The Department for Work and Pensions has been accused of ‘institutional abuse’ after an assessor allegedly asked a woman: “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet”.
Alice Kirby, 25, who has mental health problems, said she was asked the question as part of her assessment for disability benefits.
Speaking about her experience of personal independence payments (PIP), Alice said: “Cuts are costing disabled people their lives, but the assessments themselves can also put us at risk.
“They are designed to be intrusive and manipulative and I wanted to raise awareness of that.
“When applicants are asked questions like this, we are forced to explain our reasons to stay alive.
“No one should be expected to do that, especially in such a toxic and unsupportive environment.
“Assessors do not have the time or skills to explore the answers to this question with us and they are not able to provide the support which may be needed afterwards.”© Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: PA
She said such questions were appropriate in a psychiatric assessment, but not in a benefits assessment.
Since Alice tweeted about her experience writing, “During my PIP assessment I was asked why I hadn’t killed myself yet. This is standard, assessors regularly ask this question” - many others have come forward with similar experiences.
One Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer claimed they had been asked why they had failed during their suicide bids.
“There was someone else who was asked to detail exactly how they would carry out suicide if they were to kill themselves,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “Supporting people with mental health conditions is a priority for this Government and that’s why we’re spending a record amount on mental health support, over £11 billion a year.
“There are now more people with mental health conditions receiving the higher rates of both PIP components than the previous disability living allowance (DLA) equivalents.
“All PIP assessors receive training on mental health conditions, so they are able to explore claimants’ circumstances carefully and sensitively.”
Private companies Capita and Atos are not provided with a set of specific questions to follow in PIP assessments, though the DWP insists such sensitive questions are asked appropriately.
A spokesman for Atos, which carried out Ms Kirby’s assessment, said: “The professional and compassionate service we provide to claimants is our primary consideration.
“The specific question is inappropriate and if asked would not meet the high standards and training in place which enable the sensitive and appropriate handling of assessments by our professional assessors for those with mental health conditions.”
Ms Kirby, who also suffers physical disability, was originally awarded the higher rate for both parts of PIP.
But now, despite feeling that her conditions have worsened, she has been taken down to the standard rate.
She is awaiting the result of a mandatory reconsideration, but expects to have to go to tribunal to try to get the DWP’s decision overruled.
She added: “I would describe this process and what I have been through as institutional abuse, and I’m not alone.
“It may be carried out by an institution rather than an individual, but it’s still abuse.
“And it’s almost faceless because it’s being perpetrated by this huge institution, a department of government, but the impact on us is still the same