A daughter had to present the DWP with her dead mum’s ashes to prove she wasn’t ‘fit-for-work’

Department for Work and Pensions Logo DWP
Steve Topple

A daughter has hit back at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after it emerged she had to prove her late mother was no longer ‘fit-for-work’ by presenting her ashes. The story highlights not only the incompetence of the government department but a culture of ‘guilty before proven innocent’.

A tragic death

As the Mirror reported, in August 2017 Louise Broxton died of lung cancer. She lived with various neurological conditions before that. The DWP had been providing Louise with her benefit entitlements. Her daughter Hatti cancelled them after Louise’s death. The department confirmed notification of Louise’s passing, and paid all the money she had been owed.

On 28 February, the family received a letter from the DWP stating Louise would be having a home-based Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on 13 March. Hatti was “furious”, and she decided to let the process continue to see if assessors “would actually have the balls to do the home visit”. And they did.

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Staggering incompetence

An assessor from private company Maximus arrived as the letter stated he would. Maximus operates fit-for-work assessments for the DWP. The representative asked Hatti’s cousin if she was Louise. As Hatti told the Mirror:

My cousin replied, ‘No, I’m not,’ and I said, ‘Hang on a minute’.

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Then I went behind the sofa to the unit where mum is, picked up her urn, turned around, and said ‘This is Louise Broxton and you’ve come to assess her?’

He was completely mortified, as you would be. He apologised and offered his condolences.

I told him, ‘I’m not doing this to embarrass you, but the letter and having you on my door today, that’s twice the DWP have missed something’.

The fact the assessor showed up proves in Hatti’s mind that they’d not checked her mother’s medical records prior to the assessment visit. She also told the Mirror it shows the DWP missed three opportunities to “realise something was wrong: when they sent the letter, when no one responded to their request, and when the doctor missed Louise’s medical records”.

The DWP: living in a different world

Hatti said of the situation:

I told the DWP afterwards I’d love to live in the world that the DWP live in, the one where my mum’s still alive. But she’s been gone for seven months.

It’s not the case that my mum died a couple of weeks ago. Then a crossover would be understandable and I would accept their apology.

A DWP spokesperson told the Mirror:

We’ve apologised to Ms Broxton for the distress caused by the administrative error.

But Hatti says this is “not good enough”:

I want policies in place and procedures to be followed. I don’t want anyone else to be in my situation.

The DWP and its outsourcing partners have a dire track record on their fit-for-work assessments for both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

A dire track record

As The Canary previously reported, PIP was rolled out to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Figures from the government show that, from 8 April 2013 to 31 July 2017, 189,960 disabled people who previously got DLA were denied PIP. This is 21% of all disabled people who were reassessed by private outsourcing firms Atos and Capita.

Then you have the government’s own figures [pdf, p8]. They show that, between December 2011 and February 2014, around 90 people a month receiving ESA died after the DWP declared them ‘fit-for-work’.

One such example is that of Lawrence Bond. As The Canary previously reported, Bond suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after leaving the Kentish Town Jobcentre on 12 December 2016. The 56-year-old had longstanding health problems such as difficulties with mobility and breathing. But the DWP had declared him ‘fit-for-work’ five months earlier.

A study by Oxford and Liverpool universities also found that an “additional” 590 people taking their own lives were linked to the DWP Work Capability Assessment (WCA), as were 279,000 additional cases of mental health issues and 725,000 additional antidepressants prescriptions.

‘Brown envelope syndrome’

There is a phrase that sick and disabled people use a lot. It’s called ‘brown envelope syndrome’. It describes the emotional and mental distress caused by the DWP’s constant harassment of claimants. As author of the book Taking Steps Helen Sims describes in a blog post:

Had another anxiety attack this morning, albeit a small one. The DWP sent Christmas bonus notifications through the post, and of course, on seeing the brown envelope, my first thought was, ‘it’s my turn for the Work Compatibility Assessment’. I freaked, and started shaking! Couldn’t even bring myself to pick it up, and had to get hubby to open it for me.

My heart was beating so fast and I just couldn’t catch a breath. I felt all shivery inside.

The relief was unbelievable! I dread to think what extra stress does to my (already burnt out) adrenal glands, so I really try to take everything in my stride, but it’s not easy under this government. Things that were secure, now aren’t.

Whether they [the DWP] accept it or not, – (they don’t), what they’re doing to us is a constant low level form of psychological torture, and it’s happening in our own homes, where we should feel safest and at ease with ourselves.

The way that WCAs and the DWP operate is viewed by some as a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ experience. You’re almost having to prove continuously to the DWP that you’re sick or disabled enough to warrant its support, despite medical confirmation. And while the previous coalition government did a review of the WCA process, it seems that, judging by Hatti’s story, little has changed.

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Featured image via the UK government/Wikimedia

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