DISABLED PEOPLE have spoken of how the UK Government’s benefits assessment process has left them feeling suicidal, in tears and in physical pain, in new research by anti-poverty charity Z2K.

Participants in Z2K’s research described finding the benefits assessment process ‘hostile’, ‘discriminatory’ and ‘degrading’ with claimants asked to perform physical tests despite being in visible pain.

“During my first assessment, the assessor waved her hand at me when I tried to explain my mental health issues and said ‘I’m not interested in that, I want to know if you can touch your toes’. I received no points during that assessment.”

More than one person told Z2K that the stress of the whole process – from assessments to appeal – had driven them to consider ending their life. “It caused a massive amount of distress and I seriously considered suicide many times throughout the process.”

The research revealed a high overturn rate of negative decisions when challenged at independent Tribunal, a long process disabled people found challenging and distressing. It also exposed a deep lack of trust among disabled people that the UK Government’s forthcoming health and disability consultation would lead to the system being positively reformed.

In a survey of 1,420 disabled people carried out by Z2K:

  • Nine in 10 (89 per cent) said they were not confident that the Government will consider the changes disabled people want to see made to the assessment process
  • Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) think the Government will not make the required changes to the process
  • Over two thirds (70 per cent) felt the assessor at their disability benefit assessment did not understand their condition
  • 87 per cent who appealed a negative decision at the Social Security Tribunal were successful

The charity and disability campaigners are calling for Ministers to urgently publish their plans for reforming the system and commit to engaging with disabled people during the consultation. Anela Anwar, Chief Executive of Z2K, said: “For far too long benefits assessors and Ministers have ignored the plight of disabled people who have endured a decade of discrimination and degradation at the hands of a fundamentally flawed system which all too frequently puts blunt processes before people’s wellbeing.

“How many more people will be forced to endure these distressing and damaging assessments while Ministers continue to drag their feet? Government has lost the trust of disabled people who don’t believe their experiences will be heard or acted upon. This Government must urgently publish its much promised Health and Disability Green Paper and ensure the views of disabled people are at the heart of a long overdue systemic reform. They simply can’t afford to get this wrong again.”

Lee, a Disabled Campaigner for Z2K and research participant said: “From 2006, DWP already knew there was no cure for my chronic conditions. Yet from Income Support to ESA, from Incapacity Benefit to PIP, I continue to be reassessed every two years. The fundamental aim of these assessments is flawed and rather than toiling over cosmetic changes to procedures, this Government needs to revisit the core value of helping those who have met adversity in life, not to render their lives more difficult and fearful than they already are.”

Z2K surveyed 1,420 people who have been through the assessment process for disability benefits – 1,220 had been assessed for Personal Independence Payment, 885 for Employment and Support Allowance, and 166 for the Limited Capability for Work elements of Universal Credit, on 14 -28 April 2021.

Benefits applicants are assessed by one of DWP’s privately-contracted assessor companies to determine their eligibility and fitness for work. Awards are often only two or three years and applicants are then called back for reassessment.

Z2K is an anti-poverty charity that uses advice and support to prevent people becoming homeless, and help low-income households to access the Social Security benefits they are entitled to. The charity was formerly know as Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.

* Read People Before Process, a summary of Z2K’s research here.

* Source Z2K