The Department for Work and Pensions has scorned calls for an independent inquiry into deaths related to its decisions.
Nearly 27,000 people have signed the “Justice for Jodey Whiting” petition after it was revealed that the DWP failed to follow its own safeguarding rules no less than five times in the weeks leading to her suicide in February 2017.
The DWP also destroyed a report on other safeguarding failures – in only 18 London job centres – rather than allow it to become public after a Freedom of Information request was submitted for its release.
But this department of the Conservative government has shown its contempt for the thousands who have demanded justice, with a response to petitioners that shows the Tories don’t think they are worth a proper answer.
Here it is – with a few comments from myself in bold. I’m not the best person to provide a commentary but the arrogance of the Tories means I cannot let it pass:
“DWP has apologised unreservedly for the failings in the case of Ms Whiting and recognises the importance of safeguarding.” Recognising its importance and actually carrying it out are two different things. An apology costs nothing, and we already know that the Tories consider the death of any claimant to be a “positive benefit outcome”. “The Government has no plans to hold an inquiry into deaths of claimants.” Because the result would be damning?
“The case of Ms Whiting is undeniably tragic and complex. Her case has been looked at in detail by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) who regrettably found several failings in the way her case was handled. We aim to maintain a very high level of customer service and one mistake is obviously one too many.” Why, then, do we have records of not just one death – not mistake, let’s call it what it is – too many, but dozens; possibly hundreds, with thousands more unexplained and reports suggesting that the number of DWP-related deaths stretches to the hundreds of thousands? “Unfortunately, in this instance the expected standard of customer service was not achieved.” And what about the many other – so many other – cases? “The Department has apologised unreservedly for these failings and awarded the family compensation.” Yet these deaths continue to happen and we have evidence that DWP staff are ignoring safeguarding procedures. Why are they doing this?
“We currently have no plans to hold an independent inquiry into deaths relating to actions taken by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The ICE did not find any evidence of misconduct by Civil Servants or Ministers.” Was the ICE made to sign a non-disclosure agreement stipulating that they may not do anything to suggest criticism of the DWP, as has been found to be the case with other people and organisations? “The DWP supports people with a wide variety of needs and staff are trained to identify signs of vulnerability which may include offering extra help with people’s benefits should they need it.” This is not borne out by the evidence. And identifying signs of vulnerability is not the same as offering help. “The safeguarding of claimants is a priority and the department has a number of processes in place, including a home visiting service to check on people’s well-being, or offering help with completing forms, as well as signposting to specialist support provided by other organisations we work closely with.” Again, the evidence suggests the opposite of what is being said. There have been cases of severely ill people being interrogated by DWP representatives while they were in hospital – is this what is meant by “a home visiting service to check on people’s well-being”? As for “help with completing forms”, is this why nobody trusts the DWP to do so?
“Claimants of working age who wish to apply for Employment and Support Allowance because their health or disability impacts on their ability to work are usually required to attend a Work Capability Assessment.” Yes indeed – and this assessment system was proven to be a failure many years ago. It is based on a bastardised form of the “biopsychosocial” model of illness that asserts that whatever the claimant’s illness, it is all in their mind and not real at all. “If a claimant fails to attend the assessment, our decision makers must check the claimant’s records for any history of mental health or other vulnerability.” In practise, mental health is never considered a reason for allowing a benefit claim. Questions may be asked, but no points are ever awarded for mental ill-health. “Where there are issues noted on the claimant’s record, decision makers are required to consider whether the claimant would benefit from a home visit.” Yet there are recorded instances of claimants being ordered to travel many miles, to assessment centres that are much further away than necessary, and then being forced to crawl upstairs because there are no lifts, with no help from any staff members. Is this the way the DWP “supports people with a wide variety of needs”, or trains staff “to identify signs of vulnerability”?
“We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and, in the tragic case where someone dies, ensuring that we respond swiftly and sensitively.” With an apology – and an overpayment demand? “In response to this case, we have changed guidance so that our staff update a claim where someone has sadly died within 48 hours, making sure we stop all unnecessary contact as quickly as possible.” But the petition does not refer to the case of Jodey Whiting alone. It demands a wide-ranging inquiry into many deaths suffered by those who relied on the DWP. “We keep our safeguarding guidance under constant review to ensure it provides the highest standard of protection to vulnerable people.” Again, reviewing this guidance and practising it are two very different things.
“Whilst the Department absolutely recognises that in this particular case errors were made and the appropriate level of service was not met, we would emphasise the thousands of decisions that our staff make every day which result in claimants receiving the health and disability benefits that they need, as well as the assistance they require.” It seems that many of those decisions are made by tribunals that find against the DWP after benefits have been denied to claimants.
“As previously stated, the DWP has apologised unreservedly for the failings in the case of Ms Whiting.” As previously stated, the petition is not only about the case of Ms Whiting and this response is an insult, not only to her but to the many others who have died as a result of – at best, incompetence, and at worst…
An independent inquiry would have ascertained the answer. Perhaps a Labour government will order it.
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