No apology from DWP for ‘potentially dangerous’ ESA letters

Reposted from Disability New Service 

Disabled benefit claimants have complained after being targeted by government letters telling them to attend short-notice “work-focussed interviews” (WFIs), but failing to mention that attendance was voluntary.

Research by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has found that employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants from across the country have been receiving the letters, which say the interviews will “discuss the possibility of going into paid work, training for work, or looking for work in the future”.

Many disabled people have been sent the information by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) even though they have been placed in the support group, for ESA claimants who have been assessed as too ill or disabled to carry out work-related activity.

One claimant told DPAC: “I can’t cope with any more stress, I can’t do it. Not on top of the constant pain I’m in and all these high level opioids… it’s all just an accident waiting to happen.

“When will the stress and worry end? I don’t feel very supported, I feel lost, lonely and very, very scared indeed.”

Another claimant says: “I have had a letter asking me to attend a WFI and I am in the support group.

“I rang them to cancel and they have tried to bully me into going to the interview. I explained I am too ill but they still kept on.”

DPAC says in a report into the “potentially dangerous” DWP tactic that it is “particularly shameful that the contact letters that we have seen do not inform people of their right to decline the work focussed interview”, while some of the letters are giving claimants “very short notice” before an appointment.

It adds: “We conclude that this is nothing but harassment of claimants by jobcentres, which risks causing serious harm to [claimants], especially those with severe mental health impairments.”

Meanwhile, a union has warned that nearly 2,000 ESA claimants from the Birmingham area – all waiting to be assessed for their “fitness to work” and eligibility for ESA – are also being invited to attend DWP work-focussed interviews.

The PCS union, which represents DWP staff, says it believes the interviews are being held to force at least 10 per cent of the claimants off benefits.

Again, the letter fails to explain that attendance is voluntary.

The union says DWP staff have been told by managers to “keep it to themselves” that claimants do not have to attend the interviews.

One manager was even overheard saying that the way to deal with these claimants is to “hassle, hassle them off benefits”.

Andrew Lloyd, Midlands regional secretary for PCS, said the letter was “outrageous”, and he accused DWP of “duping” ESA claimants.

A DWP spokeswoman said the letters investigated by DPAC and those uncovered by PCS had been sent out to ESA claimants “so we can support them to take steps into work if they feel able to”.

She said: “Using the skills and experiences of our work coaches, we have received a number of positive responses from claimants who have welcomed the opportunity to speak to a work coach about the help and support that is available.

“Claimants are attending interviews purely on a voluntary basis and we have not invited in customers where this would be inappropriate.”

But she said the interviews were a “short term activity” and there were no current plans to “extend further this work”.

She said: “The letters make no mention of the interviews being mandatory and it has never been our intention to suggest they were.”

She added: “We are committed to helping disabled people and those with health conditions to fulfil their ambition to work.

“Work is almost always good for health and most disabled people can and want to work, provided they have the right support.”

But Linda Burnip, a member of the DPAC steering group, said the DWP response “seems to be totally divorced from the reality of what is actually happening to people”.

She said: “I’ve just checked the sample letter we had sent to us again and there is no mention of these interviews being voluntary at all.

“Many of those who contacted us had been told that they must attend or their benefits could be sanctioned and in most cases the notice given to attend an interview was only a couple of days.

“I’m also sure that anyone who felt able to work would already be looking for work without needing to be forced into seeing a work coach.

“Regardless of what DWP are saying, this is causing disabled people in the support group unnecessary additional anxiety.”

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13 thoughts on “No apology from DWP for ‘potentially dangerous’ ESA letters

  1. Louise Ellis

    “Work is almost always good for health.” Tell that to the 5,000 people a DAY worldwide who are killed by work-related illnesses and accidents. You sententious twit.

  2. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    As I commented Mike, this is a travesty of decency and is exactly the repeat tyrannical onslaught by the DWP against the weakest in society; the very people it is supposed to assist.

    The leader of this department is obviously unable to comport with decency and respect and I wonder also about the quality of those employed by this department because I could not possibly bring myself to work for, or even near, such a vile organization which is what the DWP has become under this government.

