Shocking and insensitive treatment of disabled people by benefit claims assessors found by Brighton health watchdog

Posted On 16 Feb 2018 at 11:32 am

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.

Healthwatch found

• 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.

  1. Theraphim Reply

    When I was a registered nurse I trained to carry out PIP assessments (but did not take up the post in the end) and whilst the assessment process could be administered respectfully and thoroughly by well trained professionals like my colleagues, we were told that the DWP Adjudicator could simply over- rule the assessment of the Health Care Professional without explanation. We were also advised that (incredibly) the DWP Adjudicators did not have to have a medical background. My belief is that the DWP “spies” on people, using direct information gained by undercover observation and third party data from social media. We live in a surveillance society now. Big Brother is watching you!

  2. Sal Reply

    This is not the first report in Brighton to criticise Atos for the way they are exacerbating the genuine problems faced by people who often have little or no way of speaking up for themselves. This is abuse, plain and simple. Is the safeguarding board looking into it? Are local politicians – councillors and MPs – speaking out? Well done, Healthwatch, for a valuable piece of work. Our benefits budget is huge but there must be more humane ways to tackle it than this.

    • Valerie Reply

      BHCC cannot congratulate itself too much…starting more than 7/8 years ago, they systematically withdrew home help care from people regardless of need. Even before that they got rid of 50% of the ones directly employed by the council with extra training for acute needs – the agenda that went to full council declared them no longer needed, surplus to need. So cynical.

      The saddest part of the claims by the DWP of people being mostly satisfied, is that people are too intimidated to say otherwise, frankly. Things don’t go well for people who speak up.

  3. Valerie Reply

    Every assessment should be videotaped. There is a kind of sadism in humans that so-called civilisation only controls in the good times. The predatory law of the jungle informed Hitler and his roundups of disabled and LGBT people (as much as Jews)and it is always the weak, who are the easiest prey to pick off (the low-hanging fruit), who get taken first.

    • Fishwife, 49 Reply

      There you have it, folks: a perfect example of Godwin’s Law in action.

  4. Kathleen McMullen Reply

    These assessment processes are sadistic and should be replaced.

    The assessed are awarded points for difficulties with mobility, hearing and seeing, etc, but this approach ignores the experiences of difficulties overtime and in different situations.

    The DWP decision makers are civil servants by the way who do cut and paste jobs on the reports they receive from the profit making companies.

    How does one feel ‘happy’ after exposure to the objectification and dehumanisation of these government driven processes that benefit private shareholders?

  5. Pingback: Shocking and insensitive treatment of disabled people by benefit claims assessors found by Brighton health watchdog – Brighton and Hove News – Disability Today

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