Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths?

Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths? Labour, the SNP and Greens demand answers.

Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths? Labour, the SNP and Greens demand answers.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing allegations of a “cover-up” over the deaths of welfare claimants, possibly linked to its controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The DWP: covering up its role in people’s deaths?

As the website Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating and documenting, the DWP is facing a possible scandal. Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Green Party are all demanding answers from the department. Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the situation had “all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up”.

It involves the DWP’s alleged failure to hand crucial evidence to the head of two independent reviews into the WCA. The missing evidence includes, according to DNS, two coroners’ reports that:

followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013… Each warned of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Missing reviews

The WCA is the process the DWP uses to decide whether claimants are ‘fit-for-work’ and therefore entitled to certain benefits. It has been dogged by controversy; not least when a study by Oxford and Liverpool universities found that an “additional” 590 people taking their own lives was linked to the WCA process.

The DWP allegedly also failed to give Dr Paul Litchfield, who published reviews into the WCA in 2013 and 2014, its own internal peer reviews. These, as John Pring from DNS noted:

must be carried out by civil servants into every death ‘where suicide is associated with DWP activity’.

One of the aims of these reviews is to ‘determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved’, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems told DNS they would be writing to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey over the matter. The SNP said it would be “seeking answers” from the department.

The DWP says…

The department told DNS:

As we’ve previously said, this was an independent review, and DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request.

Any evidence used was referenced in the review.

A “deliberate cover-up”

But the situation has left Bartley incensed. He told DNS:

If the [department] failed to show Dr Litchfield vital documents linking the [WCA] with the deaths of benefit claimants, [the] DWP are clearly implicated in a cover-up.

If he was shown them but didn’t mention them in his reports, then so was he.

This has all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up over the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.

Theresa May awarded Litchfield a CBE in June.

So, has the DWP intentionally covered up its involvement in claimants’ deaths? Currently, there are certainly more questions than answers.

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MPs raise concerns with McVey over ‘stress and poverty’ caused by WRAG cuts

Esther McVey giving evidence to the committee

Cross-party MPs have raised a series of concerns with work and pensions secretary Esther McVey about the government’s treatment of disabled people on out-of-work benefits.

Members of the Commons work and pensions select committee were questioning McVey (pictured) more than a year after her government introduced cuts of nearly £30 a week to payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

Ministers were ridiculed when they first announced the cuts and argued they would “incentivise” those in the WRAG to find work.

Claimants placed in the WRAG have all been found able to carry out some work-related activity but have been found not fit for work.

The minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt [now the international development secretary], later promised to find a way to cut the living costs of people in the WRAG and “mitigate the £30”.

But by the time the cuts were introduced, in April 2017, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appeared to suggest that Mordaunt’s only success on living costs had been to ensure that new WRAG claimants would be told by their jobcentre work coaches how to secure the cheapest BT telephone tariff.

Yesterday (Wednesday), SNP’s Chris Stephens asked McVey what work had been done to look at the additional costs faced by WRAG claimants.

But she did not appear to have an answer and claimed instead that the cuts had been aimed at sick and disabled people who could “definitely do some work” and had allowed her department to invest more funds into supporting them into jobs.

Stephens said the committee had received “a lot of witness evidence” that the cuts were “increasing stress and poverty for people in the WRAG” and had provided a “disincentive to get to work”.

He said: “There’s a very real concern that people are moving into hardship if they are on ESA in the WRAG.”

McVey said DWP was “testing and ensuring people aren’t going into hardship” but that its “focus” was to get those in the WRAG into work.

She claimed that the proportion of families that included a disabled person and were living in absolute poverty had fallen since 2010.

She said it was “not easy and we are learning as we go, we are learning from what we do. We are very focused on getting those people into work”.

Tory MP Heidi Allen raised concerns about disabled people who claim the new universal credit and face the possibility of strict benefit conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.

James Wolfe, DWP’s director of disability employment and support, said work coaches had “discretion” to make changes to conditionality for disabled people in this position.

But asked by Allen if the work coaches making these important decisions about whether a claimant was well enough to meet these conditions were “health care experts”, he said instead that they were “skilled in knowing what someone can do and what the best steps are for them to get back into the labour market”.

He added: “We are looking very closely at the whole health journey in universal credit.”

He said there were not yet large numbers of people with health conditions coming onto universal credit so DWP was still “testing and learning, very carefully deciding who we might want to apply some conditionality to and then looking at what happens before those large numbers start coming through”.

