Helping unemployed disabled people off benefits is a hot topic at present. We support the desire to enable disabled people (people disabled by society, not just their impairments) to access work. However, we are concerned with how this is being done and the detrimental impact on the wellbeing of disabled people. Many clients on Incapacity Benefit (IB) are being reassessed through Work Capability Assessments (WCA) and moved onto Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance, both with financial consequences if they don’t find employment.
Only 7% of those assessed are deemed unfit to work, which unless most people on IB are committing benefit fraud (unlikely!) means there is something wrong with the assessment process. A 2011 report from the Citizens Advice Bureau revealed significant levels of inaccuracy in 70% of the assessments they investigated. The media have focussed on the few people who are committing fraud, even though the Department for Work and Pensions estimates that fraud and errors across all benefits account for only 2.1% of the total benefit expenditure. Let’s also not forget that the DWP spent 39 Million in 2016 alone fighting (and losing in 62% of cases) ESA claims, but what about the stress that this process causes even if you do win at appeal?
We believe that the focus on preventing fraud has led to practices which negatively impact on the wellbeing of genuine applicants.
Understanding the emotional impact of these assessments is about acknowledging a life where a lot of time is already spent waiting and convincing others about your needs … Social Services, Occupational Therapy, NHS continuing healthcare, Access to Work, disabled housing, the list goes on. Waiting months for someone else to assess and approve your request for a wider door in your home for example is commonplace and raises the question of why you even need an assessor (the salaries of which make up a large chunk of the benefits bill) to verify that you need a wider door?
Assessments are time consuming and repetitive because of the lack of collaboration between organisations. This causes stress and sometimes even deterioration of health. Over time these repeated experiences can cause resignation, dependence, fatigue and contribute to low self-esteem and a permanent state of anxiety and/or depression.
Sadly, these Work Capability Assessments are no different. Clients have shared they don’t know how to answer forms; that assessors are ticking boxes rather than listening to their individual circumstances. Often assessors do not have access to applicant’s medical history and some assessors have been dishonest in their reports, stating for example that clients can walk without difficulty when they cannot. One client stated she had difficulty concentrating, yet was told she was capable of working because she watched Coronation Street. Another couldn’t even get to the assessment centre because it was at the end of a flight of stairs. For many, the assessment process is degrading: they feel not heard and not believed. Many feel they are a burden on society.
The majority of unemployed people want to work. They realise the benefits of income, purpose and contributing to society. However, there are many hurdles:
- Impairment-related tasks (e.g. added time needed to get ready in the morning), pain, fatigue and poor concentration caused by medication make it difficult for some to work 9-5 and flexi jobs are less available.
- Physical access and transport are still problematic.
- Employer attitudes: though disabled employees have fewer days off sick and higher retention, employers are still reluctant to employ them. One client who gained employment was given menial tasks such as photocopying when they applied for a degree-level post.
- Repetitive negative experiences: many disabled people struggle to leave their homes, because of mobility issues, because they don’t feel safe, are tired of being stared at or have low self-esteem, anxiety or depression caused by all the above negative experiences.
So how can Spokz People support you with assessments?
- We can signpost to organisations such as Advocacy Services who can help with the practical tasks of assessments, form filling and attending meetings and tribunals.
- We can also signpost to organisations which can help you to find or keep work, if you want to and are able to work
- We can help you work on what you can change:
- Increasing your assertiveness skills
- Improving your confidence in yourself and your abilities
- Developing and improving skills to deal with the stress and anxiety of assessments
- Improving how you deal with healthcare professionals, employers and employees and other possible difficult situations which have the potential to erode your self-esteem
- Help you unpick what are effects of your impairment and what are effects of a disabling society, which gives you more control and choice about how you respond to certain situations.
- Provide you with ongoing support whilst looking for work/employment
Lori Waters, one of our members, shared these tips on coping with assessments:
- Have a friend or family member come with you.
- Write down everything you want or need to say down beforehand.
- Exaggerate your needs; you need some slack if they are going to cut something out or offer you less. Try not to feel guilty about this: you are trying to meet your needs like anybody else.
- Try and show you understand what you need.
- Bring up any changes that you want to make. In Tim’s experience they help you to make the changes you want.
- It helps to say thank you to the assessors regardless of what you feel about them coming.
So, hopefully this gives you hope that you don’t have to take all these assessments lying down as it were, at present it is difficult to change the number of assessments, but we can change how we prepare for them, minimize the effect they have on our self esteem and use them to our advantage as much as possible.