    Let us hope with all our hearts that this party will be removed from office in 2015 and that decency and fairness will return to government under Labour.

    1. tinagoddess

      Rupert, I suspect that the decent people have quit because of this travesty. Also I wonder if the people who have stayed are the ones that act as if the government’s money is theirs to deny to disabled people, and they are more than willing to comply with despicable work tasks. We have lost decency and fairness as you pointed out. And I do hope it returns with a new government. IDS and the Oxford boys are past their use by date.

  3. Tasha Tyler-Harris

    ‘Work is almost always good for health’…yeah, right. If you’re incontinent and have to face the public humiliation of having to explain it….or have one of the myriad conditions that mean that standing or sitting for any length of time hurts you, or if you have an anxiety disorder or PTSD that is set off by someone raising their voice, verbally snapping, touching you without warning, or coming too close to you…

  4. jeffrey davies

    yet again rtu ids out does himself once again never telling the truth of it it seems this devil is trying to save more monies that will trickle down into his workfare companies remember this one who awarded herself 8.6million in bonuses lovely jubbly if you can get it hay jeff3

  5. Nathan Stearn

    Ive just got one of these letters yesterday and have been as usual winding myself up about it as i suffer from a very rare form of child arthritus bi-polar n all of this leads to panic/anxiety attacks not to mention unneeded/wanted stress.

  6. wildthing666

    If in the support group just bin the letter and don’t turn up wait until after the time of the appointment then email them and say you have just received a letter for an appointment and as you received it on or after the day of appointment and you are in the support group you will not be harassed by them to attend something which is voluntary. Any more such letters will be invoiced at £50 a time

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Ian Duncan sent this reply. Unfortunately another commenter has complained about an offensive word in his avatar. Rather than continue causing offense, I’ve decided to repeat his words in a comment of my own. I won’t keep doing this forever though, Ian, so if you want to continue being seen here, please change your avatar to one that won’t cause offence!

      Ian Duncan writes: The DWP have a record of singling out the most vulnerable, maybe you just don’t fit that category?

  7. Mike Sivier Post author

    Ian Duncan sent this reply. Unfortunately another commenter has complained about an offensive word in his avatar. Rather than continue causing offense, I’ve decided to repeat his words in a comment of my own. I won’t keep doing this forever though, Ian, so if you want to continue being seen here, please change your avatar to one that won’t cause offence!

    Ian Duncan writes: “We are committed to helping disabled people and those with health conditions to fulfil their ambition to work […]”

    What about the ones who *don’t* want to work? I know it’s sacrilege these days to admit to not wanting to work? We’re all supposed to be hardworkingfamilies, after all (the use of that idiotic phrase was another divide and rule tactic, designed to instill a self-righteous victim complex in people so they’d see benefit claimants as a subspecies, allowing IDS to do what be likes with us) but what about those of us who feel tired all day, every day? Those of who can’t face the outside world for days at a time? What about the ones who struggle daily with basic physical tasks?

    What about my ambition to be left alone for however long I have left and not have cryptofascist filth, moral vipers and dreary little cut price Mengeles at the DWP making my future prospects terrifying?

    I’d be very happy if Ed Milband promised to investigate -properly – all the DWP staff from IDS to the JobCentre Plus front desk security guards, take all suspected of wrongdoing (bringing retrospective laws if necessary to make certain things illegal that aren’t already. the irony would be lovely) and have them up at court. IBS certainly needs to be charged under human rights laws.

  8. Jeffrey Davies

    JobCentre Plus front desk security guard ive never ever thought we get to this security on the doors just to sign on laughable to me sadly its a fact that many now will get mad at their treatment and will evenualy hurt one of them but not rtu ids it seems this devil just laughs at others who have their monies sanctioned but getting all of em up before the beak sadly they would say he made em do it jeff3

    1. Ian Duncan

      To be fair, we’ve had security guards at our Job Centre for years and the DHSS building before that, though they were only good for harassing single mothers at the DHSS, there was no sign of them on the two occasions I saw a few bad lads kicking off…

  9. mich

    sounds to me like they want to shock people in to having heart attacks by causing them more stress and get their figures down

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