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Disabled benefit claimants recall 'cruel and traumatic' DWP video assessments: 'It's no way to live'

Vulnerable people have been left “feeling like criminals” after having Department of Work and Pensions assessments delayed

Video call assessments can be a stressful process for DWP claimants.

Video call assessments can be a stressful process for DWP claimants.

Vulnerable people have been left “feeling like criminals” and “anxious for days” after having Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) video assessments delayed or cancelled at the last minute.

A person with a disability or mental health condition can apply to the DWP for the personal independence payment (PIP) benefit to help with their living costs. But they must first endure assessments carried out by private contractors on behalf of the DWP – a process that is “daunting, traumatic and cruel”, claimants have told Big Issue.

After waiting four months for an assessment date, 28-year-old Amie Marie felt “hostage to the DWP’s poor management”.

“I was supposed to be telephoned at 10am on the dot… my assessment didn’t start until just after midday,” she said.

“The waiting without forewarning, the delayed assessment without apology, was worse than disrespectful. It felt like a power play, and I am powerless.”

Marie is chronically ill with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a group of rare inherited conditions that affect connective tissue. Waiting for the appointment left her in agony.

“By 10.25am, I risked calling the PIP helpline for an update. Holding a phone up physically hurts me. But I did it anyway, and got drowsy from pain and exertion,” she recalled.

“I think the assessment made my health worse for a long time, and the delayed appointment made it physically so much worse for me. I cannot overstress how much this takes from you.”

The DWP conducts around 6,000 video assessments per month, accounting for a tenth of all assessments.

“We support millions of people every year and our priority is that they receive a timely, supportive and compassionate service,” a spokesperson said.

“Claimants are not required to attend a PIP assessment where a paper-based one is possible, and any claimant is free to be accompanied to their assessment, through whatever means, to reduce any stress or anxiety.”

Amie Marie

However, whistleblowers allege that disabled people are ‘set up to fail’ by the target-driven assessments system. Hundreds – “probably thousands” – of disabled people may have died avoidable deaths because of failures of the disability benefits system, a 2023 investigation by the Disability News Service found.

Lengthy delays make navigating the system “all the more stressful”, said Zarria Phillips. The 61-year-old was left waiting more than an hour for her PIP assessment to start. When she called the DWP, they told her that the appointment had been rescheduled for the next day.

“Waiting made me feel more anxious because I was worried that they would suddenly spring a whole load of questions on me, and I wouldn’t be ready,” she said.

The Bath local sustained a brain injury that damaged her short-term memory. It makes the assessment process feel like an “exam that she could fail” and like a “criminal”.

“I wish they had more of an understanding of how disability impacts someone’s everyday living. It feels like they are trying to catch you out,” Phillips added.

“It’s cruel. You’re really not sure what’s going to happen, whether you’re going to be able to afford next week’s shopping. You just consider the choices. Live in this nasty situation, or don’t live any more. It’s no way to live.”

In a debate in parliament last year, MPs from across the political spectrum described the benefits assessment process as “inhumane”. For Marie, the process is “dehumanising”.

“I was in so much pain and tension [waiting for the call] and I just wanted them to hear the undeniable truth: I am disabled, diagnosed, and it affects me in life-limiting ways that make life more expensive,” she said.

“Without PIP, I would struggle to afford these accommodations. I’d be unmedicated and under nourished: rationing the pills I can afford and skipping meals when I can’t use my hands.”

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