Pathetic government causes laughter and pity, it’s time to go

Sitting here alongside Lisa, in our home in southern Spain, I watch the political shenanigans in the UK over Brexit with both amusement and pity.

Amusement, because of the knots into which politicians contrive to tie themselves, and pity for residents of the UK who deserve a government that is fit for purpose. Unfortunately, events show that it isn’t.

And that goes much deeper than issues surrounding Europe. Those of us who have disabilities are well aware of this government’s shortcomings.

The latest wheeze of its Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to introduce what are referred to as ‘text box tribunals’.

The idea behind it, supposedly, is to make life easier for claimants. Documents available online and use of video-conferencing for benefit appeals would, in theory at least, save claimants from the need to make long trips.

In reality, however, it is about cutting costs, and providing another obstacle for claimants to navigate before reaching an oral hearing.

Steve Donnison, director of Benefits and Work Ltd, explains: “Under the new Continuous Online Resolution (COR) system, soon to be piloted, most PIP (Personal Independence Payment) and ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claimants who appeal a decision will have their case looked at by an online tribunal panel.

How online panels will operate

“The panel will review all the documents relating to the appeal and will then ask the claimant any further questions they think may be relevant. The claimant is given a deadline to respond to these questions. They do this by typing directly into text boxes in their Tribunals Service account dashboard.

“Once the text box tribunal has all the information it thinks it needs, it gives the claimant its decision.”

Claimants who do not agree with that decision, will still have the right to have their case heard at an oral hearing.

Donnison continues: “The new system will not allow the (online) panel to ask nearly as many questions as they would at an oral hearing.

“It will also not give the panel the chance to meet the claimant and form an opinion about their reliability as a witness. In the vast majority of oral hearings, panels have a high opinion of the claimant’s credibility.

“The success rate for paper hearings is dramatically lower than for oral hearings. Text box tribunal results will almost certainly fall somewhere in the middle.”

That would mean many thousands of claimants will have to endure a claim, a mandatory reconsideration and a text box tribunal before they can get to an oral appeal.

The appeal process was long enough already – now this “easier” online tribunal is just an extra step in the disgustingly long-drawn-out ordeal process.

I fear that not many claimants will manage to cope with it. At least that will be good news for the DWP and the Tribunals Service – just not so good for the rest of us.

This government is incapable of managing anything. Whether it is Brexit, disability benefits, or Universal Credit (don’t get me started), just to name a few,. There is chaos and pandemonium. The government is unable to govern. It is time for Theresa May and her pathetic cohorts to go.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Ian is not a doctor, so cannot and does not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely his own unless otherwise stated.

Government minister’s welfare benefits statements prove economical with the truth

Sarah Newton, one of two ministers of state at the department for work and pensions (DWP), was in the centre of a heated debate in the House of Commons, this week.

The Canary, a website dedicated to independent campaigning journalism, reported that she made some staggering claims. It went on to question how many of them were true. Those of us with disabilities, resulting from MS and other causes, know that the answer will be ‘very few´.

The debate was about a report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

newton

Sarah Newton MP.

In the debate, Labour accused Newton and the government of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to ‘endlessly mistreat’ them, and of creating a “national scandal”.

Newton dismissed Labour’s assertions. She said: “Let’s actually deal with the facts of the situation, and stop this really quite irresponsible talk that we hear in the chamber today…”

But, it seems that Newton and “the facts” don’t go hand in hand. No surprise that DWP politicians are always ready to brush unpleasant, but genuine, facts under the carpet. They are past masters of spouting their own version of the “truth”.

The Canary went through her comments and fact-checked them. Of course, it found that Newton statements were, to put it politely, economical with the truth.

Time to check the genuine facts

So, let’s look at the real truth!

CLAIM: Newton: “I utterly refute the allegations that have been made today: that we are discriminating against disabled people; that we are systematically undermining and violating their human rights, or worst of all that we are targeting their… welfare support…”

FACT: The High Court ruled in December 2017 that aspects of the Personal Independence Payment rules were “blatantly discriminatory”. It then ruled again on June 14 that aspects of Universal Credit’s implementation had been ‘discriminatory’.

