable to work due to long term illness or disability, have experienced discrimination whilst claiming benefits as a result of their physical health condition or disability[4].

One young woman detailed how people make assumptions about her. This includes the assumption that she is “being lazy and if [she] wanted to, [she] could do it.” The young woman went on to say, “so there’s a lack of belief about my personal situation, I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman. I don’t know if it’s because it’s to do with my mental health. I don’t know if it’s because I’m young. People don’t tell me why. They just don’t seem to believe me.”[5]

Another young woman who has a disability had a similar experience about assumptions being made about her. She said “I have had to challenge the assumption, because I’ve been to face to face meetings where they said, ‘well, you said you could do this’ and I was like yeah, you know you’re not seeing it when you’re not there. I do have spasms and I do have all of these other things that I have to deal with.”

Discrimination and assumptions made about claimants lock them out from the support that they need.

A third of young women don’t think that the benefits system takes into account their individual circumstances[6]. There was a strong sense from the young women we spoke to that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to benefits compounds existing inequalities and makes it particularly difficult for young women with intersecting experiences of minoritised identities, mental or physical health difficulties, neurodiversity or caring responsibilities to maintain a comfortable standard of living.

One size does not fit all. Young Women’s Trust therefore recommends amendments to the assessment process so that individual circumstances are accounted for in the first instance. This will allow young women to demonstrate their circumstances and needs in a way that truly reflects their experiences. In order to tackle discrimination and assumptions being made about claimants, Young Women’s Trust recommends unconscious bias training for assessors.

Young Women’s Trust is also concerned about the cases that don’t go to appeal. Based on what young women told us, they felt that the process of appeal is long and difficult, particularly when they have already been through a similar process. Many young women told us that they gave up on their application because the process of appeal was too difficult and stressful for them.

One young woman told us, “I tried to appeal. But the process was so long and difficult that it in the end, I ended up not going through with it and just waiting until my next review came up to do it all.” She went on to say that she scraped by with barely enough money to live on.[7] 

Another young woman went on to say that the appeal process requires claimants to “essentially perform their disability for strangers”.

As detailed below, young women value the support from third party charities and organisations to help them through the application, claim and appeal process.

Young Women’s Trust therefore recommends further support for claimants who have had their claim rejected or have not received the amount they feel they are entitled to. This support should include a clear explanation of why their claim was unsuccessful, clear information about the appeals process and guidance through the appeals process. The accessibility of the appeals process for claimants should be considered, particularly for those with mental and physical disabilities and neurodiversities.

 

 

The impact of the pandemic

  1. What lessons should the Department learn from the way that it handled claims for health-related benefited claims during the pandemic: for example, relying to a greater extent on paper-based assessments, or using remote/telephone assessments?
  1. Is there a case for making some of the changes permanent?

 

Young women have described to us the process of claiming and receiving benefits as ‘invasive’ and ‘disempowering’, which led to a reduction in their levels of confidence and self-belief[8].

 

For our latest research report, One Size Fits No One, young women were not specifically asked about changes made during the pandemic. However, in some of their answers they reflected on paper-based assessments and in-person appointments, which we highlight below.

 

Young women told us that paper-based assessments are overwhelming and difficult to complete.

 

One young woman explained how the 40-50 page document, which asks about how you go to the toilet and manage your personal care, was ‘mentally taxing’. She went on to say, “It’s really debilitating mentally because those pages and paperwork in itself is just tiring to fill out, let alone the content you have to talk about.” The same young woman says she felt like she was having to constantly prove the disability she has had since birth.

 

One young woman described the barriers she faced with paper-based assessments, including gathering medical evidence, figuring out what documents needed photocopying, making the photocopies and then sending it off. She said that she wasn’t able to do this by herself. In a later answer we talk about third-party advocates supporting young women with their application.

 

One young woman described PIP as “a really horrific system”, due to how difficult it was to access[9].

 

Young women face similar problems for in-person appointments. Young women told us that attending their work coach appointment in person at the Job Centre was frequently experienced as rigid and problematic. It made the service particularly inaccessible for those who had physical health difficulties or disabilities or lived in rural areas with limited access to transport[10].

 

Over a third (34%) of neurodiverse young women who took part in our recent survey told us that they had difficulties attending or keeping planned appointments, compared to 18% of young women overall[11].

 

Similar to our answer to 7a, many young women felt that the Job Centre had treated them with suspicion and was accusatory or had denied them benefits they felt confident they were eligible for. This was exemplified through the sanctions they were given for missing appointments, which in some instances were given even though a physical or mental health problem had made the young women unable to attend. This hostile relationship at times led to feelings of distrust and created negative experiences, which for some young women was off-putting enough to avoid applying or reapplying for benefits when they were needed[12].

 

One young woman said, “I think there needs to be a person that you can see face to face that will go with you to appointments, as well as [offer support] over the phone and online services. So that there’s something for everyone.”

