No dog, can’t walk: tales from the PIP and ESA front line
We asked claimants to share their experience of the whole assessment process, and we launched an online forum so people could submit their stories that way too. The response was overwhelming: nearly 4,000 individual submissions, the most ever received by a select committee inquiry, by an order of magnitude.
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.
We were so impressed and moved by the response we are today publishing a collection of just a few of the thousands of stories claimants shared with us. The stories cover the process from beginning to end, from organising and attending the medical assessments to final appeal at the Tribunal, where people have gone that far.
Since 2013 there have been 170,000 PIP appeals taken to the Tribunal: Claimants won in 108,000 cases - 63%. In the same time, there have been 53,000 ESA appeals. Claimants won in 32,000 - or 60% - of those cases.
Arduous and stressful
One theme that emerged was claimants going through this process, by their accounts often arduous and stressful, only to receive a report that bore little or no relation to their circumstances or what had occurred during the assessment. After reading her report, Nikki told us:
"Apparently I walk my dog daily, which was baffling because I can barely walk and I do not have a dog!"
Mary told us that her assessor wrote in her report that:
"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."
How did you catch Down's Syndrome?
Another common theme was the apparent ignorance of assessors about the conditions claimants were living with. People with Down's Syndrome - a widely recognised congenital disorder with associated learning disability - were asked how long they'd had the condition, or when they'd "caught" it.
Chad, who lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, told us:
"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."
A great many of the stories we heard were harrowing, in some cases just an account of trying to complete the forms to begin the process. One person told us:
"For the twelve days we took considering and writing on the form, my mother refused to eat, drink, or sleep save the smallest amount. She began to self-harm from the stress and cry in the despair of admitting how she is limited, how she is constantly in pain, how she cannot complete simple tasks—'how her disability affects her': the very name of the form."
Next Wednesday we will be publishing the final report of this inquiry, with our recommendations to Government on changes to the process. We are enormously grateful to the thousands of people who shared their stories with us, to inform the report, and we hope the Government will take heed of this enormous response and act on our recommendations.
In its response to this report, we have called on Government to acknowledge explicitly that it recognises each of the concerns and problems we have set out, and tell us what, if anything, it is doing to monitor and resolve them.