Additionally, a tribunal found the DWP had discriminated against one of its own workers, who was disabled, awarding him £26,000 in damages.

The Canary also pointed out that besides the UNCRPD, the UK government has been accused of breaking international treaties and violating disabled people’s rights by the UN Human Rigth Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Affairs and the European Committee of Social Rights (part of the Council of Europe).

Meanwhile, the UNCRPD report said government policies had become “life-threatening to many disabled people”.

CLAIM: Newton said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not take on board… the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.

FACT: The UNCRPD report was overarching in the evidence it took on board. However, it condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements”.

Equality Act fails disabled people

CLAIM: Newton said:I want to reassure everyone that we have very strong legislation… on our statute book to protect disabled people – that’s through the public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010…”

FACT: Just one example of the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 failing disabled people is the UK rail network. Disabled people’s organisations, trade unions, and commuter groups have argued that the train operator’s policies breach the act. Their claims have been largely ignored.

Newton then had to answer a question from Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions, Debbie Abrahams. Abrahams asked why the government had not done a cumulative impact assessment of all welfare reforms.

CLAIM: Newton said: “We do undertake a cumulative assessment of reforms, each fiscal event. This is because we want to be as transparent as possible regarding the cumulative distributional impacts of government policies, including welfare reforms, tax changes – direct and indirect – and public spending changes.”

FACT: This is not the same as doing an impact assessment of the combined effect of every cut, reform, and change on disabled people. The government is merely giving itself individual snapshots.

Poverty level  figures not all they seem

CLAIM: Newton said that the proportion of people in a family where someone is disabled… in relative poverty has not risen since 2010.

And that the proportion of people in a family where someone is disabled, who are in absolute poverty, is at a record low…

FACT: The government admits that changes it made around 2011, to how disabled people are identified, could affect poverty measures. Also, the government does not include in its poverty figures the average additional £570 a month costs disabled people face because of their impairments. Moreover, the government’s measure for absolute poverty is different to that of the UN, and different again to a measure the House of Commons Library used in a briefing paper.

Newton’s claim of no rise in poverty is even different to the DWP’s own figures, which show the number of disabled people in relative poverty has risen since 2010 [source: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation].

CLAIM: Newton said: “These allegations, that we are driving people to the food banks and forcing people into destitution, is simply an irresponsible statement.

FACT: The government’s National Audit Office says Universal Credit is driving people to food banks and throwing them into rent arrears.

CLAIM: Newton said: “We’re spending over £50bn a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions.”

FACT: The amount the government spends on disability benefits is actually £39bn. Full Fact says the £50bn figure is from 2012, and includes adult social care, free travel, and home adaptations

UK actually fifth in G7, not second

CLAIM: Newton said that the £50bn was: “up by £7bn since 2010, and it’s around 2.5% of GDP – over 6% of the government’s spending. Now as a share of our GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is the second highest in the G7…”

FACT: This is a selective use of statistics, as it also includes some NHS spending. The Office for National Statistics reported on EU “social protection” figures. The UK actually spends less than Norway, Germany, Spain and France on disability benefits.

CLAIM: Newton said: “There is no freeze on the benefits that people with disabilities have received…”

FACT: Tax-free disability benefits like the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) have been rising. But the “work-related activity” part of Employment and Support Allowance has been frozen since 2015. 391,000 people, many of them sick and disabled, are in this group.

CLAIM: In closing Newton summed up by accusing Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) of fearmongering and not dealing in facts.

She said: Who’s going to suffer? Who’s going to suffer from what… we’ve been hearing from the opposition today?

FACT: It is going to be disabled people and their families, who are going to be frightened – frightened to come forward and get the benefits that are there for them; frightened to come forward and get the support that’s available to them.

