The controversial and often feared assessment process faced by sick and disabled people to prove their entitlement to benefits can often leave them feeling “suicidal” and severely degraded, according to damning new research published by the anti-poverty charity Z2K.
Participants in the study told the charity how they found the benefits assessment process for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) “hostile” and “discriminatory”, with claimants frequently told by assessors to perform physical tests despite being in visible pain.
One participant told Z2K how an assessor had “waved her hand at me when I tried to explain my mental health issues and said “I’m not interested in that, I want to know if you can touch your toes”. I received no points during that assessment.”
Another said: “It caused a massive amount of distress and I seriously considered suicide many times throughout the process.”
The research revealed a high overturn rate of negative decisions when challenged at independent Tribunal, a long process disabled people found challenging and distressing.
The survey of 1,420 disabled people also exposed a deep lack of trust among disabled people that the UK Government’s forthcoming health and disability consultation would lead to the system being improved:
- Nine in ten (89%) said they were not confident that the Government will consider the changes disabled people want to see made to the assessment process.
- Nearly three quarters (74%) think the Government won’t make the required changes to the process.
- Over two thirds (70%) felt the assessor at their disability benefit assessment did not understand their condition.
- 87% who appealed a negative decision at the Social Security Tribunal were successful.
Z2K and disability campaigners are calling on the UK government to urgently publish their plans for reforming the system and commit to engaging with disabled people during the consultation.
Lee (not real name), a Disabled Campaigner for Z2K and research participant said: “From 2006 DWP already knew there was no cure for my chronic conditions. Yet from Income Support to ESA, from Incapacity Benefit to PIP, I continue to be reassessed every two years.
“The fundamental aim of these assessments is flawed and rather than toiling over cosmetic changes to procedures, this Government needs to revisit the core value of helping those who have met adversity in life, not to render their lives more difficult and fearful than they already are.”
Anela Anwar, Chief Executive of Z2K, said: “For far too long benefits assessors and Ministers have ignored the plight of disabled people who have endured a decade of discrimination and degradation at the hands of a fundamentally flawed system which all too frequently puts blunt processes before people’s wellbeing.
“How many more people will be forced to endure these distressing and damaging assessments while Ministers continue to drag their feet?
“Government has lost the trust of disabled people who don’t believe their experiences will be heard or acted upon.
“This Government must urgently publish its much promised Health and Disability Green Paper and ensure the views of disabled people are at the heart of a long overdue systemic reform. They simply can’t afford to get this wrong again.”