On Z2K's People Before Process Campaign

"We need a system that treats people with dignity, respect, and results in decisions being made right the first time, so people receive the vital income they are entitled to without being subjected to a lengthy and stressful appeals process."

Charities have been telling us for a long time about the challenges people face in getting the right welfare support. This became more important during the coronavirus pandemic with many people pulled into poverty.

In 2021, we funded nine projects aiming to influence change in the welfare system. This programme ensures that the social security system provides a strong safety net to better support people. Z2K leads one of the projects, aiming to improve the process and experience of disability benefit assessments by influencing the government’s Health and Disability Green Paper. In this blog, Anela Anwar, Chief Executive at Z2K, discusses their People Before Process campaign and why it is so important.

Anela Anwar, CEO at Z2K

Anela Anwar, CEO at Z2K

"We all deserve to live with dignity and respect, but for too long the benefits system has failed disabled people and people with health conditions which pushes them into poverty and destitution. Disabled people and people with health conditions have described the benefits assessment process they’re subjected to as ‘degrading’, ‘hostile’, ‘discriminatory’. This process has stopped too many from receiving the income they are entitled to. 

We know nearly half of all people in poverty in the UK are either disabled or live with someone who is. There are 1.8 million more people in poverty who live in a family that includes a disabled person than there were fifteen years ago. Of the 2.4 million people who experienced destitution in the UK at some point during 2019, over half were disabled or had long-term health conditions. This isn’t right. 

Two years ago, the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) finally bowed to public pressure and announced it would publish a Green Paper with proposals for reform of health and disability benefits, including assessments. 

It was genuinely encouraging that the Government recognised that changes to the process were needed, and the accuracy of decision-making needed to be improved.  

The story so far:

"The announcement by the then Secretary of State Amber Rudd, couldn’t have come sooner.

By 2019, the DWP was losing three-quarters of all decisions disabled people appealed to the independent Tribunal.  For those able to obtain welfare rights advice in submitting their appeal, or even representation at their hearing, the success rate was closer to 90 per cent. 

Z2K’s caseworkers and volunteers were repeatedly helping clients win appeals when the DWP’s own internal Mandatory Reconsideration stage had scored them zero points against the health indicators.

But tens of thousands of disabled people were still losing out on the Social Security benefit they were entitled to because they didn’t know how to appeal or couldn’t face the prospect of going through it.  

The process of appealing can take years and causes a great deal of stress and anxiety for people, that many people do not challenge their incorrect assessment

 

Our client applied for Personal Independence Payment - a benefit to support with extra costs if you have a long-term health condition or disability - in 2019. DWP assessed them as ineligible and refused their application. With our support, they appealed DWP’s decision – a lengthy and difficult process. The independent Social Security Tribunal not only found our client entitled to PIP but at the highest rate. Our client has been without this vital income for two years due to systemic failures of the assessment process.

 

"Things seem set to get worse rather than better as hundreds of thousands of disabled people whose reassessments were delayed by the pandemic started receiving the dreaded letters telling them the time has come to go through the process all over again.   

Our recent research, involving over 1,400 disabled people with experience of the assessments process found that two-thirds felt that the assessor did not understand their condition and that the assessment report didn’t reflect what they had told the assessor. Disabled people described finding the assessment process as “hostile”, “discriminatory” and “degrading”.  Many also fed back heart-rending testimony of the impact of the DWP’s negative decisions financially and emotionally.  The frustration and anger at being disbelieved or disregarded was palpable in many more: 

 

“During my first assessment, the assessor waved her hand at me when I tried to explain my mental health issues and said ‘I’m not interested in that, I want to know if you can touch your toes’.  I received no points during that assessment.” - Person supported by Z2K

Health and Disability green paper raises more questions than answers

"DWP finally published its long overdue Health and Disability Green Paper. Despite the abundance of evidence demonstrating the need for fundamental reform of these assessments, this Green Paper lacks ambition and ignores clear failures of the system. Given that the DWP says it has been consulting with disabled people and Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) over the last two years, it’s alarming to see that there are more questions than answers in this paper.  

One proposal put forward the suggestion to combine benefits assessments - is hugely concerning and has been frequently rejected by both organisations and individuals with experience of assessments.

The paper also places far too much emphasis and focus on work yet fails to recognise that some people may never be able to work, or the fact that many people are already in work but are living in poverty due to inadequate benefit levels. 

We need a system that treats people with dignity, respect, and results in decisions being made right the first time, so people receive the vital income they are entitled to without being subjected to a lengthy and stressful appeals process. This Green Paper is a missed opportunity to deliver that.  

Ultimately, this Government must fulfil its 2019 manifesto pledge to empower and support disabled people and be an ally by co-producing a new health and disability assessment process with DDPO’s and those with experience of the system. This Government must start putting people before the process."

Get involved and help influence change

That’s why this is an important opportunity to tell this Government that tinkering around the edges is not enough and that as many people as possible with experience of the system respond to this consultation.

Z2K has launched our People Before Process campaign, because we want this Government to make a real and genuine commitment to working with disabled people, people with health conditions, and Deaf and Disabled people’s organisations (DDPO’s) to affect true change to the disability benefits assessment processes.

Join our campaign and Write to your MP today to ensure disabled people and those with health conditions receive the income they are entitled to and the dignified and respectful treatment they deserve.

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