The Canary said: “Newton either displayed staggering delusional behaviour or wilful ignorance.” I agree but would describe both as shameful. Worse, the same descriptions can be applied equally to the government as a whole.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, The Canary says it contacted the DWP for comment but received no response by the time of publication.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Benefits department accused of deliberately misleading select committee and GPs

Shock? Horror? No, not really. A government department is misleading people, including an official committee and doctors.

No surprise there, as far as I am concerned, the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions has a hit and miss attitude to honesty. It may not ‘lie’ but is certainly happy to ‘mislead’.

Again and again, the DWP has defended criticism of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessment systems. That’s fine, it is entitled to do that, as long as it does so truthfully and honestly. But it is misleading to claim that more than 90% of claimants are happy with their experience.

misleading

Photo: The Independent

This claim even deceived the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. While the committee criticised PIP assessments, its members were taken in by the DWP’s figures. The committee said it accepted that ‘The PIP and ESA assessment processes function satisfactorily for the majority of claimants’.

Now, though, the campaigning organisation Benefits and Work has revealed that PIP feedback is based on around 1% of claimants being asked just one single question: “How satisfied were you with your overall experience with Capita / Independent Assessment Service’.”

On its website, it says: “In most cases the claimant is phoned by a Capita or Atos (IAS) employee and asked this question. Occasionally they are written to instead.”

This way of gathering customer feedback is flawed. Those asked for their opinion know that it is not given anonymously. Additionally, they could feel that a critical response may affect assessments of their claims.

No questions asked about accuracy

misleadingWhile a question is asked their ‘overall experience’, there are no questions about the accuracy of the assessment report or whether any additional evidence was considered. I find that strange, if not downright peculiar, because those are the areas about which most claimants’ criticisms are levelled.

Not content with misleading a parliamentary committee, the DWP is misleading general practitioners (GPs) into not issuing sick notes to ESA claimants appealing a decision.

Benefits and Work says:

Claimants who challenge a fit for work decision cannot claim ESA during the mandatory reconsideration stage. They may be able to claim JSA, but many claimants don’t for fear of sanctions.

However, if the mandatory reconsideration is unsuccessful, claimants can then lodge an appeal and reclaim ESA whilst waiting for their case to be heard.

But the DWP has changed the letters that it sends out to GPs when a claimant is found fit for work. The letters tell the GP not to issue any more sick notes and no longer say they can do so if the claimant appeals the decision.

The result, as legal advice charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust discovered, is claimants going hungry because they have no money for food. Claimants may also have to change to a new GP practice to try to find a doctor who will issue them with a sick note.

The DWP has offered no explanation whatsoever for the change in the wording of the letter, except that it was altered as a result of a ‘ministerial requirement’.

That it is a ministerial requirement that claimants be caused as much suffering as possible, regardless of the law, will probably come as no surprise to our readers.

I must say, I agree. How can any government department set out to deliberately mislead and ultimately deceive? It is disgusting and needs to stop now.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Have benefits assessors intimidated claimants? Tell your story

Questions are being asked about the behaviour of private sector assessors, following an allegation of intimidation. The suggestion is that a claimant was scared into giving positive feedback after a face-to-face assessment. And, if there was one, how likely is it that there are more?

This casts doubt on the honesty of statistics presented to the House of Commons Select Committee on work and pensions. The committee was conducting an inquiry into Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments.

These statistics were presented by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). They purport to show that Atos, Capita and Maximus “consistently exceed” their customer satisfaction targets of 90% for PIP and 91% for ESA.

MPs on the committee have been very scathing of PIP and ESA assessments but believe the system functions ‘satisfactorily for the majority of claimants’. This belief is based on those statistics.

Appeal for evidence

assevssmentsNow, though, the member-based campaigning organization Benefits and Work is set to investigate the situation.

On its website, benefitsandwork.co.uk, it highlighted the issue. It said:

One member contacted us to describe how they had been asked to complete a feedback form by the face-to-face assessor in a way that we can only describe as intimidatory:

“She leaned over the front of my buggy so that she could see what I was writing and my signature. She hadn’t yet processed my report so I was a very good girl and gave the nice lady the top score!”