Asked by Allen what options DWP was looking at to ensure that not everyone was treated the same, he said: “The instructions our people have is very much to be cautious about this at the moment.

“This is something that is going to evolve over a period of time as we start to get the numbers through. We are looking at it very closely.”

But Allen said the committee was hearing of too many cases in which “discretion is not being fairly applied”, and she said: “I just worry. We have to get it right.”

A previous session of the committee in May had heard from one disabled claimant of universal credit who told MPs how he had been sanctioned by DWP after missing a work-related meeting in a week in which he had been hospitalised twice because of multiple seizures.

McVey claimed DWP was “monitoring closely” how different areas, job centres and work coaches use this discretion.

Labour’s Neil Coyle told McVey, and Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people: “In order to get more disabled people into work, there has to be trust with the department and with jobcentres in particular.”

He told them that disabled people had seen DWP cut support for half a million claimants of disability living allowance in the move to the new personal independence payment.

And he said that half a million disabled people were set to lose out financially in the move to universal credit, and that there had been a cut in the number of disability employment advisers, problems with Access to Work, and increased pressure through benefit sanctions and inaccurate disability benefit assessments.

He asked what efforts ministers had made to assess the cumulative impact of all these cuts on disabled people’s ability and readiness for work.

Wolfe did not answer this question, but said the proportion of disabled people in work was increasing, and the proportion of disabled people in absolute poverty had fallen.

He added: “What I don’t accept is the sort of caricature of the department as being somehow the enemy of disabled people.”

Coyle replied: “I can only go on my surgery [for constituents]and the feedback we have had here. It’s about trust.

“The question is what assessment has been made of that impact of the changes on disabled people’s preparedness for work.”

Wolfe suggested again that the cuts had led to an increase in the number of disabled people in work, telling Coyle: “The outcome is there in the disability employment statistics.”

McVey said an extra £9 billion in real terms had been spent on supporting disabled people and those with health conditions with benefits [since 2010]and that the number of disabled people in work had increased by 600,000 [between 2013 and 2017].

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More DWP News

DWP ‘adding to suffering’ of terminally ill benefit claimants

MPs say the DWP are ‘adding to suffering’ of terminally ill benefit claimants. ‘Cruel’ UK government rejects cross-party request to amend benefits legislation to better support terminally ill claimants.

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The [UK] Government has faced strong condemnation after it rejected a cross-party proposal to amend a controversial element of disability benefit legislation for terminally ill claimants, with one commentator describing the decision as “cruel” and unjustifiable.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claimants who have been told they have less than six months to live can be fast tracked through the application process, but critics argue that this policy is too restrictive and should be rescinded or amended.

The Scottish Government has already introduced new legislation to rescind the six month limit, and now politicians from all political parties are calling on the UK Government to do the same in England and Wales.

Madeleine Moon MP: Terminally ill people should be treated with compassion and dignity

However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has rejected the cross-party request, claiming the current system provides adequate support for terminally ill PIP claimants.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon, whose husband died from motor neurone disease, gave an emotional speech in Parliament, calling for the law to be changed so that terminally ill patients don’t have to spend their last weeks of life worrying about how to pay household bills.

She told MPs: “I’ve talked to people who are worried about losing their homes, worried about how they’re going to pay fuel bills, how they’re going to provide food.

“It is a horrific worry because suddenly a future you had in front of you has disappeared. “Inevitably you’re not able to work, so money becomes a big issue. Most people are desperate to spend what time they have left with their families – you’re not doing that if you’re facing face-to-face assessments or filling in complex forms.”

Her concerns have been echoed by MPs from all parties, who together argue that the arbitrary six month limit fails to recognise the difficulties faced by terminally ill people during their final months.

Sinn Féin Welfare Spokesperson Alex Maskey MLA said there could be “no justification for this cruel decision”, adding that “blatantly ignores the evidence from clinicians and claimants that this rule is adding further trauma to people who are already suffering grievously”.

Alex Maskey said: “PIP currently allows for applications to be fast-tracked without an assessment for claimants with a terminal illness who have a life-expectancy of no more than six months. However, the evidence shows that this time period is much too restrictive and should be extended to all those facing a terminal illness.

“Therefore, the five main parties here made a joint request calling on the British Government to scrap the six-month time restriction.

“We have just received the response from the Department for Work and Pensions and it is deeply disappointing that they are standing over the six-month timeframe.

