The UK Government’s flagship disability benefit assessment system is driving a “hostile environment” towards sick and disabled people in the UK, says a charity chief and former top civil servant.
Andrew McDonald, 56, a former top civil servant and current chairman of the disability charity Scope, says controversial disability benefit reforms are harming “some of the most disadvantaged people in the country”.
Mr McDonald, who retired from his position as the chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority due to illness, said his own experience of claiming Personal Independence Payments (PIP) opened his eyes to how disabled people are treated by the current benefits system.
“I was shocked by the way this was being administered against the interests of some of the most disadvantaged people in the country,” he said.
“PIP is beset by profound administrative failures which work to the disadvantage of disabled people.”
He continued: “My personal interactions with the [PIP] process were perfectly pleasant; but the system as a whole does create the impression of it being a hostile environment and one where two of the foes are complexity and the sense that it is not a level playing field.”
Mr McDonald retired from his position after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and terminal prostate cancer. But the Department for Work and Pensions rejected his claim for PIP, in spite of his obvious disabilities and debilitating health problems.
McDonald, who now chairs the disability charity Scope, told The Guardian: “I thought this was a system to give people a hand up; in practice they encounter a sleight of hand that is completely out of kilter with the best traditions of British public service in which I was not only raised but worked for most of my career.”
He has appealed against the DWP’s decision to stop his disability benefits, claiming: “The government should set aside any notion that PIP has been fixed”.
The latest official Government statistics show 71% of PIP decisions were overturned on appeal at a social security tribunal, but the DWP continue to insist that most people are satisfied with the assessment process.
Mr McDonald said a privately employed benefits assessor – an occupational therapist – had very little knowledge of his medical conditions.
“She did a common test of twisting the forearm at the elbow”, he said.
“She concluded from this I have full power in my upper limbs.
“Daily, it is a nuisance to me that I am weak as a kitten in my upper body.”
He continued: “I got dressed today without too much trouble, though my cufflinks eluded me. Two days ago, it took me 90 minutes because of the tremor in my hands, my lack of strength. Putting on jackets is a nightmare.
“That sort of variation from day to day could be captured in the system but, in practice, the people in the system I was working with were not capturing it.”
Mr McDonald has asked the DWP to review its “surprising” decision, but claims the Government department has suggested that his loss of benefit is his own fault.
Mr McDonald said he’s been able to cope financially without PIP, but concluded: “If you are on a low income the sudden decision to stop PIP is a really serious blow – and it’s a blow from a bewildering system.”
A DWP spokesperson told The Guardian: “We constantly seek to improve the quality of PIP assessments.
“We have undertaken two independent reviews of PIP and most recently announced that we will pilot video recording of assessments, to help increase people’s trust in the assessment process.”