2021 saw the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly hit the headlines. In this article, The Canary looks back at some of the big DWP stories from the year. But we’re also reminding our readers that even in the face of adversity, hope and triumph can prevail – as the past 12 months in the world of social security shows.
A cold winter
January 2021 started much like many other years at the DWP: with conscious cruelty and disregard for claimants. First, and after pausing sanctions during most of 2020, it brought them back in again, albeit via the backdoor. This was despite a national lockdown being in full force. Meanwhile, DWP boss Therese Coffey dismissed a parliamentary inquiry into how the government measures child poverty. Of course, she conveniently ignored the fact that the number of kids living in appalling conditions was over four million.
In February, the High Court ruled that a Universal Credit policy was unlawful. Specifically, it was that parents having to pay childcare costs upfront and then claim the money back from the DWP was “disproportionately prejudicial” against women. But this wasn’t the end of the story. The DWP appealed, and the Court of Appeal ruled in its favour. So, the case will go to the Supreme Court next year for a final decision. As well as this, another new report came out – finding that destitution exploded during the pandemic.
Spring: Universal Credit in the spotlight
But throughout 2021, Universal Credit was at the forefront of many people’s minds – namely due to controversy over the £20-a-week uplift. A report in February slammed it as “inadequate”. Then, March saw protests over the fact chancellor Rishi Sunak had not uplifted legacy benefits like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in line with Universal Credit. But an interview with Martin Lewis revealed why Sunak had not done this. Because he said the £20-a-week increase was just for workers.
Sunak’s discriminatory actions didn’t go unnoticed, as claimants brought a legal case against the government over its refusal to uplift legacy benefits. The outcome of it will be known in 2022. April saw two pieces of damning research into the DWP. One looked at the two-child limit on claiming certain benefits. It found more children in poverty and abortions increasing; The Canary branded this government “eugenics”. Then, another found that hundreds of thousands of people could have claimed Universal Credit during the pandemic – but didn’t.
A summer of discontent and heartache
Across May and then the summer, much of people’s focus was on fighting the Tories’ planned cut to Universal Credit. But two other stories stood out. Jodey Whiting took her own life after the DWP stopped her benefits. Her mother has been fighting ever since for a new inquest into her daughter’s death, which will look at the DWP’s role. As The Canary pointed out, around 35,000 people died across several years:
They died either waiting for the DWP to sort their claims or after it said they were well enough to work or start moving towards work. Moreover, in 2018 alone there could have been 750 (if not more) people who took their own lives while claiming from the DWP. But across five years, the department only reviewed 69 cases of people taking their own lives.
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Clearly the DWP thinks that nearly 35,000 (recorded) deaths doesn’t constitute a systemic problem.
This point was then put into even sharper focus. Because as Disability News Service (DNS) first reported, and The Canary followed up on, the DWP may have secretly investigated twice as many claimant deaths as in 2019 – with potentially countless numbers of them involving people taking their own lives.
Autumn brings chaos
September onward saw more people fighting back against the Universal Credit cut. But sadly it was to no avail – as the cut happened anyway, affecting around 3.4 million children. But even in the midst of this, people we’re still winning battles against the DWP. For example, a court case in September forced the department to change its rules around sanctions and taking money off people. And another court case was looming as well – over severely disabled people losing money on Universal Credit.
We also found out that the UN was preparing to investigate the UK government and DWP (again) over its treatment of disabled people. Then, Sunak’s October budget and his tinkering with Universal Credit left millions of people worse off. In November, we found out that the DWP and tribunals were having to overturn a wrong benefits decision by the department every minute of the working day. There was also the impact of a court case from 2019, which saw the DWP having to look at around 340,000 people’s claims – because it might be underpaying them.
December chills ahead of 2022
And finally, just to add insult to injury in December the Mirror exposed that Coffey’s DWP office staff were ordering takeaways and drinking booze together while the rest of us were in lockdown in late 2020. Days before the revelations, Tories laughed and groaned during a parliamentary debate about disabled people. That incident takes on a whole, new meaning now.
As The Canary previously summed up:
For years, the DWP and its staff have treated claimants with contempt and disregard. This led to a report by the UN which accused successive governments and the DWP of “grave” and “systematic” violations of chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the UN committee who did the report said they had created a “human catastrophe”.
Will 2022 be any different? It seems unlikely, given we have a Tory government. But what 2021 did show was that sometimes, battles against the DWP can be won. And moreover, the year was filled by people fighting back against the department. That surely needs to continue in 2022.
And should you so chose, you could catch up on the many of the other review articles here.
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