A new report published today by the MS Society is a clear demonstration of how the current disability benefits system is just not working for those it needs to support.
The report has found that nearly half (48%) of people with MS who had an assessment for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) feel the process caused their condition to deteriorate or relapse.
Some 36% who had a face-to-face assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) feel the same. This is completely contrary to what the process should be doing, and an obvious sign that changes are needed.
The same survey of people with MS who access benefits found that 9% of nearly 1,800 respondents say they have reduced spending on attending hospital appointments and 9% cut down on medical treatment or prescriptions, as a result of benefit changes.
Figures like these show how the Government needs to consider how lack of access to disability benefits can increase pressure on health and social care.
The charity also found that as a result of benefit changes, 32% of people with MS have cut down on food, 28% have cut down on transport and 41% have cut down on socialising with family and friends.
Disabled people rely on the benefits system for support. Inaccurate assessments and shifting criteria mean they are not getting what they need.
That’s why I am supporting the MS Society’s calls for basic, common sense changes, such as for disability benefits assessments that are not a one size fits all approach to disability and take into account the fluctuating and hidden symptoms of MS.
And I support the charity too when it says it wants to see a disability benefits system that takes account of all the available evidence, including that provided by experienced professionals. While disability benefit assessors are all healthcare professionals such as nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics, very few of them will have expertise in particular areas, such as neurology.
It would therefore make sense for them to take into account evidence from an individual’s specialist healthcare professional, someone who knows their condition the best. However we now know that this is not always the case.
Inaccurate assessments and the subsequent tribunals when the wrong decision is reached are expensive for the Government, as well as stressful for people with MS. Over half of ‘fit for work’ decisions that are appealed are currently overturned. It is in the interests of both to establish a system that works for people with MS.
This report is a wakeup call. Ministers need to focus on sorting out the assessment process so that everyone can have confidence in it. At present too much about the way the system’s working just does not make sense.