By The Voice | Published 29th September 2011 – 12:15 pm
Suzanne Fletcher had an experience many Lib Dems have experienced at the party’s conference: she’d prepared a speech but there was not time to call her during the debate. However, Lib Dem Voice is delighted, with Suzanne’s permission, to share her thoughts with our readers…
The speech I didn’t make at Lib Dem conference on the Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) and Work Capability Assessments
First of all congratulations to the Disability Consortium for their well-run campaign to get people to come and vote in this debate, although I was certainly going to be here anyway, along with my colleagues from Stockton, voting for the well thought-out motion.
I am speaking as a long-standing worker at an advice agency, particularly on the impact of the assessment process of those with mental health and mental disability issues.
There are people who cannot go to assessment centres because of their disability, and have said so when applying for ESA, and provided medical evidence. And they still got an appointment. But even when ATOS (the healthcare disability assessment advisors) were told why they couldn’t keep the appointment, their benefit has still been stopped.
Some with memory problems and other mental health conditions have not been able to go on the day. Benefit is not supposed to stop whilst people are appealing, but it is stopped for non–attendance.
Those that go to assessment centres have been treated with no sensitivity, and no understanding of their individual condition.
One woman with mental health problems was very distressed because the person conducting the interview had not even looked at her, just concentrated on the computer screen, typing in her answers.
ATOS are using mechanical devices and tick boxes without looking at the individual and assessing innovatively. There is no flexibility. And it is completely disproportionate to stop welfare benefits for non attendance. They are not using GPs and or specialist nurses such as CPNs who know the claimant as they could and should be.
People can appeal, but it takes five to nine months for an appeal to be heard, and they are without benefits for all of that time. Wouldn’t it be better to make better decisions to cut down on the number of appeals? If they go down the line of making a new claim, that can take two months to be looked at, and further clogs up the system.
If there is to be no legal aid to fund specialist advice workers to support people in preparing for an appeal case, (not, note, expensive lawyers!), as is proposed, just who is going to take on this work, and exactly how will it work?
Independent research has shown that in the case of welfare benefits, for every £2 spent, £8.80 is saved.
So not enabling people to go to appeal when they need to helps nobody. Who wins? Not the client. And it is a cost to the public purse in repossessions, debt, and the costs of physical and mental health provision. All of these cost money to address.
Are we going to allow all of this to happen in a government that we are part of?
Suzanne Fletcher is a Lib Dem member in Stockport, often known within party circles as the ‘Radical Activist Grandma’!