The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has just dug itself into a massive hole. Recent revelations forced it to change official records, but its updated answer actually made it look worse. And it left more questions than answers. Not least: what have people died for?
The DWP: the cruellest of cuts
As The Canary wrote, the DWP has been tying itself up in knots over Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). In 2017, it cut the rate of money it gave claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG). This was by around £29 a week. The group is for people who the DWP says should be moving into work. Often these claimants live with illnesses or impairments.
At the time, the Tories and DWP said the cut was to stop giving sick and disabled people “financial incentives” to not work. The then chancellor George Osborne called these incentives “perverse”. The DWP also said the cut would save money. This was when austerity was in full flow. Its final forecast said cutting the WRAG rate would claw back just over £1bn in four years. But it also claimed it would plough in £330m to support claimants into work.
Trampling over dead bodies
Sound ‘perverse’? It gets even more sordid.
The DWP cut WRAG cash knowing death rates in the group were rocketing. By 2016, after it finalised the cut, claimants in the WRAG died at a rate of 7.7 per 1,000. This was over four times higher than the rest of the population. Charities disputed the DWP’s “incentives” claims. But it pushed the cut through anyway.
Now, it’s raised its ugly head again. But the story has got even uglier.
The Canary spotted this. We thought the answer was dodgy. This is because the DWP originally said the cut would save over £1bn. So, on Wednesday 22 January, we asked the DWP about this claim. It took it until late on Friday 24 January to get its act together and give us an answer.
The DWP changed Tomlinson’s written answer in the official records. It went from “no savings” from the cut to this:
Then, the DWP gave The Canary a comment. This had nothing to do with the WRAG cut. It was just more claims about how much money it spends on sick and disabled people:
We will spend £55bn this year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. This is up £10bn in real terms since 2010, and is around 2.5% of GDP, and over 6% of government spending.
Talk about lip service. But the DWP’s change to parliament’s records has opened a can of worms.
Worms in a can. Busting out.
Its new answer poses countless, worrying questions:
- How did Tomlinson make such a mistake about “savings”?
- Why did the DWP forecast over £1bn of savings from the WRAG cut? If it doesn’t know the savings now, how did it know in 2015/16?
- What made the DWP change the wording on the £330m savings? Tomlinson first said it was “invested” from the ‘recycled’ WRAG savings. It then changed to an “additional” investment. This gives the impression the money was not from the WRAG cut. So which is it?
- If the £330m wasn’t from the WRAG cut, where has people’s £29 a week loss since April 2017 gone? What has the DWP done with £1bn of people’s money?
- Would the DWP have changed Tomlinson’s answer if The Canary hadn’t caught it out?
As I wrote, either Tomlinson and the DWP are “clueless”, or they’ve both told an “outright lie”. Luckily, a Canary reader has done a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. It aims to find out how much the WRAG cut saved.
But really, the DWP’s possible lying is not the worst of this.
Austerity. Misery, Death. For what?
The DWP has gone on official record to say it doesn’t know how much cash the WRAG cut saved. If we believe it, then the fall out should be damning.
Because what it’s actually saying is that it cut sick and disabled people’s money. It cut it in the name of austerity. The DWP took cash from people because, let’s face it, it thought they were ‘scroungers’. But now, it can’t say how much cash it saved.
So, what’s the point of austerity been? Why would the Tories slash public spending to save money if they didn’t then know if it had even saved anything?
By this logic, the DWP and Tories have put people through hell for no reason. People have died against a backdrop of public finance penny-pinching. And our despicable politicians and civil servants can’t even do them the decency of saying if their dead bodies have saved money. It’s an utter disgrace, piled on top of a mountain of disgraces from this vile department.
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