Benefits assessments continue to fail people with mental health problems, according to expert evidence
Mind’s Director of External Relations, Sophie Corlett, has given evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on health assessments for disability benefits Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Based on the views and experiences of people Mind supports, Sophie told the Committee that not enough is being done to make sure people with mental health problems have the financial support they need from the benefits system.
Instead, and despite a court ruling that the benefits assessment process was discriminatory against people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism back in 2017, Sophie explained how benefits assessments are still in many cases unfair and complicated, leading to wrong outcomes, which can plunge people into poverty and trigger a lengthy and stressful appeals process.
Mind’s key recommendations:
- The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should establish an independent commission led by disabled people to design new benefits assessments.
- The UK Government should create an independent regulator of the benefits system to monitor how well the DWP is fulfilling its duties under the law and protecting the rights of people applying for benefits.
- People need choice in the method of their benefits assessment, whether that's face-to-face, on the phone or by video call.
- Assessment providers should improve training for assessors to make sure they are mental health informed with knowledge and understanding about how someone’s mental health can fluctuate and impact their lives on a day-to-day basis so that people can get the financial support they need.
Mind’s Director of External Relations, Sophie Corlett says:
“Support from the benefits system can help people with mental health problems live independently and take control over their own lives. The current process for benefits assessments is still failing far too many people with mental health problems. An unfair or inaccurate assessment can throw someone’s life into turmoil, especially at this time when we are facing soaring increases to the cost of living, with more and more people having to skimp on food or heating. With many people already making these hard choices, there is no room to cut back further, and appallingly people are being pushed deeper into real hardship and poverty.
“it’s telling that seven in ten people on disability benefits who appeal their decision see it overturned, but far too many are unable to appeal their decision in the first place because they are too unwell to face the lengthy and stressful process. Previous inquiries into benefits assessments revealed shocking stories of assessors who lacked even the most basic understanding of mental health or included irrelevant information about a person, which sometimes appeared copied and pasted from another applicant’s assessment. We need to see greater expertise and knowledge in mental health among assessors.
“The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should establish an independent commission, led by disabled people with experience of claiming benefits, to help design a new assessment process which is fit for purpose. Too often, people with mental health problems are let down by the benefits system, sometimes with devastating consequences. The UK Government urgently needs to open themselves up to scrutiny and create an independent regulator of the benefits system to monitor how well the DWP is fulfilling its duties under the law and protecting the rights of people applying for benefits.
“The benefits system needs fundamental change, to make sure all disabled people can access the financial support they need to thrive, without having to go through a lengthy and stressful fight.”
Laura, 31, from Birmingham, has bipolar disorder and emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD). She talks about her experiences and concerns about the benefits assessment process:
“I applied for benefits because I was unable to work, I have been out of work for 18 months. Every day is a struggle because I can't stabilise my moods and my rapid cycling means I am often bouncing from extreme emotion to the next. I found the benefits process for personal independence payment (PIP) very scary, and even now, every day I worry that I will get a message saying I need another assessment. The assessment process is not representative of mental illness and focuses more on physical health. I always worry I won't be believed, or my illness will be judged as 'unworthy' to continue the benefits that help me to live. I just want to be listened to and believed. I want to know that the system is on my side and not trying to trip me up. I find filling out the forms hard and not fully suitable for people with mental health problems. For me and lots of people in a similar situation it’s very difficult to open up and speak about something so personal to a stranger, especially when you feel you’re on trial.”