The Government should not introduce personal independence payment (PIP) assessments nationally until it is sure the assessment is “empathetic and accurate”, according to the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

The Committee warned the Government to heed lessons from the work capacity assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance (ESA) and avoid a “mechanistic, box-ticking approach”. PIP is the new benefit set to replace disability living allowance (DLA) in 2013. The details of the assessment process have yet to be finalised, but the Select Committee report highlighted several concerns with the current draft. Worries include that the assessment still relied too heavily on a “medical model” of disability, which may not take sufficient account of the impact of social, practical and environmental factors, such as housing and access to public transport, on disabled people’s ability to participate in society and the additional costs they therefore incur.  

The Committee has called on the Government to conduct a further trial before the criteria are adopted and the new assessment is introduced. Committee chair, Dame Anne Begg MP, said: “The reform was introduced on the basis of a Treasury assumption that by 2015-16 it would save 20% of the projected DLA budget by introducing a new assessment. “The Government's own estimates show that 500,000 fewer people will receive support by 2015-16 compared to the situation if DLA for working-age claimants had continued. “Announcing the change against a background of budget cuts, and the previous negative experience which many people have had with the WCA has created high levels of anxiety amongst DLA recipients. “The mistakes made with the WCA for ESA, as originally introduced in 2008, should not be repeated with PIP. “The assessment for PIP needs to be empathetic and avoid the mechanistic, box-ticking approach initially used in the WCA."

Amanda Batten, director of external affairs at The National Autistic Society (NAS), who gave evidence to the Select Committee, agreed: “The Select Committee is right to recommend that the Government learns from the mistakes of the WCA and doesn’t introduce PIP nationally until it’s confident the assessment is fair and accurate. "The Government's on-going engagement with disabled people and charities to improve the face-to-face assessment is the right approach, and we hope the consultation continues.  “The Government must also honour its commitment to considering expert evidence from professionals with specialist knowledge of autism before subjecting them to a stressful, and often unnecessary, face-to-face assessment. If they fail to do so, thousands of people with autism could be let down by a system failing to recognise their needs. “Fraud figures for DLA remain extremely low, so the Government’s decision to cut the projected benefit spend of 20% by 2016 is unrealistic and stressful for thousands of people with autism and other disabilities. “The introduction of PIP must be a genuine strategy to improve the current flawed system and not a money saving exercise. We all want to see a system that works well and protects and serves those, like people with disabilities, who genuinely need help.”