The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing more calls to change the way it does its health and work assessments. This time, a Labour MP has probed the department over claimants’ being able to record these. But it ties into a wider and growing campaign surrounding the contentious assessment process.
The DWP: the dodgiest of assessments
As The Canary has repeatedly reported, DWP health and Work Capability Assessments (WCA) are contentious. For example, Independent Assessment Services (IAS), formally ATOS, does Personal Independence Payment (PIP) health assessments for the DWP. But the company has been dogged by controversy. From probes into “dishonest” assessments, to high rates of appeal wins, IAS has often come under fire. As The Canary also reported, complaints to the DWP about IAS have shot up by more than 1,400% since 2013. Most recently, a judge said that some of the letters the DWP sends to claimants may be unlawful.
But moreover, as the Mirror reported, assessments can be littered with inaccuracies, or even lies. For example, one assessor asked a claimant ‘when did you catch Down’s syndrome?’
Now, a Labour MP in parliament has asked the DWP if it will make a crucial change to the assessment process.
Questions in parliament
On 9 March, Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle Emma Hardy asked DWP minister of state Justin Tomlinson:
Will the minister look at providing recording equipment for every PIP assessment that takes place right across the country to improve transparency and fairness?
Tomlinson said the DWP had been “piloting” providing recording equipment for claimants, and that the result of that will be “coming to a close soon”.
She asked this because she is currently working with campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) on just such a project:
I have just asked the Minister @JustinTomlinson if the gov't will provide audio equipment for PIP assessments to ensure they are fair & transparent for everyone.
He replied that they will be doing so soon. ✅
I shall hold them to this. ✅@Dis_PPL_Protest #PIP #DWP pic.twitter.com/pMjEduDZgt
— Emma Hardy MP (@EmmaHardyMP) March 9, 2020
DPAC has launched a new scheme to make sure people get a fair hearing at their PIP health assessments. It’s rolling out free-to-use recording equipment. It’s not an issue at Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit WCAs as the private companies who do those assessments have recording equipment, but IAS doesn’t. That’s why DPAC has called its campaign On The Record.
Half-hearted DWP measures
provide two copies of the recording at the end of the assessment in a way which ensures that the recording has not been tampered with and that it is a complete, reliable and accurate record of the assessment. One copy must be given to the… healthcare professional at the end of the assessment.
Approved media at present are standard CD and audio tapes only.
These old-fashioned methods are problematic. For example, two tape recorders from Argos could cost over £60. And you’d only need to use them (hopefully) a few times.
On The Record
So, DPAC’s Sheffield branch has kick-started the On The Record campaign. It previously told The Canary:
after people in Sheffield reported to us that they had had inaccuracies, incidents where they felt bullied or brow beaten at PIP assessments, we set out to fundraise for a kit in Sheffield. But it was rather naive of us to think one kit would be enough for a city of this size. Because when the scheme was announced in our local press, and on the Disability News Service (DNS) website, we received over 60 emails in two days from people asking for help.
But they weren’t solely from people in Sheffield or South Yorkshire. We had emails from people all over Britain, including Scotland, Wales and as far down south as Truro in Cornwall.
That’s when we realised it was needed nationally. So, we started the ‘On The Record’ campaign.
To address the cost issue, DPAC has made the kits free with no deposit. But already, the DWP and the assessment companies are putting barriers in the way.
Making life even more difficult
DPAC Sheffield told The Canary:
DWP/IAS (formerly ATOS) are now using shameful tactics in an attempt to intimidate people into going through with their assessments without using recording kit.
PIP claimants have to give their local assessment contact centre at least three days notice of their decision to record their assessment. Claimants having home-based assessments in Sheffield have reported to us that assessors are turning up to their homes claiming not to know that the assessments were to be recorded. Then, they do not have the necessary consent forms with them. On at least two occasions claimants have felt strong-armed into going ahead with the assessment without recording it. This is despite the kit being available to use in their home at the time.
The DWP: cottoning on?
And the group says the assessors are starting to ask questions about the On The Record campaign:
one PIP claimant in Sheffield who was able to travel to the assessment centre reports that the assessor asked very detailed questions (during their assessment) about how the claimant got hold of the PIP recording kit. This is despite this having no bearing on their disability or eligibility for claiming PIP, and despite the DWP and assessment companies allowing claimants to use recording kit that meets pre-specified criteria.
Peppered between the official assessment questionnaire the assessor asked ‘do they bring this to your house or do you have to go somewhere to collect it?’; ‘this all fits together nicely doesn’t it, do they buy it as a complete kit?, and ‘do they provide the cassettes or do you have to buy them yourself?’.
It seems that the DWP and assessment companies are cottoning on to DPAC’s campaign. So, MP’s interventions are needed more than ever. As just because the DWP is “piloting” something, that doesn’t mean it will act on it. Therefore the pressure on this issue needs to be kept up. And DPAC’s campaign needs more support from MPs and the public.
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