Six prompts for a better assessment

Written by: Ian Dunsmore, Advocacy Worker, Forth Valley Advocacy

Published: 25/11/2015

Ian shares his experiences and views on what an improved social security assessment process would entail.

Social security assessments can often be a source of intense stress and anxiety. As part of the new Welfare Advocacy Support Project, my job is to support people undergoing these assessments. I am often left on the edge of my seat, wondering why exactly a person is being quizzed on something, what the answer they’ve given could entail, what conclusion might be drawn, whether their livelihood might be dashed by the next word leaving their mouth.

Many people going through Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance medicals are already under the extreme strain of mental ill health or learning difficulties. They will often receive no sympathetic treatment during a process that has engulfed so much of their mental space over the past weeks with intense fear, dread, and crippling anxiety; leading to the moment that they finally have to prove – I am no liar.

My role as an Advocacy Worker is to support people in the run up to and during these assessments. I provide accompaniment during assessments, the opportunity to remind clients to divulge any forgotten details of their condition, an understanding of the questions they will be asked and will ultimately guard against people being in the dark about the process.

Assessors are in the incredible position of being able to dispel great anguish, starting from the moment the client sits by their side. No huge effort or psychological knowledge is required in order to accomplish this impressive feat however.  During the assessments, I have observed 6 simple qualities which make a world of difference to people’s mental wellbeing, by creating an open and compassionate atmosphere; something that should be an absolute necessity in assessments, not a bonus.

1. Displaying emotional understanding and empathy with the individual.

2. Explaining what is being noted, destroying the fear of the unknown during periods usually filled with the sound of ominous typing.

3. Allowing the individual to review the assessors wording to make sure there have been no confusions, when explaining things they detail about themselves and their conditions. This is very useful for both creating a relaxed environment, and ensuring the assessor has written a true reflection of what a client is trying to say.

4. Explaining why a question is being asked and what is trying to be fulfilled by its answer.

5. Explaining why a question might be repeated and why they are politely diverting clients from their current line of explanation.

6. Prompting the client to divulge more information, especially when it seems apparent that their condition could lead them to deliver short and incomplete answers.

If we are to truly create a supportive social security system over the coming years, such a compassionate approach is required. It makes a massive difference when social security assessors carry out such simple procedures – stopping a stressful situation from becoming something far worse.

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