Charities call for Government to prioritise disability assessments

Charities have urged the Government to overhaul its “woefully flawed” welfare assessment process for people with disabilities.

Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson published a Green Paper in the House of Commons on Tuesday to examine how to reform the health and disability system.

He said a consultation as part of the process aims to improve the way the government helps disabled people and those with health conditions to “start, stay and succeed in work”.

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Mr Tomlinson told MPs the Government was aiming to focus on issues including how health assessments are conducted, reducing the number of assessments taken and testing new support measures available to people.

The consultation will last for 12 weeks and detailed proposals will be brought forward in a White Paper in the middle of next year.

It comes after social care leaders in England last month called on the Government to publish its proposed reforms of the sector before parliament breaks for the summer.

James Taylor, executive director of strategy at disability equality charity Scope, said it was “right” that the government was looking at improving the welfare system but it needed to make sure any changes met people’s needs.

“If this Green Paper is to have any positive impact for disabled people, it cannot simply tinker at the edges,” he said.

“The last 20 years have seen successive governments tweak the welfare system at huge costs but despite this, almost two million more disabled households have fallen into poverty in the same time period. Something isn’t working.

“Overhauling the woefully flawed assessment process has to be a priority. The high rate of successful appeals demonstrates the scale of the problem. It is vital that disabled people receive the right decision first time, instead of facing more months of stress and hardship to get the support they need.”

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Anastasia Berry, policy manager at the MS Society, said while the charity “cautiously welcomed” many of the proposals, it needed to see “real change”, including scrapping the 20 metre rule.

The rule states people who can walk one step over 20 metres do not qualify for the higher rate of mobility support.

“After two years the Health and Disability Green Paper has finally been published,” she said. “MS is relentless, painful and disabling, and the long wait has meant many have had no choice but to endure deeply flawed PIP assessments – resulting in being denied vital support.

“For the next 12 weeks – to align with the consultation dates – we’ll be encouraging people with MS to tell us exactly how benefits can work for them and ensure the Government hears them loud and clear.”

In response, Mr Tomlinson said: “I am incredibly pleased that in the course of putting this consultation together, we have been able to identify key themes for improvement.

“We already spend a record amount supporting disabled people and people with health conditions, and have made good progress at supporting more disabled people into work but we are ambitious for further improvement – and I am grateful to the disabled people and stakeholders who have contributed so far.”