The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have faced backlash after assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) have been labelled “damaging” to mental health sufferers and have left thousands facing cuts or removal from the system unfairly.
The PIP system is slowly taking over from the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and therefore claimants are being put through Work Capability Assessments (WCA) to decide whether they fit criteria for claimants relevantly by private companies Capita and Atos.
Nearly half of all PIP claimants are currently undergoing assessments by Capita and Atos interviewers, which have so far caused devastating effects on the lives of many claimants. The number of claimants whose payments were reduced after their assessments have risen from 10% in 2014 to 20% in 2016 and those whose claims to PIP were completely lost is now 25% since 2016, opposed to 13% in 2014.
From this, around 51,000 people have lost access to Motability vehicles since 2013’s move to PIP, as the acceptable walking distance for claimants has dropped from 50m to 20m, meaning applicants who can walk over 20m without intense pain are no longer seen as reliant on their vehicles.
Along with those claiming for physical disabilities are claimants suffering disability from mental health issues, who seem not to have been included in original plans for PIP payment schemes. Guidance issued by the DQP suggests that claimants with mental health problems do not need to claim the mobility component of PIP payments, even if they are severely affected by their illness in a way that limits their mobility in similar ways as those with physical disabilities.
Not only do the DWP seriously under-consider those with mental health issues, they have reportedly subjected claimants to extremely damaging assessments surrounding their claims. Some of those interviewed have revealed that assessors ask questions that can be severely distressing for those involved, including discussions about suicide. One participant was asked why she hadn’t killed herself yet, and others had admitted they had felt suicidal or attempted suicide, to have assessors say things like ‘that’s understandable‘. Statements and questions like this have left a lot of those assessed in a worse mental state than they had previously been according to a study by academics at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Napier universities. The DWP has insisted that all staff carrying out PIP assessments have been given training on mental health conditions, yet many say it is clear that assessors have no skills ready to support those they are assessing, leaving many feeling unstable and unsupported in their situation.
Statements and questions like this have left a lot of those assessed in a worse mental state than they had previously been according to a study by academics at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Napier universities. The DWP has insisted that all staff carrying out PIP assessments have been given training on mental health conditions, yet many say it is clear that assessors have no skills ready to support those they are assessing, leaving many feeling unstable and unsupported in their situation. The DWP maintains that the Government is spending over £11bn a year on mental health support so that claimants like theirs can receive the help they need.
All of this comes to a head when considering that over 160,000 people that were initially denied PIP after assessment by Capita and Atos have had the decision overturned since the benefit first launched in 2013. With more than 50,000 appeals made between October and December in 2016 and nearly two-thirds of those being upheld, there is certainly a question on the reliability of the service that Capita and Atos provide.
This makes their overall pay for their five-year contracts of more than £700m seem outrageous, with DWP payouts amounting to £7m in 2013 when the benefit first started, jumping to £91m in 2014 and £198m in 2015. Records from January and February 2017 show payments of £25m so far, meaning that the service is being paid an unprecedented amount considering the errors made. All of this seems worse when keeping in mind their original payment agreements of £512m.
The question remains therefore of why PIP claimants are being unnecessarily put through hell when many of the assessment decisions are eventually being repealed.