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Our report on the benefits system: Reassessing assessments

Our report on what changes the UK government needs to make to the benefits assessments system. And why people with lived experience must be at the heart of this work.

Our research: an overview

Getting the right benefits can help those of us with a mental health problem to live with independence and dignity. This requires fair and accurate benefits assessments. But right now, that’s not what we have.

In this research, people told us the benefits assessment process can feel like ‘being put on trial’. People feel mistrusted and judged. As if they were trying to get out of working, despite wishing they were well enough to work. Many said that their mental health got worse as a result.

The stories we heard showed that people with mental health problems are not treated with dignity and respect. This needs to change.

Our support systems should work for and include everyone in our society. Through this research, people with mental health problems told us how the UK government can change benefits assessments to effectively support them.

What we think the UK government should do

People with experience of the benefits system must be at the heart of how to improve it

The UK government should:

  • Create a new commission - one that is led by disabled people. To put forward reforms to the structure and criteria of benefits assessments.
  • Establish an independent regulator for the benefits system. To hold the UK government to account, protect the rights of disabled people, and enforce improved assessments.

What we did

This report summarises the experiences and views of people in England and Wales with mental health problems and experience of benefits assessments.

The findings were gathered via:

  • A poll of more than 1000 people
  • Workshops with 24 people who had experience of being assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit (UC)

Our aim was to see how assessments can be improved to work for everyone. And to develop solutions grounded in people’s lived experience.

What we found

  1. There’s still a lack of understanding of mental health problems throughout the benefits assessments system.
  2. People felt that the system tries to catch them out, rather than support them.
  3. People felt confused, angry and retraumatised when trying to navigate their assessment.

This was supported by our polling findings:

Almost 1 in 2 people (48%) did not agree with the outcome of their PIP assessment.

More than 1 in 3 (35%) did not agree with the outcome of their assessment for ESA or UC.

Almost 7 in 10 people (66%) told us that going through their benefits assessment made their mental health worse.

Both female and older respondents were most likely to have negative experiences of assessments.

Almost 9 in 10 (88%) of female respondents aged 45 and over told us that their PIP assessment made their mental health worse.

  1. ‘I did not agree with the outcome so I appealed against the decision’ and ‘I did not agree with the
    outcome but I didn't appeal it’ answers combined.
  2. ‘Somewhat agree’ and ‘Somewhat agree’ answers combined.

Recommendations for improvement

Workshop participants told us how they felt benefits assessments could be improved.

Fundamental to these recommendations was the need for the UK government to change its overall culture within the benefits system.

To do this, a shift is needed from gatekeeping benefits to prioritising support for disabled people. The UK government must trust, listen to and work with disabled people to take forward their recommendations for assessment reform.

It should take the following approach:

1. People should be able to choose their assessment method and time

Some people may struggle to attend a face-to-face assessment, whilst others may not be able to explain their situation properly over the phone.

2. The process should be easier to navigate

This includes providing more information about what the process involves. And offering flexibility in the process so it can work for everyone.

3. Assessment questions and criteria need to reflect the reality of mental health problems

Better questions need to be asked. Including ones which account for fluctuations in people’s mental health over time and which assess how work can affect people’s mental health.

4. Fewer assessments should be carried out

More benefit awards should be made based on the forms people fill in and the evidence people provide from health professionals. The length between reassessments should also be extended to reduce the stress of repeatedly going through the same process.

5. Assessors need more mental health expertise and to be more understanding

Assessors should be required to have a mental health qualification or training when dealing with benefit claims that are based on mental health problems. Overall, their approach needs to be more sympathetic to the additional barriers people are facing.

6. The accountability of assessors and decision makers needs strengthening

Assessments should be automatically recorded and provided to the person making the application. Assessors’ performance, in terms of quality and accuracy of assessment reports, should also be monitored more and held to higher standards.

Read the full report

Reassessing assessments (pdf, opens in new window)

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