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MPs call for improvement to benefit assessments

Published on 16 February 2018

Three people having an informal conversationOn 14 February 2018, an influential group of MPs published a new report evaluating the assessment process for two forms of financial support, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and making strong recommendations for improvements.

PIP is a source of financial support designed to help people with disabilities and long-term conditions to manage the extra costs of their condition. ESA offers financial support for those unable to work, as well as personalised help with getting back into work if people are able to take steps towards employment.

PIP and ESA are two benefits that many people with arthritis need, however we often hear that, despite the significant impact the condition has on their lives, they have been unable to access this support, due to the flawed assessment process.

In September 2017, the Work and Pensions Committee called for evidence on these issues. They had an overwhelming response, with nearly 4,000 individual submissions, the most ever received by a select committee inquiry. These testimonies have helped shape the report released today.

Helen, a former nurse who lives near St Albans, was one of the people who shared her experience in the consultation response submitted to the committee:

“I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in July. I was receiving ESA but after my interview this was stopped. I no longer qualified for any disability benefits payments, despite not being able to cut my food on some days. I was appalled when I read how my assessor had recorded my assessment. For example, I take my dog to the small field behind my house as often as I’m able. It takes five minutes. When I read my assessment, it said I ‘walk the dog on treks everyday’. I felt they had picked out some of my answers and exaggerated them, which meant I wouldn’t qualify. The Government needs to spend some time with the people affected, and listen to their stories. I didn’t ask for this to happen to me. Working in a caring profession for the last 19 years, I know how to talk to people and treat them with respect, but I didn’t feel like I was treated like a real person during this assessment process.”

Morgan Vine, the Campaigns Manager at Arthritis Research UK commented: “Our team have spoken to people living with arthritis, who have shared their frustration and distress when being assessed for PIP or ESA. As members of the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), we have been concerned for some time that people in desperate need of these benefits are not qualifying for much-needed support. Today’s report from the Work and Pensions Committee clearly highlights the key issues with PIP and ESA assessments which urgently need to be addressed, including ensuring those carrying out assessments are fully trained to understand the severe impact of long-term conditions. We now need the Government to act on these findings and take action to improve the assessment process for people with arthritis and other long-term conditions.”

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee who released this report said: “The Government cannot, must not, fail to recognise the unprecedented response the Committee had to this inquiry, remarkable for the consistency and clarity of themes that emerged through thousands of individual accounts. No one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.”

You can read more about the report on the Committee's website.

Our policy, public affairs and campaigns team will continue to work on this important issue which affects so many people with arthritis. Alongside other members of the DBC, we will call on the Government to address the recommendations laid out in this report.

To help us fight for positive changes for people with arthritis, you can join our campaigner network.

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The Policy, Public Affairs and Campaigns team seeks to bring about change that enables people with musculoskeletal conditions to say “I am in control, independent and recognised”.

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