Sick benefit claimants left in dark: Durkan

Mark H Durkan.

The Department for Communities must urgently respond to a highly critical independent review of the Personal Independent Payments (PIP) regime in the North, says the SDLP’s health spokesman Mark H. Durkan.

Mr. Walter Rader’s independent report on PIP, commissioned by DfC and published in June, found that face-to-face sickness benefit assessments were causing fear, anxiety, stress and frustration for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Deep levels of distrust and suspicion were also identified among those who have been forced to take part in the PIP process since the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA) scheme was phased out two years ago, Mr. Rader reported.

Following a consultation with 330 claimants, family members, support workers and organisations affected by PIP, Mr. Rader made a range of recommendations that wouldchange how sick people are treated when they approach the public service to access their entitlements.

Among some of the more striking of these were, that the clinical assessment of a doctor as to whether or not a claimant is terminally ill should be sufficient evidence for PIP assessors, and that audio-visual recording of assessments should be introduced to ensure an independent record of PIP reviews is available.

Despite Mr. Rader having published his findings in late June, there has still been no public response from DfC to his report or his recommendations, which SDLP MLA, Mark H Durkan, has said is unacceptable .

“The report was published over two months ago made a number of important recommendations including audio-visual recordings of all assessments, the use of a fairer definition of terminal illness to treat terminally ill claimants with more dignity and respect, specialist training for assessors so they better understand the nature and impact of specific conditions, the creation of a list of conditions which qualify for a paper based review as opposed to stressful face to face assessments and the removal of direct and cold questions about suicide and self-harm,” said Mr. Durkan.

“It confirmed what many of us working to support claimants have known for some time,” he added.

The SDLP MLA went on to claim that the PIP assessment process does not have the confidence and trust of claimants or the public.

“Two months on, despite several requests, we continue to be met with a wall of silence from the Department for Communities. This delay in issuing any response is doing nothing to build the trust, openness and transparency needed in the PIP process. It is leaving worried claimants in the dark.

“PIP claimants and the public need to hear from the Department. They deserve to know its response to each of the 14 recommendations and the time-frame for implementation without any further delay,” he stated.

A DfC spokesperson said: “The Department is fully considering the findings of the Independent Review and has stated it will publish a response this Autumn.”

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