The PIP Assessment Scandal
On Monday 16 October, the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire program exposed gravely worrying flaws in the Personal Independence Payment assessment process. The government’s replacement for Disability Living Allowance, PIP is a benefit paid to severely ill and disabled people.
Claimants are interviewed by a health care professional, who works for the government through a private contractor, for between 30 and 90 minutes to determine their ability to carry out normal everyday tasks and their level of mobility. They may also undergo a physical examination and basic medical tests. This can take place at the claimant’s home or an assessment centre. The assessor’s report is then forwarded to the Department for Work and Pensions who decide how much disability benefit is allowed.
A common sense approach would be to record these encounters, especially considering that there has been a long string of accusations by claimants that their assessors have entered false information in their paperwork. Despite this, assessees are adamantly told that if they desire an audio log, they themselves must provide a tamper-proof dual recorder which simultaneously produces 2 copies on CDs, at a cost of around £1,500. Even if someone does take the required machine with them, their assessor reserves the right to refuse to be recorded.
In 2015, Nev Cartwright was diagnosed with a tumour in his left lung. He has had 3 operations and the affected lung removed. He has also been left with complications including chronic infections and emphysema. He was awarded the maximum rate of DLA, but last year was assessed for the new PIP. Worried by a documentary that he had watched which questioned how the process was conducted, he covertly recorded events with his phone. If he had been caught doing this, he would have been ordered to stop. If he had refused, the cessation of his appointment would have ensued.
When he saw the assessor’s final report, he saw that “Some details discussed in the interview were not in the report and others were completely altered.” He states, “She said she’d done a physical examination of my mobility. It was very evident on the audio recording, that she never did that at all.”
Nev’s recording contains a peak flow test. (As a sufferer of asthma and hay fever, I have experience of this procedure.) The patient takes a deep breath and blows all the air out of their lungs as hard and fast as possible into a hand-held device. An indicator moves along a gauge that is displayed in liters per minute, or L/min. This is repeated twice and the highest of the 3 readings is used to determine bronchial efficiency.
Cartwright’s assessor can be clearly heard saying that his 3 readings were 250 L/min, 200 L/min and 150 L/min. Yet her report claimed his final attempt measured 300 L/min, making his condition appear less debilitating than it actually was. “I totally agree that anyone entitled to benefits should have their needs assessed,” he opined, “but everyone deserves just and fair treatment.”
His assessment resulted in the reduction of his benefits and the loss of his car. He wrote to the DWP and included a transcript of his recording, which had been written by an independent company. Before he attended a tribunal to appeal, the Government argued that covert recordings are inadmissible as evidence, but the judge made an exception and allowed his transcript to be utilised. He won his case and eventually regained his car. He said, “I’ve wasted 12 months of my life in an unfair fight with a government department and the people who work for it.”
Cartwright’s case is far from the only one. 60,000 claimants per month are evaluated for disability benefits. More than a quarter of PIP assessments are the subjects of challenges, of which 65% succeed.
In 2016, Amelia Victoria Bailey was struck off the nursing register, by a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel, for misconduct during PIP assessments 2 years earlier. Employed by the government contractor Atos, she had pretended to carry out interviews in claimants’ homes but had actually executed them by phone. She had included fictitious comments about the appearance of the assessees, falsified her own clinical findings and submitted fraudulent travel expenses claims. In a separate incident, another nurse named Heather Margaret MacBean was struck off for conducting “fitness to work” assessments while intoxicated in 2013. How many more occurrences of this type are there? I suspect the problem is endemic.
Research by Liverpool and Oxford universities found that the DWP’s eligibility tests have coincided with a vast increase in the numbers of suicides, cases of mental illnesses and prescriptions for antidepressants.
Critics of the process advocate for all PIP interviews to be mandatorily recorded. Tony Lea, lead welfare rights officer at Benefit Resolutions, said, “It would remove the distrust and give so much transparency to everyone.”
Though the government insists that mental health issues should have parity with physical health problems, they hypocritically ignored 2 tribunal rulings that would have achieved this and introduced emergency legislation in order to preclude sufferers of psychological distress from being eligible for PIP. Severely mentally ill claimants are often evaluated by staff who have no particular expertise of their conditions.
In addition to all of this is the government’s obstinance on the issue of the premature rollout of Universal Credit. An estimated 20% of claims are delayed. Even the claims that are processed punctually result in a 6-week wait. 4 weeks is too long to wait for a first payment, never mind 6 weeks! I believe that UKIP should endeavour to become the champions of causes such as these, as Labour have abandoned the British working class in favour of newcomers.
As I stated in an earlier article, I am convinced that the establishment are prepared to do whatever it takes to reduce the benefits bill, except prevent foreigners from coming to Britain and unnecessarily straining the system. Though the government may be blameless for incidents such as nurses working while drunk, circumstantial evidence is, in my view, mounting up against them.