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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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.

May uncaring,  Green self-interested, Crabb disgraced

As the dust begins to settle after the shock referendum result in the UK that says that Britain should leave the European Union, how do those with disabilities stand?

Well, in the medium-term, the country will still be in the EU until two years after clause 50 is triggered and that looks set to not happen until the end of the year. And that means we remain protected by European laws relating to the treatment and employment of disabled people.

In the short-term, however, there may be some difficulties ahead.

PM Theresa May: Uncaring.

PM Theresa May: Uncaring.

Both Theresa May, the new prime minister, and Damien Green, the third work and pensions secretary this year, have records of voting to reduce spending on welfare benefits as well as other so-called reforms aimed at saving government money – irrespective of the likely effect to the disabled and vulnerable

In May’s case, that is despite having her vicar father in a wheelchair when she was about eight years old and her mother living with multiple sclerosis.

Both her parents died within a year of each other when Theresa was in her mid-20s. Any hope that such experiences in her early years might have engendered some compassion seem, however, to be sadly misplaced. She is just another uncaring politician.

Damien Green: Self-interest.

Damien Green: Self-interest.

Green has never rebelled and has always voted the way the government demanded, showing he has a distinct disinterest in serving the people, just his party. And, from that faithful obedience, he has also served his self-interest well, leading to this cabinet appointment.

Stephen Crabb’s high-flying political career seems to have crashed and burned, at least temporarily. This was the guy plucked from his role as parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Welsh Office to take over as Welsh Secretary on July 15, 2014. He was then promoted to work and pensions secretary on March 19 this year, following the dramatic resignation of Iain Duncan Smith.

Then, following David Cameron’s decision on June 24 to stand down, he declared himself as a candidate for leader of the Conservative party but dropped out of the race after finishing fourth of five in the first round of voting.

Stephen Crabb: Disgraced.

Stephen Crabb: Disgraced.

This week, Crabb withdrew from consideration as a government minister after a newspaper exposed him for sexting, or sending sex text messages. In his letter to Mrs May, he said he was standing down “in the best interests of his family”.

He was disgraced and his career was significantly damaged after The Times alleged that he had been sending sexually explicit messages to the WhatsApp messaging service.

According to the newspaper, Crabb, 43, a Christian and a married father of two, had a series of flirtatious and sexually charged exchanges with a young woman during the run-up to the EU referendum. In a late-night exchange last month, he is alleged to have told her that he wanted to kiss her “everywhere”.

In this blog on July 1, I said that Crabb was unfit to head the work and pensions department, let alone the entire government. Now I have to question his suitability for any public office, including that of a back-bench MP.

 

 

 

‘No further plans to cut benefits’ pledge lasts 51 days

Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb discloses his plans to the select committee.

Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb discloses his plans to the select committee.

Declaration of interest: I have multiple sclerosis and receive both ESA (in the support group) and Disabled Living Allowance (both care and mobility components at the highest rates).

 

Sneaky, very sneaky and possibly even underhanded, is the only way I can describe how the UK’s work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb decided to reveal the government’s latest intentions to make further cuts to disability benefits.

Instead of making a statement in the House of Commons, he chose to disclose the proposals in an almost throwaway and casual style before the work and pensions committee select committee.

He told the committee that he wanted to go further than the controversial and much-criticised £12 billion welfare cuts set out in the 2015 Conservative manifesto and to ‘re-frame discussion’ around disability welfare reform.

And this, let me refresh your memory, from the same man who, after replacing Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary, announced the dumping of proposed changes to the Personal Independence Payment and said that the government had no plans to make further welfare cuts.

At the time, I warned that we should not be taken in by his ‘weasel words’.

This week Mr Crabb told the committee that he intended to set out a green paper later this year to propose further changes to disability benefits.

He explained that the measures that have either already been legislated for or announced add up to the planned £12 billion of welfare cuts but added: “Does that mean welfare reform comes to an end? I would say ‘no’. I’ve already pointed to what I see as one of the big challenges of welfare reform – and that’s around work and health.”

Mr Crabb told MPs on Work and Pensions Select Committee that he would deploy ‘smart strategies’ for cutting expenditure on disability and sickness benefits and would hopefully be able to secure the support of disability charities.

He said: “In terms of how you make progress of welfare reform there when you are talking about people who are very vulnerable, people with multiple barriers, challenges, sicknesses, disabilities – I am pretty clear in my mind that you can’t just set targets for cutting welfare expenditure,” he said.

“When you’re talking about those cohorts of people you’ve actually got to come up with some pretty smart strategies for doing it which carry the support and permission of those people and organisations who represent those people who we are talking about.

“This is why there’ll be further information in due course about this. I want to produce a green paper later this year which starts to re-frame discussion around this set of issues.”

Criticism to Crabb’s latest plans have been voiced by many including campaigning blogger Mike Sivier. Writing on Vox Political Online, he said: “He (Crabb) means he wants to cut funding to the vulnerable and make it more likely they will die, the same as Iain Duncan Smith always meant.

“This is a war of attrition; the Tories have already killed off a great many sick and disabled people and hidden the facts, in the opinion of this writer. That means there are fewer left to resist what may clearly be seen as a genocide.

“That’s why fighting these cuts is so vital. Stephen Crabb must not be allowed to think his murderous plan (whatever it is) will be easy to enact.”

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith has called on the government to dump the ESA cuts that have already been passed. He said: “The flimsy case for the cuts to Employment Support Allowance is now totally blown apart by this broken promise (that no further cuts were planned) and the Tories must listen to Labour’s calls for them to be reversed.”