“I believe there can be no justification for this cruel decision as it blatantly ignores the evidence from clinicians and claimants that this rule is adding further trauma to people who are already suffering grievously.

“It is for this reason that the Scottish parliament has already introduced new legislation to rescind the six-month limit and we will continue to lobby for the same to happen here.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We’re determined to ensure that people living with terminal illnesses get the support they need through this difficult time. “People who are terminally ill can get their claim fast-tracked, automatic access to benefits and, for those claiming ESA or Universal Credit, have their work-related requirements waived.”

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DWP’s misleading benefit sanctions statistics

MPs question misleading benefit sanctions statistics, the DWP are accused of hiding the true number of benefit sanctions behind misleading official statistics.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has written to employment minister Alok Sharma, over concerns about how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report and present official benefit sanctions statistics.

The cross-party group of MPs says official DWP figures “consistently understate the number of sanctions applied for UC, JSA and ESA claimants by updating figures to reflect the post-appeal status” – decisions to sanction claimants that are overturned on appeal.

“This means that every time a sanction decision is overturned at appeal, it no longer appears in the number of sanctions applied”, the Committee claims.

In a press release published on the Parliament website, the Committee continues: “The pre-appeal figure for ESA sanctions was, in one month, as much as 57% higher than the post-appeal figure published by the Department”.

MPs are now demanding an explanation from the DWP and have called on the Department to “publish pre-appeal figures routinely so that the true picture can be understood”.

DWP data also shows that “in February 2018 1,108 Universal Credit claimants were still subject to a sanction despite having moved into in the “Working Enough” or “No Work-Related Requirement” conditionality group”, usually because they are recognised as being too unwell to work or look for work.

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee. said: “What is the point of applying sanctions to people who cannot work and are not expected to look for jobs?

“The DWP have yet to make the case that benefit sanctions work to get people into employment and it’s difficult to see how they can have that affect for people who are ‘working enough’ or cannot work.

“Benefit sanctions are the only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated, and the picture DWP paints of the policy doesn’t match the troubling stories we’ve heard.

“In the wake of the NAO’s damning assessment of Universal Credit, we more than ever need the facts behind the claims.”

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Man denied ESA and told he is ‘fit for work’ despite needing new hip and knee after horrific crash

Lee Horsfall has had his benefit claim stopped and says he cannot work as he waits for an operation.

A Grimsby man has spoken of his frustration, after his benefit payments were stopped because he was “deemed fit for work” despite needing a new hip and knee.

Lee Horsfall, 29, of Orchard Drive, has suffered a string of problems with his leg, hip and back after he was involved in a motorcycle collision in 2006, where he suffered broken bones and severely damaged nerves.

Since then he has had to have numerous operations to try and fix the problems that arose after the crash, but none have managed to give him back the standard of living that he once had, and a replacement hip and knee are now his only option.

Lee says that a month ago he was told that his Employment and Support Allowance had been stopped, after he had been deemed “fit for work”, something that he says could not be possible because at a recent interview he had showed that he is just not physically capable of working.

The Department For Work and Pensions has now reinstated his benefit, but Lee is frustrated that it happened in the first place. He is not able to stand or sit for long periods of time, and is “constantly up and down” as he has to adjust himself in order to stop being in pain.

He says that he regularly gets a “burning pain” in his lower back and hip when he stays in the same place for too long, and walking also causes him a lot of difficulty, needing to use crutches to move short distances, and a wheelchair for longer ones.

Lee is also on a large number of painkillers to help him cope with the pain, including fentanyl patches, which can be highly addictive if used over a long period of time. He said: “I really cannot believe that I was taken off my claim and told that I am fit to go and work, when I struggle to do some of the most basic things around the house

“Due to my collision I have been struggling for the past decade, and I would gladly work if I could, but I am just not able to. “I need crutches to move about the house, and if I am going any distance I need to use a wheelchair, and because I cannot sit down for long periods of time I don’t know how I could do any desk work.

READ MORE
Ex-serviceman facing eviction after receiving just £84 Universal Credit for one month

“I am also on so many different painkillers to cope with my problems, that I have further doubts that I will be able to work properly until I get a new hip and knee and I am able to live my life pain free.”

Lee says that he would love to be able to work if he could, as before his crash he used to work numerous jobs, and after leaving school immediately started working.

He continued: “As soon as I left school when I was younger I started working, I loved it, but now it is just something that I am physically not able to do.

