Disability Assessment Services

Part of Leaving the Eu: Fishing – in Westminster Hall at 5:08 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 5:08 pm, 13th March 2019

I echo much of what has been said across the House. I am glad that Members on the Government side are taking an interest. I would love for some of them to take up the vacancies on the Work and Pensions Committee, where we look in detail at these issues.

I have met and heard from many constituents, particularly those with mental health problems, who suffer from the whole round of assessments. They are often on both ESA and PIP, so they have assessments roughly every year. Once they get a letter about an assessment, they have to fill in a form and seek medical letters to substantiate their claim. Many medical professionals are refusing to write those letters, because the DWP ask for such detailed information and they cannot possibly give the time to provide that. If they do, they charge for the letters—often £25 or £30.

As Members across the House have said, there is great reluctance to perform home visits—particularly in my very rural area where they can take longer, but also where it takes much longer for constituents to travel to appointments. Often, they simply cannot. One constituent told me about dragging her disabled daughter, who was ill and in pain, out of bed to go to her assessment because she was told she had to. Another’s GP refused to give evidence for any more assessments about home visits.

Yes, people get their taxi fare paid for them, but they have to pay up front. That often costs £100, which some people simply cannot afford. The Minister promised the Work and Pensions Committee that work capability assessments would be video-recorded, but now people are being asked to provide their own recording equipment. Again, that is an issue of affordability.

As Paul Masterton said, the process has an impact on claimants’ mental health. They go to an assessment; they wait for the result; they put in for a mandatory reconsideration, which often is turned down point-blank, and they then have to wait for an appeal. That is an incredibly stressful process, during which the claimant has to sign on for universal credit and go through the process of being assessed for work and claimant conditionality, under threat of sanctions.

I spoke to the Minister last week about a constituent of mine who died on his first day back at work. I spoke to his wife, who was absolutely clear that her husband had been forced into returning to work by DWP’s refusal to take doctors’ evidence. It said it knew best because he had passed a work capability assessment. That should no longer happen. Doctors should not receive letters saying they must not give people fit notes because they have passed a work capability assessment. That sends people further into mental health despair and, in some cases, towards suicide. I really hope the Minister looks at this issue.