Department for Work and Pensions assessments are damaging people’s lives. And they don’t even provide the predicted savings.
‘Can you tell me why you haven’t killed yourself yet?” As she speaks to me from her home, Alice Kirby is not recounting abuse shouted at her in the street but the question put to her in a disability benefit assessment.
Kirby has a chronic illness and a neurological disorder, as well as mental health problems, and for the past two years has received the highest rate of PIP – personal independence payment. But after stating in a routine Department for Work and Pensions questionnaire that her health was deteriorating, last November she was told she had to be tested again.
It was then that the 25-year-old found herself repeatedly asked invasive questions about suicide: whether she’s ever felt like killing herself; if so, what method would she use; and why she hasn’t done so yet. In her words, it was “utterly soul-destroying”.
“When someone asks you to defend your reasons for staying alive, it puts thoughts in your head which shouldn’t be there,” she says. “You wonder if others also question why you haven’t killed yourself. You think about whether there is a duty to die.”
Kirby subsequently had her PIP cut: both the part of the benefit that pays for her care, like a support worker to help her at home, and for her extra mobility needs. It means she’s lost more than £250 a month and can no longer afford a regular carer. The whole process has taken its toll. “In my reassessment I was asked how often I thought about killing myself, and my answer was every fortnight,” she says. “But now I’m plagued by suicidal thoughts every day.”