Inquiry into disability benefits ‘deluged’ by tales of despair

From The Guardian: A House of Commons inquiry into disability benefits has heard from more than 3,000 people in despair at the system, including dozens who say they have been driven to suicidal thoughts by the process.

The evidence includes testimony from many saying their mental health had deteriorated as a result of trying to claim the employment support allowance (ESA) for daily living costs and/or the personal independence payment (PIP) to cover the extra costs caused by long-term disability.

It comes after longstanding concerns among mental health groups, medical professionals, user groups and MPs about the operation of both benefits, which see claimant assessments run by outsourced providers and final decisions made by officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The submissions included more than 100 people reporting that they or someone they care for feels their suicidal feelings have worsened or been triggered by the process.

Andrew H, who has post-traumatic stress disorder after leaving the armed forces, described how “this whole experience has left me on the verge of suicide [and] makes me wonder why did I put up with the things I had to do in Northern Ireland or clearing bodies from mass war graves in Bosnia”.

Claire, who has mental health problems, wrote to the committee to say: “The assessor had to write things like if you were ‘rocking’, which made me feel like the DWP got their ideas of mental illness from fiction books … I had to fill the form in again recently and I believe that this has triggered another crisis period, which meant that I ended up attempting suicide.”

Carolyn T, who has depression, anxiety and panic attacks, told the MPs: “I already feel worthless, having no family or friends, but to feel like a parasite and harassed by the DWP is making me feel suicidal and I’m trying so hard to keep myself from ending it all.”

Several common themes arise in the complaints from claimants, including:

  • Medically inappropriate questions. Charities reported clients being asked by assessors where they had “caught” Down’s syndrome from or how long they had suffered from spina bifida;
  • A mismatch between what the claimants had told assessors about their conditions and what the written reports about them said. One person who is a telephony agent at the ESA benefit inquiry line wrote in to say: “Customers are always saying the DWP decision-makers’ written report doesn’t reflect what happened in the assessment room.
  • Assessors overlooking disabilities or illnesses that are not immediately visible. One respondent called Lisa said: “If you look well enough then you don’t get it. I’m struggling to live on the £73 a week, I’m not sure I can cope with being turned down again. Have even considered suicide. I’m at my wits’ end, please help.”

[Read full article on Guardian website…]

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