Trials of the assessment for the benefit that will replace disability living allowance (DLA) show the test is worryingly similar to the government’s discredited “fitness for work” assessment, say campaigners.
The government has been trialling questions for the test it plans to introduce for its new personal independence payment (PIP).
But disabled activist Linda Burnip, who has seen one of the forms sent out to about 900 disabled people around the country – both current DLA recipients and new claimants – says they are almost identical to those used for claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.
This has led her and fellow activists to raise new fears that the PIP assessment will mirror the work capability assessment (WCA), which has been widely criticised for being inaccurate, inflexible and over-medicalised.
There has been heavy criticism of the computer software used to carry out the WCA, the Logic Integrated Medical Assessment (LIMA) programme, which critics say leads to a “tick-box”, “dehumanised” assessment and tempts assessors to rely on the software’s automated features.
Any suggestion that the new PIP assessment will use the LIMA software, owned and used by the much-criticised Atos Healthcare, will cause huge alarm among disabled activists. It would also suggest Atos is in prime position to be awarded the lucrative contract for carrying out the PIP assessments.
Disabled activist John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, which campaigns against the unfair use of the WCA, said the arguments over the PIP assessment sounded “depressingly familiar”.
He said: “It was exactly the same in the run up to and subsequent implementation of the WCA disaster, which has plunged hundreds of thousands of patently ill and/or disabled people into dire poverty and massive distress.
“We are under no illusions that the government has declared war on disabled people and that it is now time for everyone across civil society to stand together with disabled people and see off this attack on our dignity and fundamental human rights, and that includes the medical and nursing professions [who carry out the tests]in particular. This must not be allowed to pass.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted that the new test was “not a medical assessment, focused on what a person’s condition or diagnosis is, but instead looks at the impact of disability on individuals’ everyday lives”.
He said the assessment was “very different to the WCA, which looks at specific functions, instead concentrating on key everyday activities, the challenges people face and the support they need”.
And he said it would allow disabled people to be “reassessed over time – something that is lacking in the current system – to ensure everyone receives the correct support if their needs change”.
He added: “The forms used in the testing of the assessment criteria were designed purely to gather the necessary information needed for this exercise.”
But Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the form she saw “in no way focussed on the impact on an individual”.
She said: “Apart from the first question, which asked what condition people had and how that affected them, it was purely a task-based list, exactly the same as that used for the totally discredited WCA and obviously designed to be used by the LIMA software programme.”
Meanwhile, the charity Scope has launched a new report – backed by organisations including Inclusion London, the National Centre for Independent Living and Disability Equality NW – that is highly critical of the new PIP assessment.
The Future of PIP: A Social Model Based Approach argues that the government’s draft PIP assessment is “not fit for purpose” and unless it “considers the social, practical and environmental barriers disabled people face, thousands of people could be left with the wrong levels of support – and, in some cases, no support at all”.
The Scope report includes a “blueprint” for an alternative PIP assessment, which would take more account of the barriers faced by disabled people, and the extra costs that come with them.
The new assessment should take “the form of a conversation between the prospective recipient and the assessor”, says the report, and should also ensure more is done to pass claimants on to services that could help them overcome the barriers they face.
26 October 2011