Shocking and insensitive treatment of disabled people by benefit claims assessors found by Brighton health watchdog
Shocking and insensitive treatment is routinely used as a way to cut the number of welfare benefits claims by people with disabilities or chronic ill health in Brighton and Hove.
The finding comes after a local watchdog – Healthwatch Brighton and Hove – responded to mounting evidence of claims being assessed by people who appeared to be ignorant or cynical.
Assessors seem to be more concerned with catching people out so that their benefits claim can be turned down than in carrying out a genuine and fair assessment.
Healthwatch said: “Healthwatch Brighton and Hove has found that vulnerable people applying for PIP (Personal Independence Payments) and ESA (Employment Support Allowance) have their applications routinely declined.”
Healthwatch Brighton and Hove’ chief officer David Liley said: “There is concern in Parliament over the way vulnerable people are treated by the benefits assessment system.
“Here in the streets of Brighton and Hove we see the reality – decent people trying to live a good life but challenged by chronic ill health treated in a shocking and insensitive way.
“One local organisation helping people with high level autism and Asperger’s syndrome took 17 cases to appeal and not one appeal was declined.
“Why should people who clearly need help be forced routinely to appeal their first assessment decisions?
“The cynical conclusion is that some folks will not have the capacity, ability or motivation to appeal and claimant numbers will fall.”
Healthwatch Brighton and Hove said that it was challenging those who provided the assessments to show that they treated local people with respect, that they were not using underhand techniques in assessments and to explain why almost everyone who appeals wins.
• A lack of empathy
• Assessors who seem to know little about common medical conditions
• Advocates treated with disrespect
• Reasonable requests, eg, for a home visit, declined without explanation
• Benefit assessment reports containing factual inaccuracies and bearing little resemblance to assessment interviews
• An approach which is more about “catching people out” and declining claims rather than actively helping vulnerable people
Healthwatch said: “Assessments begin as soon as individuals arrive at the centre and observed actions are subsequently included within final assessment reports.
“For example, if the person can walk from the lift to the assessment room then they are able to walk a certain distance (ignoring how slowly or painfully this occurred).
“Or if a person is seen raising their hand to their hair or holding their handbag or sipping water from a glass then that person can raise their arm, implying they can carry out physical activity unaided.
“An assessor described an applicant as being ‘happy and chatty’ yet this ignored the fact that the person’s mental health led them to become over-accommodating to others.”
The assessments were carried out by two organisations – Atos and Maximus.
Similar problems have been identified by MPs in parliamentary questions, motions and select committee reports.
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We know that assessments work for the majority of people, with 83 per cent of ESA claimants and 76 per cent of PIP claimants telling us that they’re happy with their overall experience.
”However, our aim has to be that every person feels they are treated fairly, with respect and dignity.
“We are committed to continuously improving the experience of our claimants, that is why we’ve commissioned five independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment – accepting over 100 recommendations – and two independent reviews of PIP assessments.
”We continue to work closely with our providers to ensure people receive high quality assessments, and are exploring options around recordings to promote greater transparency and trust.”
To read the Healthwatch report, click here.