The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has made a shocking admission about how it treats ‘vulnerable’ claimants. It’s changed official records, replacing the answers it originally gave to an MP. Now, it’s claiming ignorance. One campaigner, meanwhile, told The Canary this represents “neglect on a massive scale”; neglect of people like Errol Graham, a man whose death the DWP could have helped avoid.
The DWP and Errol Graham
As Disability News Service (DNS) first reported, Graham starved to death after the DWP stopped his benefits. Bailiffs found his body. He weighed just four and a half stone. But the coroner in Graham’s case said the:
safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it.
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This was because the DWP tried but failed to complete two safeguarding visits. This happened after Graham did not go to a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). So the DWP stopped his Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This meant the council also stopped his Housing Benefit.
A psychiatrist told Graham’s inquest that it was:
likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health.
But the coroner’s verdict did not compel the DWP to act.
Since then, Graham’s story has got widespread media coverage. An MP forced Boris Johnson to say something during Prime Minister’s Questions. But this MP has also asked the DWP official questions. And it’s these which exposed the neglect of countless vulnerable claimants.
Labour MP Lilian Greenwood asked three questions. They were about people who the DWP said were vulnerable. She asked, for each year since 2010:
- How many of these people did the DWP give a) one and b) two safeguarding visits to?
- If it did two failed safeguarding visits, how many of these people’s benefits did it stop?
- What was the average number of days between a final safeguarding visit and the DWP stopping the person’s benefits?
Changing official records?
Holding answer received on 04 February 2020
But The Canary saw the answers. Two of them said that the DWP needed ‘more time’ to answer Greenwood. For question 10364, about how many vulnerable people’s benefits the DWP stopped, Quince originally said the department “does not hold” the figures.
DWP Visiting undertakes safeguarding visits for customers who are deemed to be vulnerable in relation to benefit claims.
DWP cannot provide figures exclusively for payments stopped in relation to safeguarding visits as the Department does not hold this information centrally and to do so would incur disproportionate costs.
These changes pose several questions.
Why did the DWP originally say it could get the figures for two of the questions, then say it couldn’t? And why did it say the information wasn’t available for the third question, and then say it was but would cost too much?
The Canary asked the DWP for comment. We wanted to know:
- Why does it not collate the information on safeguarding visits to vulnerable claimants, and the impact of these in terms of the ending of entitlements, centrally? Because with the highly publicised cases of Graham and Jodey Whiting, for example, it would seem prudent that it monitors this centrally.
- For what reason did it change Quince’s answers?
The DWP says…
A DWP spokesperson told The Canary that it “could not add” anything to Quince’s answers. This is because it would “cost more than the equivalent of someone working on it full time for three days”. We asked again why it changed Quince’s answers, but the DWP had not replied at the time of publication.
Campaigner and disability rights activist Paula Peters was staggered. She told The Canary:
It is absolutely damning and outrageous that the DWP do not keep records on how many claimants they deem as vulnerable have had their benefits stopped due to missed safeguarding visits or even keep records on how many claimants have even had safeguarding visits. This is beyond shocking. It’s a travesty. The DWP will never learn from the tragic cases of Jodey Whiting and Errol Graham. This is neglect on a massive scale. It’s a scandal and needs raising at the highest level. We must hold those responsible to account.
It seems ridiculous that the DWP would not keep central records about vulnerable claimants. Not least because how can it change policies if it doesn’t know the effect its current ones have?
Moreover, this lack of record-keeping raises some serious questions about safeguarding procedures. If these rules are failing on a local level, then centrally the DWP should at least be able to act to stop this. But without any records, how could it? Currently, the DWP is merely reacting when it’s too late. And as the deaths of people like Graham and Whiting show, the results of the DWP’s negligence are utterly tragic.
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