The DWP has been forced to admit people are dying under Universal Credit

A black and white graveyard and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to reveal it’s already investigating deaths under Universal Credit. But it only released the “secret” files due to a Freedom of Information request (FOI).

The DWP: more damning revelations

When a claimant dies or takes their own life, the DWP has to review its involvement. This is called an “internal process review” [IPR], or “peer review“. As FullFact reported, often it only reveals the reviews via FOIs. They have been dogged by controversy; Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley at one point likened the DWP’s actions to a “cover-up”.

But now, Disability News Service (DNS) has forced the DWP to reveal the number of IPRs it has carried out. The reviews make for damning reading; you can read DNS’ two reports here and here.

“Overtly threatening”

As John Pring of DNS reported, between April 2016 and June 2018, the DWP carried out 33 IPRs into claimant deaths; up from nine between October 2014 and January 2016. This means that since February 2012 it has reviewed at least 91 claimant deaths. But most notably, the DWP has had to review the deaths of four claimants who were on Universal Credit.

The DWP has hidden much of the detail. In one case this includes a conversation between a staff member and the claimant, which the review called “poor” customer service. Then there were notes on the “excessive” and “overtly threatening” approach to claimants. Also, reviews show the DWP failed in its safeguarding duties to two claimants. It had deemed both these people vulnerable but didn’t check on them after they missed appointments. Both died.

The DWP says… 

The DWP, which only responded to the FOI after the government watchdog got involved, was cagey with DNS. As Pring noted, a spokeswoman:

declined to say if DWP was concerned that there had already been four IPRs following the death of a universal credit claimant, even though only a small number of people are currently claiming… [it].

But she did tell DNS:

The government is committed to supporting the vulnerable and… staff are trained to identify and support people in hardship.

They can apply special easements to people’s claims and signpost to appropriate local support services.

IPRs do not seek to identify or apportion blame. They are used as a performance improvement tool that help the department to continually improve how it deals with some of the most complex and challenging cases.

A “living hell”

But campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said:

The concerns about universal credit and its potential for severe harm have now been confirmed.

The… [IPRs] give a glimpse into the living hell of claimants, where the reckless actions of benefits staff brought grievous harm, extreme distress and fatalities onto benefit claimants.

DWP guidance (again only released because of an FOI) says that it carries out IPRs in the cases of people taking their own lives, and when it says claimants were “vulnerable” or “complex”. So, the deaths revealed by DNS may only be a small portion of the true figure.

A national scandal?

As The Canary previously reported, around 100 claimants a day were dying while on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Of these, 10 a day were people in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG). The DWP says people in the WRAG are ready to move towards work. So, the fact that so many people are dying in this group raises grave questions about the department’s procedures.

One claimant’s death should, by anyone’s standards, be of concern. But when hundreds of people are dying on the DWP’s watch yet it still tries to keep this fact a secret – it’s a national scandal.

Get Involved!

– Read Pring’s full reports here and here. Also, donate to support DNS.

Featured image via Max Pixel and UK government – Wikimedia 

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Steve Topple