AN MSP who was left furious after a “disturbing” disability benefits call for a family member will urge the UK Government to consider bringing assessments into line with the “more humane” Scottish system.

Karen Adam spoke to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) back in October as part of a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment for a relative who is unable to look after themselves.

But she was left feeling “sick” when the staff member at the other end of the phone began asking whether the family member couldn’t clean themselves and their home because they “couldn’t be bothered”.

Adam – who said the staff member “snapped” at her over the phone - was also taken aback by them asking whether her relative had ever tried to “commit suicide”.

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The Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP said the call was so mortifying she had to try and stop her relative from walking away because they were left feeling so uncomfortable.

Her revelations led to dozens of people from all over the UK getting in touch with her about similar experiences they had had with many saying they felt relieved and validated after seeing a politician speak out about the system.

Although responsibility for disability benefits will eventually be devolved to Scotland, Adam said she now feels compelled to find out what work the UK Government has undertaken to change the current assessments system given it is clearly causing “profound distress” for people.

A letter to the DWP Secretary

She said she plans to write to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Mel Stride this week to urge him to bring in the ethos of “fairness, dignity and respect” which lies at the heart of Social Security Scotland.

Adam told the National: “Having heard from people all over the UK, I want to ask the UK Government if it will consider bringing in a more humane system.

“I’m going to write a pretty stern letter asking what work has been undertaken to change the current system because people’s experience of PIP claims has clearly caused them profound distress and it evidently does not work.

The National: Karen Adam plans to write to Mel Stride about the way PIP assessment phonecalls are carried outKaren Adam plans to write to Mel Stride about the way PIP assessment phonecalls are carried out (Image: PA)

“I know a lot of MPs are sympathetic to the issue.

“I hope they will consider correlating assessments with ones in Scotland which are based on dignity, respect and fairness.

“Scottish social security is a completely different system. It’s easy to apply online and if you do need to speak to someone they listen and they do not interrupt. They stop when you are talking.

“This [Social Security Scotland] came from people with lived experience. A panel was set up [with them] which helped shape it.

“I should not have felt like Social Security Scotland was radical in the way it dealt with things.

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“I certainly hope any new UK Government would look into how benefits are assessed because it’s causing serious mental health issues.”

Adam aims to tackle stigma

Adam’s relative had their PIP payments confirmed shortly after she shared her experience but the SNP MP has continued to investigate the call and has had the script sent to her.

She was told by the DWP the phone assessments are outsourced and carried out by a third-party company.

Along with writing to Stride, Adam says she wants to offer her time outside of being an MSP to make sure claimants get the support they need.

She added: “Lots of people from England got in touch as well as people in my constituency. People said they felt like they were not being listened to, treated like they were lying and complained about the tone on the phone.

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“I think a lot of people have felt like no one would understand them if they spoke out about it.

“When someone has been through this system they feel the institution is ignoring them so why would they feel they can go to their representative who they might feel is part of that institution.

“[When they saw my story] I think people felt like ‘well here’s a person who is going to understand’.

“So I want to support people in the constituency but if people want to get in touch with me [from England], although I can’t support them in my role as an MSP, I can signpost them.

“If people want to have a conversation about it, if any organisations want to get in touch, I am happy to offer my time.”

The DWP said in response to two independent reviews carried out in November 2015 and April 2017 and a Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry in January 2018, it has already delivered a “number of improvements” including to the customer journey, its communications, the assessments and its decision-making.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We support millions of people every year and our priority is they get the benefits to which they are entitled as soon as possible, and to ensure they receive a supportive and compassionate service.

“All health professionals employed by the assessment providers are skilled in assessing people with conditions affecting mental and physical health and receive comprehensive training in disability analysis which includes the evaluation of how medical conditions affect claimants in their day-to-day activities.”