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Benefit assessments leaving claimants in pain

man with hands on his head in despair
man with hands on his head in despair Image credit: disabilityrights.org.uk

Benefit assessments are being challenged after reports of claimants suffering pain and experiencing suicidal thoughts after their appointments.

A study by Z2K found two thirds of disabled people who took part in the research believed their report did not take into account what they shared during their assessment and 70 per cent said their assessor did not understand their disability or condition.

Others said they were asked to carry out physical tasks which caused them pain and discomfort.

One claimant told the charity: “On one occasion at an assessment a lady was having a seizure on the floor and two assessment workers said ‘she’s putting it on’

“My daughter called an ambulance and they took the lady to hospital.”

Another said: “The assessors would ask you not to do anything that would result in injury or pain. They would then ask you to perform a physical action and if you were limited and could not perform that action due to pain, they would say you refused.”

A third respondent claimed: “The assessment report stated that as my fatigue was owing to cancer a number of years ago that it could not be active now as my treatment was so long ago.

“I had to send back a statement of challenge, including citing that I would consult a solicitor, and quoting several high profile cancer sites which state clearly that for some people fatigue continues long after treatment. I felt the assessor had no knowledge of basic medical facts.”

“We handle hundreds of thousands of claims a year with the majority of people satisfied with the service they receive,” a DWP spokesperson told The Big Issue.

“Our Disability Assessors are all experienced health professionals, trained to consider how people are affected by their disability, rather than just the disability itself and can take account of information from other professionals, including GPs.”

There is hope a proposed reform on health and disability will address the issue, but some are sceptic it will have little effect.

“These results show the daily struggle that disabled people face, in large part due to the government’s continued failure to reform the failing assessment process,” said Vicky Foxcroft MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions.

“The government’s repeatedly delayed disability strategy is the opportunity for them to show they listen and understand the experiences of disabled people, in order to urgently reform this broken system that is letting so many people down.

“Labour is committed to the principles of co-production, not just in name but in reality. Listening to the experts by experience. This government is running out of excuses, they must act now to improve the lives of disabled people.”

A spokesperson on behalf of Z2K, who has fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, amyloidosis and chronic pain said: “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.

“From 2006 [the Department for Work and Pensions] already knew there was no cure for my chronic conditions.

“Yet from income support to [employment and support allowance], from incapacity benefit to [personal independence payments], I continue to be reassessed every two years.”

Anela Anwar, chief executive of Z2K, said benefits assessors and ministers have “ignored the plight of disabled people who have endured a decade of discrimination and degradation.

“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.”

Face-to-face benefit assessments have now resumed after being temporary stopped because of the Covid pandemic.