Sophie Corlett, director of external relations of mental health charity Mind, has given evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on disability benefits and assessments.
In 2017, a UK court ruled that the benefits assessment process was discriminatory against people with mental health problems, learning disabilities, and autism. Although despite that ruling, in the view of many affected people, and Mind, people are still not receiving the financial support they require from the benefits system and are undergoing a highly stressful assessment process.
Laura, 31, who has bipolar disorder and emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), described her experience of the benefit assessment process, saying it is “very scary”.
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She added: “Even now, every day, I worry that I will get a message saying I need another assessment. The assessment process is not representative of mental illness and focuses more on physical health. I always worry I won't be believed, or my illness will be judged as 'unworthy' to continue the benefits that help me to live. I just want to be listened to and believed. I want to know that the system is on my side and not trying to trip me up.”
“I find filling out the forms hard and not fully suitable for people with mental health problems. For me and lots of people in a similar situation, it's very difficult to open up and speak about something so personal to a stranger, especially when you feel you're on trial.”
‘Some assessors lack even the most basic understanding of mental health’
Sophie Corlett told the Work and Pensions Committee that the benefit assessment process is “failing too many people with mental health problems” and is throwing already vulnerable people’s lives into “turmoil”.
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Ms Corlett continued: “it’s telling that seven in ten people on disability benefits who appeal their decision see it overturned, but far too many are unable to appeal their decision in the first place because they are too unwell to face the lengthy and stressful process.”
“Previous inquiries into benefits assessments revealed shocking stories of assessors who lacked even the most basic understanding of mental health or included irrelevant information about a person, which sometimes appeared copied and pasted from another applicant’s assessment. We need to see greater expertise and knowledge in mental health among assessors.”
Mind is advocating for the establishment of an independent commission led by affected and disabled people to design a fairer assessment process, as well as calling for the creation of an independent regulator to monitor how well the Department for Work and Pensions is fulfilling its duty to protect the rights of people applying for benefits.