Learning disability charity Mencap has warned that thousands of people with learning disabilities are facing financial hardship while waiting for their benefit claims to be assessed and that the rollout of Personal Independent Payments (PIP) assessments should be halted to clear the backlog of claims.
The charity added that many people with learning disabilities are also waiting for their Work Capability Assessment (WCA) claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to be assessed or reconsidered, which is again causing hardship and anxiety.
Mencap made this call after Mark Harper, the Minister of State for Disabled People, was questioned by the Department for Work and Pensions Committee in a one-off evidence session on January 28.
The Committee questioned the Minister on a range of welfare issues including:
• Progress in tackling the backlog in ESA claims and assessments
• Findings of the independent Litchfield review of the WCA
• Progress in reducing delays in the PIP claims process
• Findings of the first independent review of the PIP assessment.
Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at Mencap, said: “While defending his department’s performance on PIP to the Work and Pensions Committee, Mark Harper stated that Capita are performing better than Atos in clearing the backlog of claims, reigniting fears that people claiming PIP face a lottery based on who their local assessment provider is.
“The committee highlighted the shocking disparity between how long it takes people in different areas to get to an assessment and concerns that some people having to travel for up to an hour and a half each way to assessment centres. For many people with a learning disability, a three hour round trip with an hour long assessment is simply not possible, yet home visits are few and far between in many areas.
“It is unacceptable that the Minister refused to share vital information with the committee on how long the entire PIP claims process takes, from the first phone call a claimant makes, through to receiving a decision. We know that there are substantial delays throughout the process and the government must disclose the extent of these.
“Meanwhile, over 500,000 people are still waiting for their work capability assessment. On top this, thousands of disabled people are enduring a lengthy appeals process because they have not been given what they are entitled to. While people with a learning disability are left waiting for their claim to be reconsidered, they are not entitled to claim any ESA and all too often find themselves without the financial support they need – many have told us that they are unable to buy food or heat their homes – and, as a result, can fall into a dangerous spiral of borrowing and debt.
“We and other organisations have been warning the government that waiting times for both PIP and WCA assessments are unacceptable and that these delays are causing great anxiety and hardship to thousands of people with a learning disability. Aiming for a target of 16 weeks just to have a PIP assessment is completely inadequate and we urge the Minister to halt plans to roll out PIP assessments more widely until the backlog of claims is cleared. If even more people are added to the queue, the whole system could collapse, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without the support they need.”