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Following a litany of errors by the private companies contracted to carry out assessments on disabled benefit claimants, the Work and Pensions Select Committee have told the Conservative government they should ensure that all future disability assessments are recorded.
The recommendation comes following the release of a multitude of inexplicable errors by government contractors, Capita and ATOS, that may have led to numerous claimants being denied benefits they were fully entitled to.
Evolve recently reported how numerous mistakes by supposedly medically trained DWP disability assessors had led to a break down in trust between claimants and the system.
Such errors, reported by claimants to the DWP Select Committee, included:
- Assessors asking people with Down’s Syndrome, a congenital condition, when they “caught it” during assessments.
- One claimant’s assessor reported that she ‘walked a dog daily’, despite the fact that she can barely walk, and, astonishingly, does not even own a dog.
- Another assessor allegedly asked a claimant who reported frequent suicidal thoughts why she had not killed herself yet.
- Mary, another claiamnt, told the DWP Select Committee that her assessor had reported that she “arose from the chair without any difficulty. [However,] I was in bed the whole time (she let herself in) and I only have the one chair in the room and she was sitting in it. She said that I had no difficulty reading with my glasses yet I do not wear glasses to read.”
- Katherine wrote: “I was attacked with a deadly weapon only a short time before my assessment. The man threatened my life, on a walk with my dog. So the assessor wrote that I like to talk to people on my walk.“
- An anonymous claimant wrote “The report was full of inaccuracies. For example, I self-harmed before the assessment due to the mental distress of being assessed and was given diazepam from my GP. I told the assessor this. This was not noted in the report. It was reported that I made eye contact, was articulate, was well dressed and not distressed. In fact I had cried during the assessment and was visibly distraught as well as poorly dressed.“
- Whilst another wrote “The assessor claimed in the report to have completed an extensive examination of me during the assessment. She listed a breakdown of her observations regarding the movement of all my limbs and joints. In reality though my assessment was only fifteen minutes long and the assessor didn’t examine me at all.“
And now following the release of the full report and their recommendations to the government for improvements in the assessment process, the DWP Select Committee wrote:
Central to the lack of trust are concerns about the ability of the Department’s contractors to conduct accurate assessments. We heard many reports of errors appearing in assessment reports (which may or may not effect eligibility). Such experiences serve to undermine confidence amongst claimants.
Going on to state that:
At worst, there is an unsubstantiated belief among some claimants and their advisers that assessors are encouraged to misrepresent assessments deliberately in a way that leads to claimants being denied benefits. This reflects poorly on contractor assessors and on the Department. The Department must urgently address these concerns.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee then listed a number of recommendations to the government to improve the process, including:
Offering audio recording of assessments by default would reassure claimants that an objective record of their appointment exists, to call on in the event of a dispute.
As well as:
Providing a copy of the assessors’ report by default with claimants’ decision letters would also introduce essential transparency into decision-making.
The Select Committee then went on to elaborate on their recommendations for mandatory recordings, stating that the “Department and contractors should use audio recordings to quality assure the whole assessment” in order to ‘improve the quality of decision making’ and save public money.
Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Debbie Abrahams slammed the government’s inaction leading up to the report, stating:
Instead of supporting people, the process is often dehumanising, inaccurate and worsens existing health conditions.
The widespread distrust of the assessment process by sick and disabled people is no surprise, with a record 68% of decisions taken to tribunal being overturned by judges.
Under private contractors the assessment process is getting worse, not better, yet the Government refuses to act.
Labour will scrap the current PIP and ESA assessments, bringing an end to the Conservatives’ failed privatised assessment system and replacing it with personalised, holistic support which provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers, whether health, care, finance, skills, transport, or housing related.
It is not yet clear whether the government are willing to implement the recommendations offered up by the cross-party Work and Pensions Select Committee. One would sincerely hope that, for the sake of disabled people across the country, the government will be finally willing to listen to sense on the matter.
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