Disability Benefits: Assessments

Sarah Green Excerpts
Monday 4th September 2023

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Sarah Green Portrait Sarah Green (Chesham and Amersham) (LD)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I start by reflecting on some of the surgeries I have sat in on, and I am sure other Members have friends or family who have gone through the PIP assessment and seen the impact it has had on the self-esteem and mental health of the individual concerned. It is reassuring to hear in the debate the desire from both sides of the House for a kinder, more humane process that will result in more accurate assessments.

I thank the Minister for his answer in Work and Pensions questions earlier and I take it in the spirit it was meant.

I shall focus on one aspect of PIP assessments, which is the use of informal observations. As we have just heard, this is where an assessor watches how someone looks or behaves during an assessment. I know that such observations form part of the suite of evidence used by case managers, but those informal observations are reliant on an assessor’s knowledge of various conditions. There are too many examples of assessors failing to consider or understand the fluctuating and non-visible nature of some conditions. For example—I declare an interest as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Crohn’s and colitis—many of those living with Crohn’s or colitis feel that assessors prejudge their eligibility for disability benefits based on their physical mobility within a face-to-face assessment, rather than asking probing questions that are relevant to their condition.

That brings me to the condition-specific knowledge of assessors. The Government have stated that all assessment providers are required to ensure that health professionals carrying out assessments have a broad training in disability analysis, as well as awareness training in specific conditions that range from common to rare. The testimony of claimants with Crohn’s and colitis raises concerns that assessors do not properly understand the true impact of their specific condition, its fluctuating nature and its effect on their ability to maintain employment, relationships and education, and to engage in day-to-day activities. I urge the Government to look again at the use of informal observations in assessments, and to ensure that assessors have comprehensive knowledge of the needs of people with long-term health conditions, with condition-specific training that includes working with patient charities and clinicians. That would go a long way to ensuring that those with fluctuating conditions receive the support they need and are entitled to.