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Hoax: That's how the DWP has described many people's claims for PIP and ESA. In fact, it seems the assessment system itself is the hoax, and the government department the hoaxer. [Image: Getty Images]

Hoax: That’s how the DWP has described many people’s claims for PIP and ESA. In fact, it seems the assessment system itself is the hoax, and the government department the hoaxer. [Image: Getty Images]

If you have a long-term illness or disability but have wondered why you receive low scores on the government’s face-to-face ‘work capability assessment’, here’s why: The software is written to ensure that any information you provide may be ignored.

That’s right – the tick-box test program that the DWP took from criminal American insurance corporation Unum, which had been devised to make people ineligible for insurance payouts, does not take into account any of the claimant’s personal details.

David Daish, a programmer and software tester, went through the PIP assessment process and then provided his professional opinion on the software to Facebook page Atos Miracles. PIP is the most useful benefit to discuss in this context because the onus is on assessment providers, rather than individual disabled people, to gather evidence from a list of health and social care professionals provided by the claimant.

He wrote: “The software is written so that whatever the assessor writes in the first part of the report, such as history, and anything the claimant tells the assessor, there is nothing whatsoever in the second part, the choosing of descriptors, that is connected to the first part.

“This means nothing is built into the programming to make sure the assessor uses all the evidence that was (hopefully) collected, or was provided elsewhere, and then can subsequently make the right descriptor choice.

“The assessor can basically say anything they like. Nothing in the software forces them carry out the assessment fairly.” [bolding mine]

He went on to describe the software as “little more than a glorified Word document: “A piece of programming that is not integrated in any way, has no checks and balances to make sure the business process it is supposed to support works as it should, that is, the PIP assessment itself, is in my view unforgivable. I’m inclined to think it is deliberate.”

That is a perfectly logical conclusion to draw.

This would suggest that the increased stress, the despair and hopelessness instilled in claimants by the loss of their benefit for no good reason, and the subsequent loss of life through suicide or exacerbation of the health conditions that the assessment system insists do not exist, are also deliberate.

It also makes sense of the apparently-illogical decisions being thrown out by the system all the time. Citizens Advice has stated: “Both Atos and Capita [PIP assessment providers] have made snap decisions about whether PIP claimants must attend a face-to-face assessment. Even when they do request evidence, providers only need to tell claimants who they have asked for it – not whether they actually received any or what it said.”

It seems that any such evidence would be ignored by the assessment software in any case, so it should come as no surprise that Citizens Advice continued: “In the absence of additional evidence, an astonishing 98 per cent of all assessments have been face-to-face… This is adding substantially to the delays and financial hardship experienced by disabled people.

“We now have two different systems for gathering independent evidence in PIP and in ESA, neither of which is working for claimants, assessment providers or the DWP.”

As someone with only limited knowledge of computer programmer, it is probably not for This Writer to comment. But my own knowledge suggests that a teenager from the 1980s could have produced a better program, using BASIC, than Unum and the DWP have managed here. A series of simple ‘IF… THEN’ loops would have ensured that all relevant information was taken into account.

Perhaps this is what we should do.

I don’t mean we should write a BASIC program to show up the inadequacies of PIPAT (the actual assessment system) – rather we should endeavour to produce our own program that performs in the way the public has been led to believe PIPAT does. Then we could run a few assessments through it (the DWP must provide full details of assessments and outcomes if these are requested, so they won’t be hard to acquire) and compare the results.

Is that a reasonable suggestion?

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