“Fit for work”
On 13 May, Abrahams raised serious concerns about “the number of people” who’ve died “after being found fit for work”. Abrahams’ question referred specifically to DWP figures from 2015. These revealed that, between 2011 and 2014, 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work. This was roughly 90 people each month.
Abrahams called on work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to publish any existing “internal reviews” relating to “those who have died”. Abrahams also asked Rudd to “commit to an independent inquiry”. But significantly, she asked:
Will she [Rudd] ensure that if any evidence of wrongdoing by someone in public office is found, that information will be forwarded to the police?
Although Abrahams’ question referred to people the DWP found fit for work, this may be the tip of the iceberg. Because as The Canary reported, the DWP admitted in January that over 21,000 sick and disabled people also died waiting for it to give them benefits. That’s nearly 12 people a day dying, waiting for a decision over their claims.
Work capability assessment
In response to Abrahams’ questions, Conservative minister Justin Tomlinson said the government is:
committed… to make improvements. There have been two independent reviews of the work capability assessment, and we have accepted and implemented over 100 improvements. We will continue to do all that we can to improve the process for claimants.
Yet growing evidence suggests that there are serious reasons to be concerned about DWP work capability assessments (WCA). These form the basis of fit-for-work declarations for sick and disabled people. But they’re hugely controversial.
Previously, GPs’ fit notes (sick notes) were often enough to prove to the DWP that someone was not fit for work. But changes brought in via the Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability green paper in 2017 stopped this. Now, once a claimant is declared fit for work following a WCA, the DWP ignores any GPs’ evidence and fit notes, except during an appeal.
In June 2018, the DWP updated its guidance for disability assessors. Among other things, its Revised Work Capability Assessment handbook told assessors that it’s “not appropriate” to ask to see scars from self-harm.
Lack of trust
As the Mirror pointed out in April 2018, 68% of people who appealed against assessment decisions for personal independence payments (PIP) had them overturned by a tribunal. But tragically, it’s clear too many people die before they can appeal.
The Work and Pensions Committee said that some PIP assessment reports, which are carried out by private companies, were “riddled with errors”. The DWP decided to ensure all PIP assessments are recorded. It also acknowledged a “lack of trust in the assessment process”. So the DWP itself effectively admitted to being untrustworthy and not fit for purpose.
Abrahams’ call is vitally important to seek justice for all those who’ve died and also to prevent any further deaths. Indicating the need for a police investigation is a shocking indictment of this Tory government.
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