New figures released by the government show how nearly all “fitness for work” assessments are now being carried out on the telephone, or simply by examining paperwork.
The figures show that three-quarters (73 per cent) of completed work capability assessments (WCAs) were carried out by telephone between September and November last year.
Another 15 per cent were “paper-based” assessments, carried out on the basis of written information such as doctors’ letters and questionnaires completed by the claimant.
The figures were released by the minister for disabled people, Chloe Smith, in response to a written question by Labour MP Paul Blomfield.
They show that just six per cent of completed WCAs were carried out face-to-face in the last six months.
They also show that the proportion of assessments carried out by telephone has fallen slightly, with the 73 per cent figure for the last three months comparing with 80 per cent over the whole of the last 12 months (December 2020 to November 2021).
This appears to be partly because of a steady rise in the number of WCAs carried out by video.
The proportion of video assessments has risen from just two per cent over the whole year to six per cent in the last three months.
The figures are based on information provided to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by its private sector contractor Maximus.
They appear to demonstrate DWP’s plan to shift gradually away from requiring face-to-face meetings between claimants and assessors – even after the pandemic – and towards the use of phone and video assessments, and to allow an increasing proportion of assessments to be carried out only on the basis of paperwork.
The government’s Shaping Future Support green paper stated last July: “Before the coronavirus pandemic, where the necessary evidence was not available, a face-to-face assessment was usually carried out to gather the evidence needed.
“To develop our services and improve people’s experience we have been exploring different ways to conduct assessments.”
The green paper highlighted the use of telephone and video assessments instead of face-to-face meetings, and it added: “To make more decisions quickly and simply, and reduce the need for face-to-face assessments, we want to maximise the use of paper-based assessments and make greater use of triaging… so that people only have to go through face-to-face assessments where these are absolutely necessary.”
This is likely to cut the cost of the assessment process.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed in November how DWP is set to hand profit-making organisations contracts worth nearly £2.3 billion over the next five years to assess disabled people for their benefits.
Documents released by DWP to DNS the following month showed that the department had admitted to organisations seeking to win these contracts that its system for assessing disabled people for their eligibility for benefits was “fragmented” and “inefficient”.
The assessment process – both for employment and support allowance and personal independence payment – has been linked to countless deaths of claimants and other serious harm over the last decade.
Last month, Channel 4’s Dispatches revealed the results of a survey of more than 3,500 disabled people who have been through the assessment system, which found that nearly a third of them said their dealings with DWP had caused them to plan to take their own lives.
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