The government’s “failing” and “pseudo-scientific” benefits assessment system is increasing disability poverty and worsening claimants’ mental health, MPs have been told by leading academics.
Professor Ben Barr, from the University of Liverpool, and Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent, were giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) as part of the Commons work and pensions committee’s inquiry into the assessment system.
Both academics have carried out influential research into the assessments.
Dr Baumberg Geiger described the work capability assessment (WCA) as “pseudo-scientific”, and said it assessed people’s impairments “without any transparency or evidence” in the way that it “over-rules people’s accounts of their own lives”.
And he said the assessment for personal independence payment (PIP) was a “crude gesture towards some of the very high costs that people face, but it doesn’t come close to covering them”.
He said: “There is a lack of transparency and evidence and rigour about what goes on in these assessments and their link to the things they are meant to be assessing.
“There is no evidence base linking the PIP criteria to the costs that people face that the DWP has produced, and I think that is something that needs to be rectified.”
He said it was essential that disabled people could trust the assessment system but that it was “hard to trust a system that says it’s going to assess your capability for work but then doesn’t, really”.
He has researched assessment systems in other countries, but he said the UK’s WCA “does stand out as being particularly bad, causing particular unhappiness and distress, and being particularly difficult to link to any sensible conception of what it should be assessing”.
Professor Barr, who works in applied public health research, said there had been an increase in the disability poverty gap* since 2013, particularly among disabled people who are out of work.
He said this was likely a result of reduced access to disability benefits and those benefits being set at too low a level.
He said the WCA “does seem to be failing”, with research suggesting it had not had a “positive impact on employment” among disabled people and had increased their risk of poverty.
Both he and Dr Baumberg Geiger were critical of DWP’s failure to release reports and research about the assessment system, including figures Disability News Service (DNS) has been seeking that would show WCA data for claimants of universal credit.
Professor Barr also pointed to secret internal process reviews, which DWP is refusing to release to DNS, despite a ruling six years ago from the Information Rights Tribunal.
Dr Baumberg Geiger said the “major” issue of refusing to release reports should also be linked “to a wider culture of a lack of transparency around the assessments and the wider benefits system”.
He said DWP was blocking researchers from using its data to examine how its systems were working.
*The difference in the proportion of disabled and non-disabled people living in poverty
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