Benefits and Work would very much like to know whether you were asked for feedback after your PIP or ESA assessment – we suspect most people aren’t.

And, if you were, was it done in such a way that you were fearful that your assessor might exact revenge if you wrote anything critical?

Select Committee

In its report, the select committee had stated:

People tend only to make representations about their experiences to MPs or select committees when they are in difficulty or have had a poor experience with a public service. It is therefore unsurprising that the vast majority of submissions we received were critical of the assessment process. We did, however, receive a few positive responses:

  • I was very pleased with the service I received. The process was a lot quicker than I thought it would be, which pleasantly surprised me. I was more than happy with the assessor, she was to the point but did what she needed to do. I don’t have any complaints. Beckey
  • I thought my PIP assessment was carried out sensitively, with proper appreciation of my circumstances. I was happy with the result. Everyone I dealt with, both by telephone and at the assessment centre, was aware of how frightening the process could be and did all they could to counter that. I was very happy with the way I was treated and thought the process was properly fair and objective. Nick
  • I was rather nervous when I had to apply for PIP. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the assessment would take place at my house. My assessor had worked in neurological healthcare and understood my condition. He was very easy to talk to and spent four hours interviewing me. When I received the result, I was very pleased to see that I would be able to retain my Motability car. Until I saw the letter I hadn’t realised how worried I’d been – I felt an enormous weight lift from my shoulders, and burst into tears of relief. Name withheld

Explanation needed – if allegation true

I await the outcome pf the Benefits and Work investigation with considerable interest. If a large number of claimants report being intimidated into giving positive feedback, the assessment companies must explain.

Clearly, such intimidation is just not good enough. We deserve better.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Officials must report their success or failure to prevent tribunal awards

Government officials who attend benefit appeal tribunals seem to be judged by how well they do. Success is when they prevent high-level awards to disabled people.

This affects appeals for both personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA). These are benefits claimed by many with disabilities such as those caused, as in my case, by multiple sclerosis.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) information shows that the officials, presenting officers (PO), must report back to their bosses.

They must say whether they persuaded tribunals not to grant enhanced PIP awards. They also required to report if they persuaded tribunals not to award claimants eligibility for the ESA support group.

Indeed, each PIP PO’s report has to include an answer to: “PO impact – was enhanced PIP award averted?”, or for ESA: “PO impact – Was SG award averted?”

tribunalsThe facts were released, reluctantly, in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the Disability News Service (DNS), last September.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, described DWP’s admission as “truly appalling”. And that probably echoes the mildest reaction that I could give. Does it mean that the POs are rewarded for success in tribunals? We deserve to know.

A civil servant inside DWP told  DNS: “With (the) government trying to subvert justice by restricting enhanced payments, then it is something I must try and highlight and fight.”

He said this attempt to restrict enhanced payments was placing an “immoral pressure” on POs.

De Cordova said: “The idea that the ‘impact’ of DWP staff is being assessed on whether they managed to get ESA support group or enhanced PIP awards ‘averted’ is truly appalling.

“Presenting officers are supposed to be there to provide fair and balanced evidence of a claimant’s needs.

End to privatized assessments?

“In May last year, freedom of information requests revealed that the DWP was setting targets to reject 80% of social security appeals at mandatory reconsideration. They clearly haven’t changed their approach.”

She added: “The whole system is broken: from assessments where, for example, only 8% of claimants think assessors understood their mental health, through to appeals where judges are overturning over 67% of initial ESA and PIP decisions.

“Labour will scrap the current PIP and ESA assessments, bringing an end to the Conservatives’ failed, privatised assessment system.

“Instead of enforcing a culture of distrust and cost-cutting, we will work with disabled people to ensure that they have personalised, holistic support to live full and independent lives.”

Disability campaigner John Slater said: “Surely the only concern for POs or any civil servant within the DWP is that a claimant gets the social security benefits they are entitled to, paid at the appropriate rate for their specific circumstances.

