You judge whether a society is civilised or not by how it treats its most vulnerable people. The Work and Pensions Select Committee will publish a report this week which has recommendations for the reform of social security for sick and disabled people.
If one of your relatives suffered from a debilitating, life limiting physical or mental health condition, you would want them to have the best support possible. You wouldn’t want them to have to endure a social security system that is complex, demeaning and stressful.
As a prelude to their full report, the Work and Pensions Committee published a taster of the evidence they have received which outlines the awful things that people go through.
For me, it wasn’t the absurd and ridiculous incidents that caught the headlines (people being asked why they hadn’t killed themselves yet, or how they caught Down’s Syndrome) that upset me the most. It was the clear evidence that the way the system operates is harmful to people that made me angriest.
To be fair, none of this was news to me. I’ve been aware for some time that the system is broken. It particularly fails those with fluctuating conditions, Autism and poor mental health, but it’s stressful for everybody.
Filling in the massive form is particularly difficult. For some, it is even more so. I spoke at an RNIB Scotland fringe meeting at Scottish Conference about a year ago, The RNIB Scotland Chair, Sandra Wilson, talked about her experience of the dreaded form. She has no sight. They sent her a paper copy and expected her to fill it in. They knew she had no sight when they sent her the form.
If you look at some of the examples in the report, you will see how completely flawed the process is. The mother who self-harmed as the form forced her to recount the limitations of her condition, the numerous accounts of forms taking from 20-50 hours to complete and the impact of the process on the person making the claim
A common feature which will be familiar to anyone who has supported people through PIP applications is the assessment report which bears no resemblance to anything that happened at the assessment, which refers to physical examinations which didn’t take place or conclusions that could not possibly be drawn from what was said.
The most important thing for me is that this whole process is humane, but it doesn’t even stack up on the money side. People are put through these degrading assessments to save the government money – but they don’t.
A National Audit Office report in 2016 stated that they cost £1.6 billion and saved £1 billion. Why not put that money directly into helping those with disabilities to be supported in the community and in work if that is possible for them?
A very clear indicator that the system is broken is that well more than half of the cases that go to appeal win.It’s 63% for PIP and 60% for ESA. Behind those figures lie months without benefit, potentially losing your Motability car but at the very least causing a financial hit. That’s before you even think about the stress of forcing an ill person before a tribunal which they are probably going to win.
So we are forcing people through an inhumane system that costs more than it saves. It’s broken on every level.
I suspect the recommendations coming out next week will be more of the papering over the cracks variety than the sort of radical reform the system needs. I’d like to be pleasantly surprised though.