 

Young Women’s Trust agrees with this sentiment. What works for one claimant may not work for another.

 

We therefore recommend introducing flexibility to the application process and asking claimants how they would prefer to go through the process i.e. over the phone, in person, paper-based or in another way. This will ensure that claimants have options to choose the process that suits them and their circumstances the best. For example, whilst remote or telephone assessments may be beneficial for some, making it the only option for claiming benefits solves one barrier by creating another for people who do not have access to remote devices and data.
 

 

  1. 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?

 

Young women told us how important third parties are in helping them access benefits. This is due to the perception that there are a set of words or phrases that applicants need to use for their claim to be successful. This is yet another hoop that young women have to jump through, and is a huge barrier for those who don’t know what words and phrases need to be used in a successful application, or who don’t have access to third-party support. Young women told us that their application was repeatedly rejected until they sought third-party advice.

 

One young woman said, “because there’s a certain way you have to speak in a form for you to be accepted as being entitled to receive benefits. […] And then having to go through an advocate, again, to write for you a mandatory reconsideration letter.”

 

One young woman similarly said that she had found a “cheat sheet online […] telling you what words to use that they recognise.”

 

One young woman who says she has a visible disability said, “I’ve had to have an advocate to really push to get an award in recent years.” She went on to say, “I don’t feel as supported as I would like. […] they get surprised that actually I’m quite advanced, and they don’t know how to help me. It’s almost like I’m not disabled enough, for all those specialist services. And then I’m not able enough for the everyday employer.”

 

The Department should do all it can to remove these unnecessary barriers, like the approved words and phrases claimants need to use in order to be successful, to ensure that young women aren’t locked out of the financial support that they need.

 

 

The impact of assessment/application on claimants

  1. 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?

 

People applying for PIP or ESA may already experience poor mental and physical health. 79% of young women who are unable to work due to long term illness or disability told us that their mental health was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. This high level of ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental health makes it even more important to make the application, claims and appeal process more supportive and accessible.

 

Yet, only 29% of the young women we surveyed for our recent One Size Fits No One report think that the benefits system is easy to navigate[13]

 

Most of the young women who took part in our research told us that the benefits system was complex, challenging and confusing. The stress related to accessing the system impacted young women’s mental and physical health.

 

The five most common challenges experienced by young women accessing benefits are:

1)      Delays in receiving payments (23%)

2)      Not understanding the application process (22%)

3)      Difficulties attending or keeping planned appointments (18%)

4)      Having benefits stopped or reduced without warning (17%)

5)      Receiving incorrect payments (15%)[14]

 

Young Women’s Trust believes that improving communication between the Department and applicants would help with anxiety and uncertainty around an application. The communication should be clear, concise, and accessible.

 

Payments should be received on time and any changes must be clearly communicated to the recipient, explaining why the change has been made.

 

Unnecessary barriers, like certain words and phrases needing to be used, should be removed as this prevents applicants from accessing the support that they need and are entitled to.

 

As previously detailed, claimants should be treated as individuals, rather than homogenous groups, as this would allow for individual circumstances to be considered. This would help young women feel seen and heard.

 

Young women living with family and partners also spoke about the pressure they felt due to their entitlement being based on their household income. Young women felt that there is an assumption that family and partners will be able to financially support them. In some instances, this meant young women lost their independence and in some cases stayed in relationships they did not want to be in[15].

 

Young Women’s Trust supports the call of Women’s Budget Group that a “better social security system should be… based on individual entitlement as far as possible, so as to foster economic autonomy for individuals and make financial abuse more difficult to perpetrate. Individual interest may not coincide with a family or household and therefore individual access to income also matters.”[16]

 

 

Policy development

16a. What steps could the Department take to improve its engagement with stakeholders?

 

Young Women’s Trust calls on the Government to work with us to set up a Young Women and Work Committee to explore the barriers that young women face when accessing employment and the benefits system. This means that young women will be able to share their own experiences and recommendations with policy makers to improve the services that they use.

 

Young women are clear that the current systems do not work for them. One size fits no one and young women want to be and should be part of the process of that change.

 

 

January 2022

 

 


[1] One-size-fits-no-one-Young-Womens-Trust-report.pdf (youngwomenstrust.org)

[2] Read more about Young Women’s Trust’s Peer Research Model on page 10 of One Size Fits No One.

[3] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 31

[4] Ibid

[5] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 43

[6] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 31

[7] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 33

[8] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 36

[9] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 34

[10] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 32

[11] Ibid

[12] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 33

[13] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 28

[14] Ibid

[15] Young Women’s Trust, One Size Fits No One, Page 25

[16] Women’s Budget Group briefing on Social Security: Social-security_-Autumn-2021-pre-Budget-Briefing-1-1.pdf (wbg.org.uk)