11 Jun 2014

Disability claims backlog brings hardship and anxiety say campaigners

This piece is not news. It’s not new. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told me. Four or five times. But I thought it was worth marking anyway.

More than 700,000 people waiting for an assessment for employment and support allowance – effectively benefit paid to people who’ve been sick or have a disability – are now caught up in a huge backlog.

The figures were revealed by the minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, to a committee of MPs. The assessments for ESA – the work capability assessment – have been troubled from the start.

The French IT company Atos, which carried them out on behalf of the government confirmed they would be ending their contract with the DWP early, back in March, after the relationship became increasingly strained with each – politely – suggesting the other was to blame for the failings in the system.

At the time Mr Penning seemed very pleased. Atos would pay to get out of the contract rather than be paid, as had happened with previous government contracts.11_esa_g_wBut what today’s figures show is that the DWP still has a considerable challenge on its hands getting this crucial bit of the government’s welfare reforms right.

Of the 700,000 people waiting for assessments, almost 400,000 are new claimants, claimants who feel they are now too unwell too work. But that’s a fact that needs to be established before they can get a higher level of benefit, but which can’t be established until they’re assessed.

Claimants themselves, charities and campaign groups have been vocal about the hardship and anxiety they believe the delays cause.

The DWP say the figures need to be put in context. They inherited a backlog of 200,000 when they took office, and that was before they’d announced their own intention to migrate more than a million people who’d been invalidity benefit claimants over to ESA.

In a statement they said: “We are seeking a new provider to replace Atos, with the view to increasing the number of assessments and reducing waiting times.

“And in fact Atos are now processing more cases than come in, therefore the backlog is currently reducing.”

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