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In the latest embarrassment for the Department for Work and Pensions, academics from Heriot-Watt and Napier Universities have found that the Work Capability Assessment can cause ‘permanent damage to some claimants’ mental health.

The damage caused, according to the report, isn’t temporary. It doesn’t subside, it doesn’t go away. It’s permanent. To quote the report exactly, the WCA causes:

“For many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from.”

This latest indictment come hard on the heels of assessment providers being accused of asking brutal and potentially dangerous questions during assessments of mentally-ill claimants along the lines of ‘Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?’

It also comes shortly before Parliament is due to debate and vote on Government plans to change the rules on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in order to further restrict claimant numbers and, by Tory party Chairman Patrick McLaughlin’s own admission, to cut another £3.7 billion off the welfare budget.

The UN’s report into Britain’s disability welfare reforms had already slammed the Government for what it calls ‘grave or systematic violations’ of disabled people’s human rights. The DWP and Government response has been sneeringly dismissive, DWP boss Damien Green describing the UN findings as “patronising and offensive.”

The UN too found significant problems with the current assessment process. Their report described assessors as showing:

“A lack of awareness and limited knowledge of disability rights and specific needs.”

Hardly surprising. What assessment providers Maximus, ATOS and Capita call ‘medical professionals’ might have no formal qualifications in a claimant’s particular health issues. Nor might they have any specialist knowledge of how a complex medical history involving several interacting conditions might blight a claimant’s life. They are medically-qualified, but a claimant might well not even be assessed by a specialist or even by a GP.

That numerous claimants have taken their own lives is no secret. Many have laid those deaths at the door of welfare reform, the sanctions regime and those who implement it. There have also been innumerable reports of DWP decision-makers deciding claims using assessments seemingly bearing little or almost no relation to the facts of a claimant’s case.

Currently, at least 60% of initial DWP decisions are later overturned on appeal, though not without a now-compulsory ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ from another DWP official, a reconsideration very likely to confirm the original decision, forcing a claimant to take the DWP to an appeal tribunal to get a fair, impartial hearing.

Many claimants have come to dread this process. Anxiety at merely seeing the envelope on the doormat isn’t unusual, nor is fear (far too often well-founded) of spending months fighting a case while debts build, landlords start considering eviction, food runs short and bills go unpaid.

As a disabled claimant currently facing a PIP assessment, I share their concerns. My assessment appointment letter arrived last Thursday, triggering an anxiety attack that lasted all day and well into the night. The next day, after only three hours sleep, I visited my doctor who promptly prescribed Valium.

This isn’t nearly as unusual as it should be. Under the present regime, the outlook for the sick and disabled is only likely to get even worse.

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