Well known GP calls for a social security system based on principles of fairness and dignity

This piece was written by Dr John Kyle, a GP working in inner East Belfast, who sees on a daily basis the impact of unfair social security decision making on his patients and their families.

“The comments by Frank Field MP, Chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, that reports by private contractors for the PIP and ESA benefits were ‘riddled with errors’ will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the current benefits process.  Time after time claimants report that the assessor has misrepresented their condition,  inaccurately quoted them or implied that they were lying. 

Furthermore the case manager, who reviews the report allocating the points which determine whether the benefit is awarded, often seems to ignore or dismiss disabilities that have a significant impact on a person’s ability to live a normal life.  This is particularly true for individuals suffering from mental health problems, as demonstrated by the Department for Communities decision to review all claims relating to the mobility component for individuals with mental health difficulties; this after the High Court ruling that the process was discriminatory.

The government is right to channel the benefit to those most in need, but if many who genuinely deserve it are excluded then something is seriously amiss.  Labour MP Frank Field said the shortcomings were causing untenable human and financial cost.  In my experience many of my patients have found the process extremely stressful, causing further damage to their mental health.  Several have said to me that the process is demeaning and humiliating, they feel they are being made to beg for money.

With the current demands on the public purse it is right to ensure that benefits go to the genuinely deserving, but the process, while rigorous, should be humane, fair and transparent.  At present it patently isn’t.

With regards to Employment and Support Allowance, there is much more we could be doing to help people back into work, or at least helping them to make a meaningful contribution to their community.  People benefit enormously from work and the sense of purpose that comes from feeling that what you are doing is making a difference.  But often the obstacles to returning to work seem insurmountable, resulting in social isolation and, over time, depression.  Rather than trying to reduce Personal Independence Payments the Government should focus its attention on creating a culture of recovery, helping people regain their confidence and enabling them to overcome the obstacles.  Instead of humiliation a supported return to work offers dignity and independence.  That sounds like a far better option to me”.