People are being put in fear for their lives because the Johnson government has started work trialling video assessments of disability and sickness benefit claims.
The trial arises from a false premise – that people with long-term illnesses and disabilities are as capable as able-bodied people of taking part in video calls with confidence and coherence.
That is not true and, in many cases, the mere fact of taking part in one of the Tory government’s notoriously-rigged benefits “assessments” will be enough to put them off.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey announced the trials at a meeting of the Commons Work and Pensions committee on September 30, saying, “We did try to get some extra capital on video assessments. We weren’t successful in getting additional money, so we have reprioritised some of our capital budget to get that underway.”
A senior civil servant, John Paul Marks, put flesh on these bones: “For video, CHDA has started trialling how to do fit for work decisions by video, so we’re starting that now.
“For PIP we’re trying to also test doing video assessments for about 500 customers.
“So we can understand, does that improve the health care professionals capacity to ensure a positive experience for the customer and be able to get more evidence to support a recommendation on a functional assessment.”
The website Benefits and Work pointed out that many claimants will be “deeply unhappy” with the principle of video assessment:
Some will find the experience of talking on camera provokes considerable anxiety. Some will have concerns about data protection, given that a copy of the video is likely to be saved on a server by the DWP.
At the moment it is not clear whether claimants will have the option to refuse to have a video assessment and insist on either a telephone or, when they become available and safe, face to face assessment instead.
A commenter to the site said the issue would be particularly acute for those with mental health issues:
“This could breach the Equalty Act 2010… Anxiety would make the assessment inaccessible or [the claimant] would suffer an unreasonable experience if required to be video [or] audio-recorded.”
Not only that, but what happens if the claimant doesn’t have the technology to take part in a video assessment, due – for example – to extreme poverty? After all, why would they be claiming the benefit if they didn’t need the money?
Consider this response to This Site’s story yesterday:
Got one ringing next week. They full well know I suffer with social anxiety and rarely answer the phone if I don't know who it's from. I hear they're going to move to video soon. They assume everyone has the technology to run zoom… yet they don't give them enough money to eat.
— Sharon🏴 Lefty Do-Gooder (@Shazzyrm) October 7, 2020
Some have already come to the conclusion that this is a quota-filling exercise; that the DWP isn’t interested in whether people deserve Personal Independence Payment or Employment and Support Allowance – the only concern is ensuring that a certain number of people are pushed off the books:
Given that these decisions are made by quota rather than on the assessment, and that they have a huge backlog, wouldn't it make more sense to roll a dice?
They could process claims much more quickly…
— Officially Revolting. (@Hairyloon) October 7, 2020
As with any change in a benefit system, it seems clear that video trials will be open to abuse.
This will have to be monitored closely and I will be keen to hear of any experiences.
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