The DWP is facing an inquiry into disability assessments

The Houses of Parliament and the DWP logo about a Universal Credit inquiry
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is currently the subject of an inquiry. It is about the department’s controversial health and disability assessments. The inquiry is ongoing, and it’s still asking people to submit evidence. So far, people have given some damning testimony.

DWP: under the spotlight

Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee is investigating the DWP. As it stated, its inquiry will be looking at:

the assessment processes for health-related benefits. These include Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Attendance Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. The Committee is focusing on how the… [DWP] can improve the application and assessment processes for these benefits.

We’re focusing on:

  • How DWP could improve the quality of its assessments;
  • Lessons from the pandemic, including whether changes DWP made to the assessment processes then should continue;
  • How DWP could make applying for benefits more straightforward for claimants

The DWP makes people do these assessments to judge how ill or disabled they are. It then decides what rate of health/disability-related social security it will give them. However, the assessments have been controversial.

Assessment controversies

As The Canary has documented, the DWP’s assessments – both the Work Capability (WCA) and health ones – have been linked to at least 590 people taking their own lives. Around 90 people a month died between December 2011 and February 2014 after the DWP said these people were fit for work, often after a WCA. In 2016, the UN said of the DWP assessments process:

the needs, views and personal history of persons with disabilities, and particularly those requiring high levels of support such as persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities, were not properly taken into account or given appropriate weight in the decisions affecting them.

Read on...

There are also the individual cases. Stephen Smith died of pneumonia, weighing just six stones and barely able to walk. At that time, the DWP had said he was fit for work. Smith had to get a pass to leave hospital so he could challenge the DWP’s decision. He is just one of countless deaths on the DWP’s watch.

More evidence

Now, the committee wants to look into the assessments further.

So far, it has held several meetings and gathered evidence. It held a meeting on Wednesday 11 May where the committee heard evidence from:

  • The British Medical Association.
  • Charity Carers UK.
  • Marie Curie.
  • Disability Benefits Consortium.

And the evidence people have already given the committee is damning.

DWP: “inaccurate assessments and unfair decision making”

For example, the campaign group Chronic Illness Inclusion gave its thoughts on the processes. It represents people living with conditions like myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a chronic neuroimmune disease. ME is often classed as being an energy-limiting condition (ELC). Chronic Illness Inclusion said of the DWP’s assessments:

ELCs limit both cognitive and physical activity in relation to work and daily living activities. But the descriptors for mental, cognitive and intellectual function in the WCA, like the activities of communication in PIP, can only be applied to certain diagnoses, according to the published guidance for assessors. This means assessments are effectively based on a person’s diagnosis, not on how their condition affects them, which is contrary to the stated aim of a functional assessment. This leads to inaccurate assessments and unfair decision making.

The committee still wants more evidence. It has a list of questions it would like people to answer, which you can read here.

DWP assessments have been failing chronically ill, sick and disabled people for years. The committee’s inquiry marks another battle in the ongoing class war meted out by the department. The more people give the committee evidence, the better the overall inquiry will be. However, if you wish to get involved, you only have until 19 May to do so.

Featured image via Maurice – Wikimedia, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY 2.0, and Wikimedia 

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