“People’s behaviour changes to meet the targets/measures that they believe they are being monitored against.

“If POs specifically have to report about enhanced PIP or ESA support group being awarded, then any reasonable person must conclude that the DWP sees it as their job to stop that happening.

Interestingly, according to DNS, information published by DWP states that the role of a PO is both:

·        to present the department’s case,

·        to “draw the [first tier tribunal’s] attention to new points in the appellant’s favour”.

“Instead of providing balanced information that is fair to the claimant, the department’s freedom of information response appears to show that POs are being told to prevent as many enhanced awards as they can for PIP and ESA,” it says.2

DWP: PO is not there to prevent an award

tribunals

Photo: The Independent

A DWP statement said: “The role of the presenting officer (PO) is to present at first tier tribunal (FtT) hearings and support the FtT in making the right decision.

“At the tribunal the PO is able to set out why the department has reached the decision it has based on the evidence supplied to date.

“Frequently more evidence is supplied on the day of the tribunal, and by having a PO in attendance the department is able to consider this new evidence alongside the tribunal and, if appropriate, change the original decision.

“A PO is not there to prevent an award being changed, but to ensure that the award is correct.”

Yeah, right. We all believe that, don’t we?

The statement continued: “For example, judges have recently commented on the improved appeal responses, which are more personalised and better focused on areas such as mobilising descriptors.

“We have improved our feedback processes and in many cases our POs have actively supported people to increase their awards when further evidence is presented at tribunals. This includes applying new descriptors in favour of the claimant.

“At a recent tribunal, a PO was able to point out that case law had changed in the favour of the claimant, and this resulted in the judge and PO jointly agreeing on an increased award.

“This demonstrates our commitment to law and instructions whilst understanding the complex needs of some of our customers.

“In addition to making sure the right entitlement of benefit is awarded, the PO is also able to provide valuable feedback on why a decision may have changed.

“This is fed back to decision makers and forms part of any improvements we can make to our processes.”

Latest news

DNS has submitted a fresh freedom of information request to DWP. It asks whether the number of enhanced and support group awards that POs prevent at tribunals affects bonuses they receive. Good question!

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Amazing! People with disabilities do not trust benefit claims assessments

Who’d have thought it? People with disabilities have a pervasive lack of trust in the method of assessing welfare benefit claims, say MPs.

Assessments produced by companies were ‘riddled with errors and omissions’, says the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. Those companies are contractors Atos, Capita, and Maximus.

That’s just what campaigners and commentators have said, over and over again. We don’t trust them.

A stark figure considered by the committee is that, since 2013, 290,000 rejected claims for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been granted on appeal.

The cross-party committee noted that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent hundreds of millions defending decisions. Decisions which had been made on the basis of reports by private contractors.

In its report PIP and ESA Assessments, the committee said quality targets set for the companies had been ‘universally missed’. Further, it recommended that ministers should consider taking the process back in-house and not renew contracts in 2019 and 2020.

The committee says it received an ‘unprecedented’ number of responses from PIP and ESA claimants.  Nearly 4,000 people gave ‘shocking and moving, credible and consistent’ accounts of the failings of the system.

No trust in assessors

Surprise, surprise! The recurrent complaint was that they did not trust the companies’ non-specialist assessors to note evidence of their conditions accurately.

Other findings included:

·        Assessors were viewed as ‘at best lacking in competence and at worst actively deceitful’, while many claimants reported experiencing ‘a great deal of anxiety and other deleterious health impacts’.

·        One claimant was said in her assessment report to walk her dog, despite not owning one and being barely able to walk at all.

·        Another, who remained in bed throughout her interview at home, was reported to have risen from a chair ‘without any difficulty’ even though the only chair in the room was the one the assessor was sitting in.

not trusted

Frank Field MP.

Committee chairman Frank Field said system shortcomings cause “untenable human costs to claimants and financial costs to the public purse”.

He said: “No-one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.”

