The Commons Work and Pensions committee has produced a damning report about PIP and ESA assessments based on evidence they have received from almost 4,000 claimants. The document includes tales of imaginary dogs, claimants catching Down’s syndrome and assessor’s equipped with x-ray vision. The DWP, however, have already dismissed the findings as founded on anonymous evidence.
The committee said that the individual responses were ‘the most ever received by a select committee inquiry, by an order of magnitude.’
The MPs were clearly convinced of the honesty and accuracy of the responses, stating:
“The unprecedented response was also remarkable in the consistency of the themes that emerged through the honest and often distressing accounts from thousands of people navigating the claims process, alongside, of course, managing their disability and mental health issues.”
The report covered a very wide range of issues.
There were examples of reports that contained basic errors of fact, including inventing dogs where none existed:
“Apparently I walk my dog daily, which was baffling because I can barely walk and I do not have a dog!” Nikki
“She wrote I arose from the chair without any difficulty. I was in bed the whole time (she let herself in) and I only have the one chair in the room and she was sitting in it. She said that I had no difficulty reading with my glasses yet I do not wear glasses to read.” Mary
“The report we received was a work of fiction and bore no resemblance to what actually took place [ … ]. For example the assessor said my husband took off his jacket with my assistance. My husband did not wear a jacket that day. The assistance I gave with his clothing was to help him put on his socks and shoes although no mention was made of this. Timings were wrong, names were wrong, information was wrong, relevant things that happened were not mentioned while things that did not happen were invented.” John
Physical examinations were often misrepresented by the health professional, who were sometimes apparently equipped with x-ray vision:
“One assessor said I had full movement in my toes although the podiatrist said at the time it was only 20%. I still can’t work out how she could tell considering I was wearing leather winter boots which she did not ask me to remove.” Watson
“Born with severe Talipes. Assessor said he “knew all about Talipes, [so] don’t need to examine foot” [ … ] Report stated 50 degrees plantar flexion, which would be normal. Actual degree is less than five. A difference of 90%. Could have been solved by his examining my foot.” Siobhan
“She stated that a physical examination had been done, but I did not move from my chair, so she could not examine my spine which she stated was normal, nor get an accurate range of limb and joint movements. The latter were given in degrees on the report. No measurements were taken. Even a physiotherapist would struggle to give this degree of accuracy without using a measuring device.” Name withheld17
“The assessor’s report [ … ] listed a full A4 page of exercises, angles attained and their conclusions. [These were] allegedly done at the assessment, none of which were done. [This included that I had] laid down when I had never been out of my wheelchair nor my thick winter coat the whole time [ … ] raising my arms, attempting and failing to get my arms behind my head and back, and rotating my ankles, again something haven’t been able to do successfully for years.” Gee
Assessors Lack of knowledge of their condition was also a concern for some claimants:
“Some of the assessors, both ESA and PIP, need more insight and training with regard to people with learning difficulties. Below are questions that parents have been asked at the assessments; How long have they had Down’s syndrome for? When did they catch Down’s syndrome? When were you diagnosed with Down’s syndrome? Down’s syndrome is a widely recognised learning disability. If an assessor is being asked to assess someone with a condition that they do not know about, common sense and courtesy should tell them to research the condition before starting the assessment. We therefore believe that more training is required in some cases.” Down’s Syndrome Association
“The assessment itself was brief, and the assessor had no knowledge of my condition. She said not to worry, she’d Google it later. The report was incorrect. The assessor asserted that my gait is normal, but I’ve had a limp since 2005, and use crutches from the physio to try to straighten my walk [ … ] She also said I have normal spinal movement—I haven’t, partially because of pain, partially due to the metal cage round my lumbar vertebra. The list goes on.” Ceri
The use of ‘informal observations’ in which the assessor reaches conclusions based on a claimant’s appearance and behaviour also came in for heavy criticism:
“I was judged on superficial characteristics like my demeanour on the day which aren’t indicative of my internal mental state whatsoever. In early stages of mania, I appear happy and confident and my behaviour gradually becomes more extreme over the course of weeks. Severe mood episodes are episodic, but even between them, my mood is problematic and hard to cope with. No concession to the variable nature of my illness was taken into account.” Nick
“The assessor said in the report something to the effect that my mental health wasn’t an issue as I had smiled during my assessment. At the time of my assessment I was highly suicidal.” Amanda
“The assessor stated that I was “well kempt [sic]”. However, I had not managed to wash my hair for over a week due to my impairments, and she failed to note that I was only wearing two items of clothing, and was spaced out on my prescription controlled drug.” Name withheld29
“The assessor stated in her report “no signs of sore hands” “no signs of repeated washing” “was well groomed” “was well dressed”. Anyone with a brain cell knows mental health isn’t always visible, and OCD isn’t all about excessive washing of the hands! OCD is known as a secretive disorder at the best of times and people in that profession should know better when it comes to mental health.” Chad
“The assessment was done by a general nurse with no mental health training. He concluded that, since I did not appear to be stressed, anxious or show any mental health issues during the assessment, it was “unreasonable to believe” I had mental health issues [ … ] The stress of the interview actually got me admitted to hospital the next day.” Sarah
The Work and Pensions committee made a wide range of recommendations for further investigation by the DWP of the problems claimants experience.
They also paid tribute to the bravery of claimants in submitting evidence:
“The PIP and ESA assessment processes function satisfactorily for the majority of claimants, but they are failing a substantial minority. The response to our inquiry from claimants was striking and unprecedented. This report—featuring just a fraction of the evidence we received—is a tribute to their efforts and bravery in submitting evidence and a reflection of the importance of recognising the human consequences of policy shortcomings.”
The DWP, however, have already dismissed the evidence from claimants in a statement in which they said it was “disappointing that this report uses a number of anonymous claims that we are unable to investigate”.
They added: “We’ve already commissioned five independent reviews of the work capability assessment – accepting over 100 of their recommendations – and two independent reviews of Pip assessments. Anyone needing extra support can request it, and if someone is unhappy with a decision, they can appeal.”
“As the [select committee] highlights, assessments work for a majority of people, with 76% of Pip claimants and 83% of ESA claimants telling us that they’re happy with their overall experience.”