It isn’t often I disagree with John Pring of the Disability News Service, but I think he’s being far too charitable to the Department for Work and Pensions.
A report on the DNS website has suggested that the DWP destroyed a report on failures by Job Centre staff to have proper regard for the safety of benefit claimants because the government doesn’t want the facts to get out.
I have a simpler suggestion: The Conservatives simply don’t want benefit claimants to benefit from important information that could save them from serious harm or even death.
Failure to provide this information indicates a serious breach of the government’s duty of care to people claiming benefits.
The DNS report shows that the DWP illegally delayed its response to a Freedom of Information request demanding copies of all reports written by “Community Partners” in London in 2017 and 2018.
The report in question had been created by three disabled people who had joined the “Community Partners” initiative that had been set up to improve relations between the DWP and local communities.
They wrote it only weeks after joining, after becoming increasingly alarmed by the failure of 18 Job Centres to take basic actions that would protect people claiming benefits such as universal credit, employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.
DNS described some of the incidents, as recorded by one of the “Community Partners” going under the pseudonym “Rachel”:
On one occasion, Rachel heard a member of staff explain that a claimant with cancer of the spine, who needed his dressing changed every day, should be found fit for work “so he’s looking forward to the future”.
She also remembers sitting in on an interview with a universal credit claimant, who was 55 and not disabled and had just been made redundant.
He had been hit by the bedroom tax and said repeatedly that he was hungry because he was so short of money, but the DWP civil servant failed to tell him that he could request foodbank vouchers.
When Rachel asked the civil servant after the interview why she had not told him he could ask for vouchers, she was told: “Because he didn’t ask.”
Rachel said: “He said four times that he was hungry and couldn’t afford to go shopping and didn’t have enough money for food.
“That is just dangerous. That person is going to end up with malnutrition and depression.
“It was just a regular guy who was doing his best and did not know how the system worked, let alone that the magic word was ‘foodbank’.”
On another occasion, a man in extreme mental distress who had previously self-harmed in the Brixton jobcentre after being found fit for work, returned to the jobcentre and again began self-harming by banging his head against a window.
Staff were standing around watching, said Rachel, who had to take control, find a manager and tell them to contact the council’s social services department.
Despite her intervention, no report on the incident was written, despite her repeatedly asking for an incident report form.
She believes her insistence that the incident needed to be written up was one of the reasons she was eventually sacked, although DWP claimed it was because she had retweeted a social media post criticising Iain Duncan Smith, even though she believes the tweet was sent before she started working for DWP.
She said: “They all know they are putting people at risk but all they are concerned about is ticking boxes.”
Note the claim that “Rachel” was sacked for criticising Iain Duncan Smith – tacit confirmation that the Conservatives coerce employees into silence about their harmful policies and practices.
According to DNS, the DWP illegally delayed releasing the documents that had been requested, then said the report by “Rachel” and the other two “Community Partners” had been destroyed under a rule that such documents should not be kept longer than 12 months.
This is an unconvincing argument because the DNS Freedom of Information request had been made four months before that period had expired.
The evidence is clear: The Department for Work and Pensions will never willingly help benefit claimants whose safety is in danger.
There are moves to force the department support its own safeguarding rules: The Justice for Jodey Whiting petition demands an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP.
The petition was set up because the department failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017.
It has been signed 25,000 times in three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it may be debated in Parliament.
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