Government 'dodging the big questions on disability benefits'

By agency reporter
March 6, 2019

As the Secretary of State delivered a key speech on benefits at Scope, the Work and Pensions Select Committee published the Government’s response to its report on the treatment of disabled people under Universal Credit.

Frank Field, Chair of the Committee, said: “The Government’s response to our report once again dodges all the big questions. In this country, to be living with a disability is to be disproportionately likely to be living in poverty. Instead of tackling that, the design of Universal Credit will leave many disabled people even worse off. Yet in the face of that shocking truth, the Government keeps returning lacklustre responses like this. It must do better.”

The Committee has repeatedly raised concerns about disabled people left without the income vital to their needs while they await an assessment for PIP or ESA or – crucially – the correct decision based on it, with long delays, “shoddy, error ridden reports” and a protracted reconsideration and appeal process that sees high numbers of decisions ultimately overturned.

It has also highlighted problems with the way the 'Fit Note' and other medical evidence is used in the process, but the Government’s response refuses again to engage with that question, citing instead the fact that the target for time taken “from Work Capability Assessment referral to [decision] recommendation has reduced from 32 weeks to 10 weeks”.

The Committee has particular concerns on the one exception in the process, to speed up awards for people who are dying. The Chair has tabled a series of Parliamentary Questions aimed at uncovering, for example, how DWP justifies including the “reasonable expectation of death within six months” as a requirement in its terminal illness fast-tracking process.

Other points from the Report:

  • As the Committee recommended, the Government will not start to migrate ESA claimants to UC until it has sorted out their existing ESA underpayment claims
  • The Government has committed to accepting the recommendation that Universal Support providers will be funded to proactively offer on-going support to people who cannot use the online system

Commenting on the reforms to disability assessments announced by Amber Rudd in her speech at Scope, Frank Field said: “People claiming PIP and ESA should be able to trust that the assessments they must undergo will be fair, consistent and high quality. Time and time again we have heard they are none of these. Instead, claimants are let down by the repeated failings of an evidently shoddy, error-ridden process.

"These measures being announced today must be implemented with the key objective of making the whole process more manageable for disabled claimants, but changing the process alone will not fix the core problem. DWP must focus on bringing the quality of assessments up to scratch. And the lessons of Universal Credit should warn the Department against placing all its eggs in the “digital by default” basket, especially when – as the Committee heard from Scope last week – one in five disabled people does not or cannot access online forms.

"Trust in PIP and ESA assessments is in desperately short supply. We wait to see if these announcements translate into the change that can begin to restore it.”

On Monday the Committee called on the Secretary of State to press the Chancellor to end the benefit freeze a year early, in the Spring Statement next week.

* Read the Committee's report Universal Credit: support for disabled people here

* Read the Government's response to the report here

* Work and Pensions Committee



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