Benefits assessments “still failing many people with mental health problems”

Last Friday (9 February), the Work and Pensions Committee released their interim first report into the experiences of disabled people claiming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), benefits intended to provide support for disabled people to live independently, or to manage the costs related to being out of work.

Nearly 3,500 people provided evidence – an ‘unprecedented public response to a departmental select committee inquiry’ – according to the Committee. The report was described by the Committee as a ‘tribute to their efforts and bravery in submitting evidence and a reflection of the importance of recognising the human consequences of policy shortcomings.’ They have called on the Government to address these issues urgently, saying ‘those who have taken the time and effort to contact us deserve a speedy and substantive response from the Government.’ The full report – detailing recommendations for Government and proposals for reform – will be released on Wednesday 14 February.

The interim report recognises that people with mental health problems make up over one in three (36 per cent) of those receiving PIP and nearly one in two (49 per cent) of those receiving ESA. It highlights some shocking experiences of people with mental health problems going through benefits assessments.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “This interim report shows that too often going for a benefits assessment is a stressful, complicated and undignified process for the people who have to go through it. The shocking testimonials provided by disabled people show the human consequences of assessments delivered by people who at times can lack even the most basic knowledge of mental and physical health conditions.

“Too often this means that people are forced to go through a lengthy and stressful appeals process, which can damage their mental health, and which cost the Government a huge amount. Last year the Government spent more than £12.5 million on appeals for people with mental health problems that it subsequently lost. That money would be better spent on providing the financial support that can help people live independently and regain control over their lives.

“We look forward to Wednesday’s full report from the Committee and hope that it calls for meaningful change, including an overhaul of how assessors are recruited and trained, an injection of transparency into the process, far more consistent use of medical evidence, and well-funded support to help people navigate the system and access their rights. After thousands of disabled people – including those with mental health problems – have shared their personal, honest and often harrowing accounts of these assessments, we expect the Government to provide a swift and detailed response to this inquiry which sets out how they will address the plethora of problems with the process.”

Some worrying responses from interactions with assessors

The woman laughed when I told her I’d ran away to visit Julian Assange during my first psychotic episode and looked at me funny. Because of the woman’s behaviour and disrespect, I don’t think she knew about the difficulties and health problems people have. I got the impression she didn’t know about schizophrenia or psychosis. Name withheld

The assessor stated in her report “no signs of sore hands” “no signs of repeated washing” “was well groomed” “was well dressed”. Anyone with a brain cell knows mental health isn’t always visible, and OCD isn’t all about excessive washing of the hands! OCD is known as a secretive disorder at the best of times and people in that profession should know better when it comes to mental health. Chad

The assessor said in the report something to the effect that my mental health wasn’t an issue as I had smiled during my assessment. At the time of my assessment I was highly suicidal. Amanda

When I finally had my assessment the lady was quite nice but I was so upset and frightened. I was asked why I hadn’t killed myself if as I had written on the forms that I frequently felt that way! Not the sort of thing you should ask someone with severe mental health issues! [ … ] I found it distressing and humiliating. Ruth

MORE: 

Government ruled to be ‘blatantly discriminatory’ in ruling that affects 160,000 people with mental health impairments

Theresa May U-turn on PIP – the main disability benefit set to cost the taxpayer £3.7billion

“My constituent – an incontinent cancer sufferer – was refused PIP. She was forced to wash & reuse baby nappies.”

Research reveals mental health stigma in the workplace

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