Statements submitted to MPs have provided further evidence of widespread dishonesty among healthcare professionals who carry out disability benefit assessments, but their inquiry has had to be abandoned because of the prime minister’s decision to call a general election.
Despite its inquiry into the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process having to be scrapped, the Commons work and pensions select committee has published written evidence it has received from PIP claimants and disability organisations.
The committee held an urgent evidence session about the assessment process in March, a hearing partly triggered by a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation, before seeking further written evidence.
DNS had provided the committee with substantial evidence of widespread dishonesty among PIP assessors in the reports they prepare for government decision-makers.
The DNS investigation revealed that assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.
DNS has now collected nearly 200 examples of cases in which PIP claimants have said that healthcare professionals working for Capita and Atos produced dishonest assessment reports.
DWP has consistently claimed that there is no dishonesty at all among its outsourced healthcare assessors.
Inclusion London, the pan-London disabled people’s organisation, provided the most detailed written evidence of all the individuals and groups that contributed to the committee’s inquiry.
It said in its evidence: “Again and again Disabled people are reporting that assessors have ignored written and verbal evidence and that reports do not reflect what occurred in the assessment.”
Inclusion London quoted widely from evidence compiled by DNS, and concluded: “The extent to which false information is included in assessment reports cannot be attributed to one or two negligent assessors but indicates systemic failings with the current PIP assessment process.”
It called for all assessments to be recorded, and for “a clear and accessible system for Disabled people to file complaints against assessors with an independent body and for complaint statistics to be made public”.
It also called for a new PIP assessment, based on the social model of disability and created in co-production with disabled people, which focuses on “barriers and the impact of impairment on daily life rather than functionality”.
Other written evidence submitted to the committee appears to confirm the conclusions of the DNS investigation.
Among those who responded to a survey by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) was a healthcare professional with a first-class degree in physiotherapy.
They said they had been “shocked by the level of errors, inaccuracies, omissions and, quite possibly, lies” in the assessment report compiled for their PIP claim, according to DR UK’s evidence to the committee.
The respondent concluded that “the musculoskeletal assessment conducted was appalling and could not have provided sufficient information upon which a decision regarding my physical capabilities to carry out work for any period of time could be made.
“Lies were also told about the content of the musculoskeletal assessment – data was recorded for tests which were not conducted.”
Another DR UK survey respondent described how PIP decisions were often overturned on appeal due to “assessors making inaccurate statements, assessors making false statements, assessors incorrectly interpreting things the claimant said or did”.
In its evidence to the committee, the mental health charity Rethink said that respondents to its own survey on PIP “felt that there was a discrepancy between what was discussed at the assessment and the content of the subsequent written report.
“We received several examples of PIP applicants claiming that assessors had deliberately misinterpreted them and in… some cases included complete fabrications in their reports.”
But the evidence compiled by the committee may now end up being discarded because the decision by Theresa May to call a general election on 8 June means that parliament was dissolved this week, leading to some committee inquiries having to be abandoned.
Mark Lucas, a PIP claimant who has spoken out repeatedly about the “shockingly poor and dishonest” assessment system, and has given evidence to an inquiry into PIP assessments set up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said the decision to call an election was “another set back at the end of many set backs”.
He said: “Clearly the health professionals have been dishonest and the government has gone to great lengths to ensure the PIP scam is kept quiet for as long as possible.
“Everyone knows what has gone on is wrong but only few have voiced their concerns.
“I am sure if we continue to have the same government the rights of persons with disabilities will be further abused.”
A spokeswoman for the committee said the PIP investigation was “one of the inquiries that fell with the announcement of the election”.
When the committee is reformed in the new parliament – probably in September – it could choose to relaunch the inquiry, but will be under no obligation to do so, but if it does it could choose to “keep and use the evidence they have now”, she said.