This week I met with the Public Affairs Manager for the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CHDA) – the company who are responsible for providing Work Capability Assessments for claimants of Employment and Support Allowance in England, Scotland and Wales – to discuss the issues that many of my constituents have faced regarding their assessments.
It is absolutely crucial that we protect the most vulnerable in our society yet I hear almost weekly of people who have been deemed fit for work who are quite clearly anything but. Whilst I agree that people should be encouraged and helped into work wherever this is possible, I have seen heart-breaking cases of constituents with lifelong, medically proven disabilities, such as motor neurone disease and severe epilepsy, conditions that will never improve, and in some cases only worsen, and yet they have been subjected to persistent and continued assessments causing untold stress and anxiety.
I have had many constituents visit me after being declared fit for work who have then gone on to win their appeals against the decisions. A shocking 69% of appeals were overturned last year – but only after a lengthy wait of between 12-18 months. During this time many have had no income and have had to rely on handouts from family, friends and foodbanks. The impact that this has had on both their mental and physical health is immense and all because an assessor made a bad judgement or didn’t listen to professional medical advice.
I enquired as to whether there was any action such as further training for the assessors whose decisions are consistently overturned and was informed that the DWP do not pass this information back to CHDA so they have no way of knowing how their assessors are performing. I expressed my profound frustration over this. How else can we hold these assessors to account, and how many more lives will they be allowed to ruin during the course of their careers?
I will keep fighting against these draconian policies that serve only to widen the gap in our society and to ensure that those who are sick, injured or have disabilities are not made to feel that they are a burden on our society but are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.