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Medieval Torture: a.k.a Trial by Atos for sick/disabled claimants

Sick and disabled claimants are undergoing unnecessary benefits assessments, argues Patricia de Wolfe, while Dr Liam O’Toole says arthritis sufferers are being left in the dark about their entitlements. Eric Midwinter celebrates an unsung architect of the welfare state

Protestors demonstrate against disability benefit cuts
 Protesters demonstrate against disability benefit cuts. 
I welcome Max Fishel’s call for more reporting on the effects of benefits assessments on sick and disabled claimants (Letters, 8 July). The appalling quality of some assessments has been publicised, but less often mentioned is their unnecessary frequency.

People with long-term health conditions, repeatedly assessed and found unfit for work over a period of decades, may well just get a two-year award of employment and support allowance on reassessment despite no improvement, as though some healing miracle is likely to take place. Disability living allowance used to be granted indefinitely where appropriate; but it is now being replaced by personal independence payment, which is awarded for fixed time periods.

Atos assessors who recommend an indefinite award are overruled by the DWP. Benefits applications involve prolonged effort and intense anxiety. Frequent repeat assessments are dreaded and a blight on people who in any case have a very poor quality of life. They must be expensive for the government in the short term; the longer-term agenda is presumably to discourage claims.
Patricia de Wolfe
London

• In your article (A million older people ‘badly let down’ by lack of social care funding, 9 July), you highlight the striking number of older people who are being neglected by our social care system.

This is an issue we must urgently address, but it does not just affect elderly people in our society. Eight in ten people we recently surveyed, who would have been eligible for aids and adaptations from their local authorities, are missing out on free equipment. This can be a grab rail in the bathroom or kitchen aids to help someone make meals for themselves. By not providing people with these means to stay independent for longer, we are putting strain on other health and care services, which are already under pressure.

We are calling on local authorities to ensure people with arthritis know about, and can access, the support they’re entitled to. But we also need central government to step up and support local authorities in fulfilling their duties.

With 17.8 million people with arthritis and related conditions in the UK, the potential impact of the proper provision of aids and adaptations should not be underestimated.
Dr Liam O’Toole
Chief executive officer, Arthritis Research UK

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Man says he’s being denied ‘vital’ benefits because he isn’t disabled enough

Derby man says he’s being denied ‘vital’ benefits because he isn’t disabled enough
The Department of Work and Pensions says Martin Hargreaves is fit enough for work

Martin Hargreaves says his ESA has been cut but he is not fit enough for work.

A 52-year-old disabled Derby man claims he is being denied the benefits he needs to survive. Martin Hargreaves, from Alvaston, says he struggles to walk and has hearing and vision problems, which mean he is unable to work.

But he claims his Employment Support Allowance has been cut following an assessment in April which concluded he was fit enough to find employment, and he says as a result he no longer has enough income to survive on. He said: “At the moment I’m going to food banks and living off them because I’ve got no savings

“I’m very angry about it.”

A Department for Works and Pensions spokesman said decisions for the Employment Support Allowance are made after consideration of information from the claimant and medical evidence and that people can appeal.

Mr Hargeaves says that his disabilities are much more debilitating than found during his assessment. He said: “The only time I go out is when I go shopping every two weeks when I got paid the Employment Support Allowance.

“I can’t do the things I used to do before. They’re saying I can go out on my own but I can’t. “When I go out I fall over all the time, even with help.

Martin's stairlift.

“When I was born my feet went inwards instead of going outwards. Now its really affecting me as I get older because it’s harder and harder to walk. “I can’t walk without using my frame, I can’t get up and down the stairs without a lift and I can’t get in and out of the bath without a machine to help me.”

Mr Hargreaves said he used to receive both a Personal Independence Payment, which aids disabled people, and Employment Support Allowance,which supports people who cannot work. But he received a letter on May 22 from the DWP informing him that his Employment Support Allowance had been stopped because he was deemed fit for work.

He says he is now eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance, but he feels he would be unable to claim this as he would have to actively seek jobs he cannot do due to his disability.

He now says he cannot afford to pay his bills. He said: “My carer used to cost me £300 per month on top of all my bills like gas and electricity, which costs me around £70, water which costs me £20, taxes and all the rest of it.

“I now get £454 per month for Personal Independence Payments and that’s it. “It’s not enough to live on because I have to pay my bills and everything on top of that. I need a carer to help me bathe and walk but I can’t afford to pay for one anymore.

“I’m actually in debt to the council by about £200 for my taxes because I just haven’t been able to pay for them.

“I’m a broken man now. I have nothing.”

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