Claimants facing nightmare assessments

TWO REPORTS emerged last week of instances of benefit claimants discovering that their negative assessments had been carried out by individuals with extreme racist and xenophobic views.

In one case Cecelia Garcia, a young mother of three whose marriage had broken down and who had been forced to leave her banking job to look after her children, received an answerphone message from a member of Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Jobcentre Plus staff.

The staff member, Anne Goode, not realising that she had not hung up after the call, went on to discuss this case and another with her colleague. She said: “None of them are English names, why are we running around for these people? Do you know I resent even doing this work because if I had a person who said ‘I really want a job, I want to go on your caseload’, yes, all the time, every day of the week. But not some scrounging bastard that’s popping out kids like pigs.”

Garcia said: “I got sick; I was so upset over the weekend. It is really offensive all the things that she says on the voicemail. And it sounds like the other person totally agrees with her. The fact that they say things like, ‘Oh they aren’t even English names’.

“This goes beyond everything, saying I pop out kids like pigs. I have dual nationality, we did everything right, I’m not illegal. She shouldn’t express this about people from other backgrounds.

In the second case Capita, a private company carrying out assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for disabled people needing extra help, had to suspend an assessor after disablist, racist Facebook posts.

The posts were spotted by Sarah Goldstein, whose claim for PIP had been turned down following an assessment carried out by the qualified nurse. Goldstein has significant support needs as a result of fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s syndrome, chronic migraines, anxiety and depression, and she was so angry and upset by the lies she read in the nurse’s assessment report that she searched online for her social media accounts.

She says she was appalled by what she found. On one occasion, in July 2014, whilst apparently watching an episode of the Channel Five reality show Benefits Britain: Life On The Dole, the nurse posted a series of comments about a Roma gypsy who used a skateboard as a mobility aid because he lost his legs as a child in Romania. In the documentary he talked positively about the lack of racism in Britain and how he hoped to make a life for himself by working here, and how he had worked as a film extra.

But in one Facebook post the nurse said: “So it’s not very nice life on a skate board!!!!! He could get a job fitting carpets then maybe just maybe our pensioners could have the retirement they deserve!!!!!!!”

She then added: “I’d like to remove his wheels and catapult the scrounger back to whatever shit hole he came from!!!!”

She has also shared a string of Facebook posts attacking immigrants and asylum-seekers from far-right organisations such as Britain First, British Immigration Watch and Infidels of Britain, including one headlined “Enoch Powell was right!”

Her far-right sympathies also raise questions as to whether the assessment report she wrote was influenced by Sarah’s and Jay’s surname. Although Sarah is not Jewish her husband is and they have a menorah, a nine-branched Jewish candelabrum, on the mantelpiece in the room where the assessment took place.

Jay Goldstein said: “She was very quiet. She would ask questions and would then type a lot. But when we got the report back she had literally lied about everything.”

The report claims that Sarah maintained perfect eye contact throughout the assessment when in fact, Jay said, she had been visibly agitated, picking at the skin on her hands.

He said: “Sarah was facing away from her because she has anxiety issues and didn’t feel comfortable looking at her.”

The nurse also claimed that Sarah had perfect understanding of the questions, whereas Jay said his wife repeatedly “um-ed and ah-ed” and kept looking at her husband for help. There were many other serious errors. Sarah was given zero points and found ineligible for PIP, even though she is in the support group of employment and support allowance (ESA), which means that she has been assessed as having significant barriers to the workplace.

Gail Ward, a member of the disabled people’s campaigning organisations Black Triangle and the North East branch of Disabled People Against Cuts, who alerted Disability News Service to the case, said the disablist comments on the Facebook page were “appallingly reflective of what many disabled people have to endure daily, which have been made worse by the Government’s rhetoric” and the racist comments “were just as shocking”. She said the nurse should be “sacked forthwith” and prosecuted for inciting racial hatred.

Ward said the calibre of some healthcare professionals hired by Government contractors such as Capita was “alarming”, and the quality of assessments for both PIP and ESA was sub-standard. She said she was concerned at the amount of genuine claimants who were losing their cars and jobs due to being wrongly denied PIP, only to be given it back at appeal.

And she said that disabled people were living in fear of losing the vital safety net of support through PIP and ESA, with billions of pounds wasted on repeated, flawed assessments.

In Scotland an inquiry by the Scottish Welfare Reform Committee looked into the implementation of reforms as part of devolved powers under the Smith Agreement. When investigating the sanctions regime (whereby benefit claimants have their payments stopped if they appear to contravene DWP rules), they heard numerous cases of DWP staff bullying the very people it was supposed to be helping.

One witness, “Donna”, who had been made redundant after working all of her life, said that DWP staff had bullied her, making her ill and stressed. She said the first person she saw at the Jobcentre: “made me feel like I was imagining my problems and I didn’t have any problems. He was saying to me: ‘It’s not like you’ve got a leg missing’ [referring to mental health issues].

“Each time he made me cry. I would have been in a mental institution if I had stayed with that first adviser — or I would have shot him.”