“Latest DWP stats show that only 6% of new Disability Living Allowance claimants last year (January to December 2010) had a face-to-face assessment with a healthcare professional.
“The vast majority (94%) of new claimants got the benefitwithout having any face-to-face assessment of their needs.”
These are the opening lines of a Department for Work and Pensions release – the decision to put those words in bold was theirs not mine.
How do you interpret these statements? I wouldn’t be surprised if you concluded 94% of claimants had no face-to-face assessment because that’s exactly what it says.
But the rest of the release paints a more complex (or to be less diplomatic, potentially contradictory) picture.
It seems 42% of claimants had a statement from their GP verifying their medical condition; a further 36% submitted other sources of evidence, a category that can include reports by social workers or occupational therapists.
Surely a GP is a “healthcare professional”? And surely all these trained staff will have met the claimant in person? Does this not count as a form of assessment? Apparently not.
The DWP’s figures show 16% submitted a claim form alone.
And this could well be too many – the Government is under pressure to cut costs. Benefits of this sort cost a huge amount to the taxpayer. We know there are some liars and frauds who will lie to wrongly obtain cash.
But some have been quick to say there are some conditions so undeniable, further assessment isn’t needed.
Ian Birrell, who has written at length about his daughter’s “profound and multiple disabilities”, wrote on Twitter this morning: “My daughter got DLA without an interview. But then she is unable to talk like many others with profound and multiple learning difficulties.”
He said the forms are 38-pages long and accused the department of a “nasty campaign doing…the Government no favours”.
It is worth noting this is not coming from someone generally anti-government: Birrell is friends with David Cameron, worked as his speechwriter and remains close to many in Downing Street.
I put my queries to a member of the DWP press office, who said the “healthcare professionals” mentioned was clearly a reference to the department’s assessors (presumably Atos, paid £100m a year by DWP for this kind of work).
But is it clear? Is that what you assumed when you read those opening lines?
Secondly, she said the most critical issue was that of assessment – GP reports just note conditions; they do not assess the impact of it on the claimant’s life.
This may be so, but I still think many (including GPs) will be surprised GPs are not classed as healthcare professionals by DWP and by the implication their reports need to be checked up on. If an official suspects more information is needed, they can presumably request it – that they authorised these requests would suggest they were satisfied with the claims made.
The press officer did not feel the sentences were misleading and felt it was obvious they referred to their specific assessors and their specific assessment.
She said the people who carry out the assessments are not only doctors registered with the General Medical Council but also have specialist training in assessing people with disabilities.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith is quoted on the release. “At the moment hundreds of millions of pounds are paid out in disability benefits to people who have simply filled out a form,” he said.
“The vast majority of people are getting the benefit for life without regular checks to see if they are still eligible, or if their condition has worsened and they need increased support.”
But have the “vast majority” really escaped all checks? And have those who “simply filled out a form” really cost “hundreds of millions”?
Yes, if you are taking into account the expense over many years, but the DWP figures show the cost of new claimants who really did just fill in the form last year was a smaller, but not insignificant, £30m.
Ambiguous language from DWP or, as Birrell suggests, a “campaign” and a nasty one at that?