A DWP confession just exposed ‘neglect on a massive scale’

DWP logo and hands counting money
Steve Topple

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.

Political storms

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?

DWP parliamentary under-secretary Will Quince first replied on 4 February. His answers no longer exist. The DWP replaced them with:

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.

Now, the DWP has replaced Quince’s answers. To all three questions, the reply is the same:

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.

Confusion?

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.

Systemic neglect

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.

Featured image via pixabay – Frantisek Krejci / Wikimedia – UK Government

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  • Show Comments
    1. A DWP confession just exposed ‘neglect,
      on a massive scale’
      //
      LOOK Canary plus claimant.
      The D.W.P. Minister running the thing
      Make the decision on all payments and the,
      managers on the Dept shop floor of D.W.P.
      Work areas that enforce what the Minister
      as told them to do.
      //
      So, we have 2 people here possibly fully responsible for Clements payment or Non-payment of their benefits and the damage their decision will do.
      First the Minister of Govt running the D.W.P. Dept
      Second the D.W.P. floor manager (boss)
      //
      Therefore, we have 2 people to prosecute privately
      For withholding benefits (cash payments)
      As it stands now if we take D.W.P. to court over whatever reason the Minister + Dept boss makes us taxpayer pay the court bills win or loss cases.
      We taxpayers cover their asses over court bills.
      //
      I suggest now this must stop and we should start taking out privet case against the Minister plus bosses of D.W.P. Dept. they should be made to pay their own court fees out of their own pockets (win or lost cases)
      Not us taxpayer as they made the decision to stop claimant payment without fully looking into the cases so they should be held full responsible for their own action personally we taxpayer should not pay for their mistakes in this Govt job they do.
      //
      In some case people have died as a result of bad judgments made by the D.W.P. Minister plus the bosses on D.W.P. shop floor so they should carry the can fully for failing claimants and made to pay their own court bills not us taxpayer.
      I call this holding them to account fully for their own personal mistakes to claimants we taxpayer did not stop their cash so we should not pay court bills for any one in a Govt jobs being prosecuted for possible maybe or could wrongdoings in that job

    2. Media always seems to hinge on the idea that these are mistakes down to incompetence but having been stuck on benefits for over a decade it’s far more insidious than that. These aren’t mistakes and oversights; it’s all been meticulously designed.

      I’ve watched my benefits become taxable and struggled for years only to find out I was meant to be claiming an additional £200pm that even the professionals who guided me through applying weren’t aware of.
      I’ve watched them try to get away with not paying it out to thousands in court after it was discovered and when I finally got it was told I had a year to spend it or they’d reduce my benefits.

      I’ve watched the system try to cull the weaker willed with deniable scapegoats such as atos and their draconian system that was clearly never designed to expose benefit ‘cheats’.
      I’ve had to lift an empty box despite no physical ailments, been treated rudely and interrogated.

      I’ve been denied by someone with no real experience or training in my condition that was nonetheless allowed to supercede both my gp & mental health teams.

      I’ve had to fill out huge booklets to repeatedly apply for benefits only to knowingly have them go unread and they’ve tried to force me to go to interviews a significant distance away.

      I’ve watched a friend wheelchair bound with an incurable wasting disease repeatedly having to go to court for appeals, winning easily, then being made to reapply 6 months later and having to go through yet another appeal.

      Most recently I’ve been forced onto universal credit and am now over £300 a month worse off with no forewarning.

      This has all been thought through and planned by experts, yet our sense of superiority over the ‘incompetent’ government is enabling them to repeatedly go “Oops we made a mistake”. Don’t believe for a minute that these are oversights or blunders; the system has been working exactly as intended:

      Welcome to the human meat grinder.

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