A pressure group has warned that the government’s disability benefit assessments are the cause of “terrifying insecurity”. What’s more, it says assessments are driving disabled women to destitution, and even “hastening their deaths”.
The warning was given by WinVisible, a group for women with disabilities, of all backgrounds, ages, and situations. It came when the group submitted evidence to the UK’s House of Commons work and pensions select committee. The committee is looking into assessments for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) assessments. Both benefits are claimed by people who are sick or have disabilities, many with MS.
The campaigning group said both ESA and PIP assessments cause terrifying insecurity. WinVisible told MPs that the insecurity leads to “suicides or admissions to NHS psychiatric institutions”.
Government benefit cuts, and how they are implemented, cause enormous suffering, destitution, and hasten deaths of sick and disabled people, says WinVisible.
The group provided the committee with examples of disabled women whose PIP or ESA claims have been disallowed because they missed face-to-face assessments.
One woman lost her ESA entitlement because she was unable to run to catch a bus, due to a long-term health condition. As a result, he missed her assessment. Her entitlement was disallowed even though she had rung the centre to tell them she would be 10 minutes late.
Face-to-face assessments distress
Another woman, a mental health service-user and child abuse survivor, was placed in the ESA work-related activity group after she was assessed, and was pressured to apply for jobs. Once, when she arrived at a meeting in tears, an adviser for Maximus apparently told her: “You can choose to be a victim or you can go and get a job.”
After intervention by both WinVisible and the woman’s MP, contractor Maximus apologised and the DWP agreed to place the her in the ESA support group. People in the support group are not required to look for work.
A third woman lost benefits for several weeks because she cancelled a face-to-face assessment to attend an urgent medical appointment.
WinVisible told the committee that one woman said: “The hoop jumping, form filling and getting support to get benefits, and keep them, has pushed me to the end of sanity and destroyed my faith in the powers that be.
“I have been made to feel like a criminal and guilty before being charged.”
It’s good that the select committee is holding an inquiry into the assessment system. It’s high time something was done, but I don’t think anything good to come from it. Even if the select committee calls for the system to be changed, don’t expect the government to listen.
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.