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Friday, 21 September 2012

The benefits system makes disabled people feel like criminals and assessments intentionally leave out vital information that makes them look more able.

The wife of a man in his 60s who has been left physically and mentally disabled following an accident, said a medical assessment report of his condition contains lies and inaccuracies.

Speaking to MSPs in the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee this week, Janice Scottsaid she and her husband are £400 a month worse off as a result of losing benefits this year.

She said that Atos, the private company hired to carry out medical assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, had an “ethos” of twisting assessments to cut benefits.

“I can honestly say that there are lies that go into that assessment,” she said.

“I do shorthand and I took down word-for-word my husband’s whole assessment and what actually came back was practically the opposite of everything he said. I’ve heard that from many other people as well.”

The committe of MSP heard from three Scots who have been affected by welfare reforms, this week.

However, the meeting quickly became an attack on the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos over the assessment process.

Henry Sherlock, from Falkirk is blind and has from chronic heart disease, diabetes and depression. He told the committee that he felt that he was treated like a criminal during the assessment process.

“As far as I am concerned this is harassment, bullying, persecution and victimisation of the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.

Sherlock, who said he would love to go back to work, added: “I am not a criminal, I am a human being who needs additional support.”

Norman Gray, from Dundee said the soon to be introduced switch from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) could force his 32-year-old son Andrew, who has Asperger syndrome, to give up his job at a local hotel.

He said that Andrew’s working tax credit and his mortgage was dependent on receiving DLA, which had initially been awarded to him for life.

However, the criteria for PIP and the stress of a fresh assessment means Andrew could easily lose benefits, his father believes.

“Whilst I am in favour of rationalising the benefit system and closing as many loopholes as possible,” said Gray, “I feel the proposals re DLA are too rigid and do not take into account the real needs of the individual nor does it recognise the complexity of Aspergers and other Autistic Spectrum Disorder sufferers, who are individually unique.”

Sherlock said the government’s plan to cut the DLA budget by 20 per cent with the introduction of PIP, left him believing that he would have to undergo another “witch hunt” in applying for it.

“I fear, without a doubt, I will only lose more income once I have to go through this undignified process once again,” he said.

“I am tired of fighting officials who seem to think they know more about my disabilities and needs than I do. It now makes me feel ashamed of who I am. I am being punished for being disabled and feel powerless.”

The ESA work capability assessments have caused controversy since they were introduced in 2008.

In the last quarter of 2011/12, 42 per cent of people who appealed a decision made in an ESA assessment were successful, according to Citizens Advice Scotland.

The committee’s convener, Labour’s Michael McMahon MSP said the system was using social norms against people. “The idea that someone would get up and present themselves well is actually being used against them,” he said.

SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing said it was “disgusting” there was no discretion in the welfare system.

“When you have someone who is trying to get the benefits they need telling you that they feel like they are being treated like a ‘criminal; during the eligibility assessment process, something clearly is not working.”

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