Opinion Former Article

Rethink Mental Illness response to disability benefits benefit assessments report

In September 2017, the Work and Pensions Committee put out a call for evidence on the medical assessments for disability benefits PIP and ESA carried out for the Department of Work and Pensions by private contractors Capita, Atos and Maximus.

Nearly 4,000 people responded and the themes that emerged were:

Claimants found the process arduous and stressful, only to receive a report that bore little or no relation to their circumstances or what had occurred during the assessment. One submission said: "Apparently I walk my dog daily, which was baffling because I can barely walk and I do not have a dog!"

The apparent ignorance of assessors about the conditions claimants were living with. People with Down's Syndrome - a widely recognised congenital disorder with associated learning disability - were asked when they'd "caught" it.

The report was published today (Wednesday 14th February) and Rethink Mental Illness are pleased with the recommendations, which include recording face to face assessments, and improving accessibility of the process:

Jonathan Moore, Policy Manager at Rethink Mental Illness said:

“We know the flawed assessment processes for disability benefits are in desperate need of reform. As today’s report shows, flawed assessments can have an ‘untenable human cost’, and our supporters tell us every day of the devastating impact they have on their mental health.

“The Committee is right to highlight a lack of trust in the system, particularly at the face-to-face assessments, and recording them could help claimants challenge the content of the subsequent written reports, which all too often bear no resemblance to what is discussed.

“The report’s recommendations are an important first step in ensuring that we have a disability benefits system that supports, rather than damages, people affected by mental illness”.

The recommendations in full:

Immediately institute recording of face to face assessment and provide a record and a copy of the assessors report to claimants

Take measures to improve understanding amongst health and social care professionals, and claimants, of what constitutes good evidence for PIP and ESA claims, and to ensure this evidence is used effectively by contractors;

Set out how it will measure, monitor and report on the supply of evidence into PIP and ESA assessments

Improve accessibility of the process at every stage: from the format and style of the application form, to information about home visits, to information about accessing  reconsideration and appeal

Improve its use of contract "levers" to improve contractor performance - and quality control via feedback through the claim process, including feedback from the appeal stage

See the full report here

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