Detailed evidence from disabled people has shown that disability benefit assessment reports are still riddled with distortions, twisted facts and ignorance, say grassroots campaigners.
WOWCampaign launched its Assessing the Assessors campaign earlier this year to highlight the continued flaws within the assessment regimes for personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).
But WOW also wanted to give disabled people a chance to express their “pent up anger and frustration” with the ordeals they were being forced to undergo at the hands of government contractors Atos, Capita and Maximus.
It designed a questionnaire that disabled people could fill in to describe their assessment experiences.
WOW has already received about 50 questionnaires and is hoping for even more responses.
They will eventually be turned into a report, which will be sent to MPs.
The questionnaire includes questions such as whether the assessor had taken account of information provided by the claimant’s healthcare professionals; whether the assessment report was accurate; and how the process had affected their physical and mental health.
WOW said the responses they have received have proved the assessment processes were still deeply flawed.
Many of the responses have mentioned similar flaws: assessors dismissing the reports of experienced doctors; a failure to follow government guidelines; a lack of understanding of impairments and health conditions; and a tendency to jump to conclusions and “disregard and twist the facts”.
Many of those filling in the questionnaires also spoke of the impact of the assessment system on their physical and mental health.
One respondent, TB, said the assessment was “more like an interrogation”, saying: “The assessor bombarded my husband with questions he struggled to answer, he has a brain injury and processes things slowly, gets anxious, the assessors was a physiotherapist with no qualification to assess brain injury.”
TB said the impact of the assessment left her husband in bed for two days.
Another respondent, Lynda, said that when the assessor carried out a physical examination, she failed to mention that she was performing the actions with the aid of a walking-stick.
She added: “She stated I could carry, grasp, handle, lift, manage, pick up and reach clothing and papers – I wore my coat the whole time, did not have a bag and my companion carried my papers.”
The assessor had described Lynda as having “no difficulty expressing or understanding verbal communication” and said her speech was “normal in content, rate and volume”.
In reality, Lynda had had to ask the assessor or her companion to clarify or repeat some questions and her companion had had to prompt her with some of her answers because of her cognitive difficulties, while her speech had been “slow and hesitant and quiet”.
She said the assessment had been “very distressing”.
A third respondent told WOW: “I took a mountain of paperwork every time and every assessor refused to read any of it. I felt violated at each assessment.”
Knowing that an assessor can distort answers and facts increases the anxiety and feeling of powerlessness among those assessed, said WOWCampaign’s Laura Stringhetti.
She said the responses showed the assessment system was “extremely damaging, very expensive and not fit for purpose”.
WOW’s Michelle Maher said the questionnaires repeatedly described both the “horrific impact” of the process and the “unbelievable lies” included by assessors in their reports.
She said: “Many couldn’t believe these lies, the omissions and the total ignorance of disabilities and sickness and how they ignored the advice of experts.”
She said the responses showed yet again how successive Conservative-led governments had created a “hostile environment for disabled people”.
And she said the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice showed that 74 per cent of PIP and ESA appeals taken to tribunal are overturned.
Maher said: “The results speak for themselves, with 74 per cent now winning their appeal.
“The government know how flawed their approach is but they keep awarding contracts to the same companies to humiliate and hound disabled people.”
WOW wants to see all face-to-face assessments recorded, either on audio or video, and the system eventually replaced with a far more person-centred approach.
WOW said the responses showed that the Department for Work and Pensions was not fit for purpose, and needs to make urgent changes to ensure that the safety of all claimants is a priority, two of the demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which WOW supports.
Disability News Service spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.
*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
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