Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a parliamentary written question earlier this week show that as of 27 April 2020 there were 166,630 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claimants with either an assessment scheduled or awaiting scheduling.
The same figures also show that as of 4 May, 101,910 people were left awaiting assessments for Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
It follows a decision by the DWP to temporarily suspend all face-to-face benefit assessments for three months in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
However, claimants continue to receive payment at their current rate or assessment rate whilst the suspension remains in force.
Another reason for the growing backlog is that many DWP staff were either lost or transferred to help manage a surge in Universal Credit claims, with almost two million new claims since March 2020.
Commenting on the latest figures, Disability Rights UK Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said: “The backlog of PIP and ESA claims is very concerning.
“We must not return to the situation soon after PIP was introduced where claimants were waiting for well over a year for decisions on their claims.
“The situation has been made worse by the Government making over 20% of DWP staff redundant since it rolled out Universal Credit.
“But disabled people should not be disproportionately affected as a result of DWP staff reallocation.
“Disabled people have extra costs as a result of their disability.
“Already, disabled adults are four times worse off financially than non-disabled adults.
“The DWP needs to adequately staff disability benefit sections.
“It also needs to encourage decision makers to make more use of claimants own medical, written and oral evidence.
“Decisions should not be delayed by waiting for discredited medical assessments by privatised companies, three quarters of which are then overturned on appeal.”
The charity has also called for an increase to disability benefit payments, in direct response to recent changes to Universal Credit and tax credits.
Ken Butler said: “Even before the covid-19 crisis, benefit cuts and austerity hit disabled people the hardest.
“The £20 week temporary increase to universal credit and tax credits is welcome but should be made permanent.
“It should also properly be extended to those on ‘legacy benefits’ such as ESA.
“In addition, the Work-Related Activity Group and UC equivalent Limited Capability for Work addition should be restored.”