It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate Gillian Keegan on securing the debate. Like many other Members, I am sure, I felt compelled to speak because of the number of constituents who have come to me with harrowing stories of their experiences, and with a clear message that improvements to disability assessment services are very much needed.
In my constituency, we have seen a variety of issues recently, including cases of incorrect information being recorded; there have been statements saying that physical assessments were carried out when they were not, and that a constituent could go out alone when the assessor was actually told in the interview that they could not. In one case, the information was so incorrect that it was assumed that the assessment report had been mixed up with that for another case. My constituent Amy was recorded as walking despite being wheelchair-bound, which must surely have been apparent at the assessment. When a complaint was raised, the DWP noted that that could be a “misleading statement”, but worryingly, Capita, which has consistently failed to meet its target for an acceptable standard of assessment, responded that there was no evidence that the statement made by the assessor had been misreported. I find that unbelievable.
Last-minute cancellations are a problem. We have heard from constituents whose assessments were cancelled on the day that they were due to take place. Even worse, in some cases, the constituents were actually at the assessment centre when their appointment was cancelled. Yet perversely, if a constituent is unable to attend their assessment, they are penalised. When one of my constituents rang up two days before her assessment to give notice that she would not be well enough to attend, she was told that it was too late for the assessment to be rescheduled, and that she would be recorded as a no-show. Those are double standards of the highest order.
Constituents who have attended assessments have raised with me the concern that their assessor carried out the assessment very quickly, and did not listen to their answers. Others were concerned that the assessment was not carried out safely. For example, a constituent with a slipped disk was asked to complete the physical part of the assessment without anything to support her, despite informing the assessor that she would need to hold on to something. Why are my constituents being put at risk in that way?
Another major concern is the refusal to conduct home assessments, despite medical evidence that they are necessary. That is a concern shared by organisations such as Macmillan Cancer Support, which has found that home visits can often be difficult to obtain, and that the option of a home visit is not widely communicated.