The report says face-to-face assessments should be recorded, and a copy sent to the claimant along with the assessor’s report. Claimants should not just receive notification of the DWP’s decision which they currently receive.

Mr Field said it “beggars belief” that assessments are not already routinely recorded. It was “bewildering” that the DWP had resisted this step.

He added: “The current contracts have not made the system fairer, have not made it more transparent and have not made it more efficient. The existing contractors have consistently failed to meet basic performance standards. The Government should be prepared to take assessments in-house.”

Whether a more fundamental overhaul of welfare support for disabled people is required “remains open”, the committee said.

Respect and dignity

A DWP spokesman said: “As the Work and Pensions Select Committee highlights, assessments work for the majority of people.

“However, our aim has to be that every person feels they are treated fairly, with respect and dignity.”

The spokesman said DWP had already accepted more than 100 recommendations from five independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment and commissioned two independent reviews of PIP assessments.

All three assessment companies agreed to comment.

A Capita spokesman said: “We remain firmly committed to delivering a high-quality service for people applying for PIP, and fully recognise the importance and sensitivity of our role in providing assessments. All of our qualified healthcare professionals are fully trained and are dedicated to delivering professional and empathetic assessments for all claimants.”

A spokesman for the Maximus-operated Centre for Health and Disability Assessments said: “Since we took over the contract in March 2015, we have set out to improve the experience at every stage for those attending assessments.

“We have delivered year-on-year improvements across the service, hiring more medical professionals, halving the time people spend in the assessment process and hitting the large majority of quality targets.

“In January 2018, we achieved all of our quality standards. We take the findings of this report very seriously and remain fully committed to making further improvements.”

A spokesman for Independent Assessment Services – formerly known as Atos Healthcare – said: “We are extremely conscious of the important role we perform within the claimant process, which is why our focus has consistently been on providing a professional and compassionate assessment service.

“We have also looked at continually improving by listening to claimant feedback, which has led to a number of improvements.”

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * *

50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Universal credit benefit reform does not make anticipated savings

Universal credit (UC) is not going to give the UK government its much-desired savings in benefit costs, according to an official report.

An Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) report says that UC will save the government less than 2% of what it would have spent on benefits if UC had not been introduced.

OBR expects universal credit to save the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) just £1 billion by the time it is fully rolled-out. This compares poorly with the £63.2 billion that the benefits replaced by UC would have cost.

universal creditSo, what are the figures involved? Well, the saving in benefits paid out is estimated to be £10.7 billion, but that is not the entire story. The report says additional costs of UC will be a full £9.6 billion.

To me, that means that millions have been been stolen out of the hands of claimants. Instead, they are being used, partially at least, to line the corporate pockets of outside contractors. Disgusting, but I have ceased to be surprised by the actions of this government.

In particular, OBR says low income self-employed claimants will be the hardest hit by UC.

The report goes on to say, rather worryingly; “work coaches in UC have considerably more discretion in the conditions they can impose on both in-work and out-of-work claimants and in the sanctions that they can impose for failure to meet those conditions.”

Universal credit history repeated

As if existing sanctions are not hated enough, it seems UC claimants seem fated to face worse conditions and sanctions.

I was one of the recipients of incapacity benefit(IB) who successfully completed the move to employment and support allowance support group. Many IB claimants were not so fortunate but the government’s aim of slashing benefit costs failed dismally. All it did was to hurt the lives of many thousands of claimants.

Now we see history being repeated with ministers trying to use UC to replace six means-tested benefits. These are income-based jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, working tax credit, child tax credit, income-based employment and support allowance, and income support.

At the same time, the gradual introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) to replace disability living allowance (DLA) continues to terrorise those still receiving DLA-

Campaigning and information website benefitsandwork.co.uk says: “It seems clear that an enormous amount of hardship and fear is being caused by yet another failed ‘reform’ to the benefits system in the transfer to UC.

“Will successive governments ever learn from their mistakes?”

Regretfully, it appears not.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.