Inquiry into cruel ‘fit to work’ assessments recommends overhaul
Benefits system failing "a substantial minority”
16 February, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Committee chairman Frank Field MP
THOUSANDS of sick and disabled people have shared horror stories of how they were stripped of their benefits under “cruel” fit-to-work assessments.
The work and pensions select committee this week published its findings after weeks of hear- ing evidence from Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance claimants, campaigners, politicians and charities – including ones from Westminster.
The committee’s report said the assessments system “failinga substantial minority” and recommended a radical overhaul of the demeaning assessments provided initially by Atos and, most recently, by the American company Maximus on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Denise Martin, 50, who has bipolar disorder and some physical health problems such as fibromyalgia, was one of the people who gave evidence on behalf of mental health charity Mind.
She said: “I endeavoured to work most of my life and became too unwell to work. This is not a choice we make easily. It is all stacked against us. Predominantly, I have a mental illness that affects me quite severely. It is really, really, tough and these assessments are adding to that.
“I do not think anybody has the right to make me go home and cry because I have just had work capability assessment three weeks ago that is still playing on my mind.”
The committee said that more than half of people who appeal their benefit decision see it overturned at tribunal.
If assessed and found to be fit for work benefits are immediately suspended but it typically takes at least three months for an appeal to go through.
The committee’s report concluded that “common themes running through many of the comments convince us that there are some generic issues which need to be addressed”.
It said that reports were routinely filled with errors, benefit forms were often too complicated for disabled people or sick people to fill out, “lack of assessor knowledge about the functional implications of different conditions”.
And it advised changes to the appeal process.
The DWP said it would consider the findings of the committee.