Can applying for disability benefits be made easier?

A woman stands before a semi-circular desk with chairs around it

As someone with dual sensory loss, I was recently asked to give evidence to the Work and Pension’s Committee on applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). I wanted to address the training of assessors and alternative ways of applying.

I am a mature age student and live in Birmingham. I am a childhood cancer survivor, which left me with dual sensory loss. Although I am a long cane user, I have some useful sight, within a narrow field of vision. It is my hearing loss which causes the most difficulties, as it is a severe loss and an invisible disability. My hearing aids help in a quiet, one-to-one environment, however I cannot hear speech in background noise or if the speaker is not beside me. I rely a lot on my radio aid and captioning services, as well as using text relay for phone calls.

Despite my disabilities, I am and always have been fiercely independent; I have travelled widely and lived in different parts of the UK and Northern Ireland.

I became more involved with Sense when I relocated to Birmingham, three years ago. I have found the helpline very useful, they supported me when I was applying for benefits. I also enjoy reading the members’ bulletin, when I have some spare time, which was how I came into contact with the Sense campaigns team.

I was delighted to be asked by Sense to give evidence to the Work and Pension’s Committee; it sounded like an excellent opportunity to highlight some of the inequalities which people with dual sensory loss face, to people who have the power to bring about change. I had also never been to Westminster before, nor met my local MP.

It was a refreshing change for me to attend an event with full communication support, and to be so well supported throughout (the Sense team were fantastic!). I felt that the committee were polite and respectful, they took the claimant’s panel seriously and gave everyone ample opportunity to put across their views. The MP’s listened attentively to our experiences of applying for benefits and acknowledged the difficulties we had faced; they even said they would have a go at filling in the claim forms themselves!

Three women seated behind a long table with microphones for each person, behind them a gallery of people

With regards to moving forward, I would like to see alternative ways of applying for benefits, such as the facility to apply online or entirely face-to-face. I would also like to see a faster system with better communication between applicants, medical professionals and Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff.

Most particularly, I would like to see a change in assessors; assessments should be carried out by medically qualified and suitably experienced staff who have in-depth knowledge of disability. Assessments should be recorded and monitored to ensure that the findings are reflected in the written report and that a true representation of the claimant’s life has been documented.

I felt that the session went well and I was proud to be a part of it. I look forward to hearing the outcome.

Find out what Sense is doing about supporting people claiming welfare benefits.

A valued workforce or a challenge to national productivity?

Author: Natalie McMinn

Natalie is a childhood cancer survivor, with dual sensory loss.

One thought on “Can applying for disability benefits be made easier?”

  1. Thanks to Natalie & all who spent time up in Westminster, putting the views of disabled folk. My daughter (38) is brain damaged & is registered blind, but does have some useful vision & very acute hearing. She does have difficulty walking due to R.H. side spasticity. Difficult to illustrate how all this affects her life to a complete stranger, or even in the very long forms which we need to complete to get benefits. What a good idea to get the M.P.s to have a bash at filling- in the forms.

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