Remember the Department for Work and Pensions’ rejection of a petition demanding an independent review of its safeguarding procedures, after the death of Jodey Whiting?
The department had ignored its own safeguarding procedures no less than five times before Ms Whiting committed suicide in February 2017.
But the DWP said it had no plans for an inquiry into its treatment of claimants – and 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.
Only days after this became public knowledge, we learned that Stephen Smith – the man who was reduced to a state similar to concentration camp victims due to starvation caused by deprivation of benefits – had died.
He had succumbed to pneumonia which he had contracted as a result of DWP sanctions.
Now we find that the DWP had ignored the advice in not just one, but two letters from Mr Smith’s doctors, in its determination to find him fit for work in the fact of the evidence that he was not.
This is what one GP wrote in October 2017, after listing the serious health issues suffered by Mr Smith, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cervical spondylosis, osteoarthritis and the fact he had been fitted with a urinary catheter because of ongoing urinary issues:
“These medical conditions adversely impact upon his mobility and upon the activities used to assess eligibility for ESA and PIP. The nature of these chronic problems is such that they will worsen over time and mean that his mobility and functionality is impaired on a daily basis.
“Mr Smith will be in pain on standing and at the commencement of walking. Whilst on the balance of probability, he would be able to walk 20 metres, in my opinion, he could not mobilise a distance of twenty metres repeatedly without needing to stop due to pain and breathlessness.
“It is my opinion that not only could Mr Smith not walk 20 metres without pain or exhaustion, he coult not do it repeatedly or within a reasonable time period.
“In terms of cooking, his very limited respiratory tolerance, and his difficulties with lifting means that in practical term anything other than straightforward microwave cooking is likely to be beyond his physical capabilities.
“The need to monitor and change his catheter requires medical input and it would therefore be reasonable to describe Mr Smith as requiring assistance with toilet needs.
“The identified restrictions affecting Mr Smith’s mobility and daily living activities have been present for more than three months and, given the nature of his medical complaints, are likely to remain beyond the next nine months.”
Despite this expert advice, the DWP’s pen-pushers decided they knew better and found him fit for work, so in January 2018 another GP wrote to them again, as follows:
“Following a recent Work Capability Assessment this patient, in contradiction of my own knowledge of the patient over time, clinical assesment and medical certification, was found fit for work related activity.
“Because of my patient’s health condition there would be a substantial risk to my patient’s health if he were found not to have limited capability for work related activity.”
There was indeed a substantial risk to Mr Smith’s health. It was called the Department for Work and Pensions, and it led to his eventual death.
It’s a clear case of corporate manslaughter but nobody is facing any recriminations over it at all. The DWP says it is an “operational matter” and refuses to comment on it in any way other than that “lessons will be learned”, or some such blather.
Will any lessons be learned? We may find out the answer sooner than the DWP would like – ironically, from a man with almost the same name as the deceased.
Steve Smith had a stroke 11 years ago which left him paralysed from head to toe down the left side of his body.
The life-threatening condition struck while he was on holiday in Turkey. He also had a brain haemorrhage and spent six weeks in hospital abroad where surgeons had to cut away his skull and operate on his brain.
After flying back to England, he was given a year to recuperate by his employers but after his condition failed to improve he lost his job.
After years in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance – and with no sign of improvement in his condition – it seems the DWP has arbitrarily decided he is fit for work and shut down his ESA claim.
You can read about his ordeal here.
Will he be the next victim of a government department that seems free to condemn people at will, and with impunity? And what can be done to get justice for people like Jodey Whiting and Stephen Smith?
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