Personal Independence Payment assessments

By Bernadette Meaden
September 25, 2017

Recently a paramedic carrying out Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments for Capita, on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, was found guilty of misconduct by a professional standards tribunal. Alan Barham had been covertly filmed mocking disabled people, and admitting that he largely completed an assessment before meeting the claimant, ignoring evidence they provided.

The Health and Care Professions Council summoned Mr Barham to a tribunal as a result of receiving complaints from the public after the covert footage was broadcast on Channel Four. Giving a verdict of misconduct against him, the tribunal panel said, “In the panel’s view, it is paramount that the public is able to trust the integrity of the PIP assessment process. Individual claimants as well as the general public need to have confidence that the disability assessors carry out the PIP assessments in a fair and sensitive manner, respecting the dignity of the claimants and having regard to the sensitive nature of the personal and medical information provided.”

But how is it possible to trust the integrity of the PIP assessment process, when its purpose is not to provide the support that is needed, but to reduce the claimant count and save money?

PIP replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA). When the policy was included in George Osborne’s 2010 budget the costings document which accompanied the budget said, “the central assumption for this policy is that it will result in a 20 per cent reduction in caseload and expenditure once fully rolled out.”

In 2012, Esther McVey told the House of Commons that an initial cohort of 560,000 DLA claimants would be reassessed, and crucially, that 330,000 were expected to either lose their benefit or have it reduced. 

If the government has decided in advance how many people will lose their benefit, and how much money will be saved, before any assessments have been carried out, then how can those assessments be delivered fairly on a case by case basis? As the Royal College of Psychiatrists said, "The integrity of an objective assessment is compromised if decisions are thought to be influenced by a savings target." 

The DWP and its contractors may deny that individual assessors have a target to meet, but it surely cannot deny that there is an overall target, and the system is geared to deliver that target. This being the case, is it possible for healthcare professionals to participate in such a system without potentially being required to compromise their professional standards?

The case of Alan Barham came to light because he was covertly filmed by a high profile television programme. But John Pring, of the highly-regarded Disability News Service (DNS), now has evidence of hundreds of PIP assessors allegedly producing reports which bear no relation to the reality of a claimant’s condition.  DNS recently revealed the case of ‘David’ a teacher who lost his job due to his illness. He received an apology from Atos because his first PIP assessment report was so inaccurate, only to undergo a second assessment which was even worse. David said, “I could not believe the lies, distortions and omissions of things I had told her… I thought the first rule of medicine was to do no harm” 

We now know that three quarters of people with serious illnesses, long-term health conditions and disabilities who have been through a PIP assessment said it made their condition worse. The situation is so bad that the Disability Benefits Consortium, made up of over 80 charities and organisations, has published a report, ‘Supporting Those Who Need It Most?’ and called on the government to ‘Get a Grip On PIP’.

PIP is just one facet of what the United Nations has said is the 'human catastrophe' caused by the government’s assault on the human rights of disabled people, removing from many the support they need to be able to take part in society on an equal basis, or just to subsist. No doubt most people working within the system are trying to do their job in a compassionate and respectful manner. But no matter how hard they try, the system itself is intrinsically flawed, and set up to ultimately produce a damaging result for disabled people. It must be time for the bodies which uphold the ethical and professional standards of the healthcare professions to seriously question whether it is appropriate for their members to be part of such a system.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

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