DWP havoc as a Universal Credit deaths scandal emerges

Heartbeat flatline and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was in free fall on Wednesday 12 February. For the second time this week, it’s confessed it doesn’t collect crucial data about vulnerable claimants. And we also now know that it’s still refusing to admit how many people are dying under Universal Credit.

The DWP: daily scandals

As The Canary previously reported, an MP forced the DWP to admit it doesn’t collect certain data on vulnerable claimants. This is about the impact of safeguarding visits on people’s benefits. And now, another MP’s written questions have exposed terrible flaws in Universal Credit reporting.

Labour’s Kate Osamor asked the DWP two questions about Universal Credit:

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  • “How many claimants have had claims restricted or rejected because of relevant period regulations in (a) 2017, (b) 2018 and (c) 2019?”.
  • If the DWP will review the effect of the three month relevant period limitation on sick and disabled claimants.

Osamor is referring to the three month wait built into Universal Credit. This is how long someone living with illnesses or impairments has to wait for the DWP to make a decision. The decision is whether they are entitled to limited capability for work or work-related activity elements. This process is done via a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The DWP outsources these to private companies. But WCAs have been marred by scandal. For example, the DWP now ignores GPs’ sick (“fit”) notes about claimants. Instead, it makes decisions purely based on the WCA.

On 11 February, DWP minister of state Justin Tomlinson replied to Osamor.

Reading the script

He gave the same answer for both questions:

The Department does not centrally collect data surrounding the volume of Universal Credit claimants who have had claims restricted or rejected because of relevant period regulations.

Tomlinson then went on to explain the WCA process. But his response exposed yet more serious flaws in DWP procedures. Not least that there are huge holes in its data about sick and disabled claimants.

Data mining

Thanks to Tomlinson, we now know that overall the DWP does not centrally collect any data on Universal Credit regarding:

  • What claimants’ health conditions are.
  • How long people wait for a WCA.
  • How many people lose benefits because of the three month wait.
  • What the average loss of benefit is under this.
  • The outcomes of WCAs.

What we do know is that in December 2019, the DWP said 675,662 claimants had “no work requirements”. This means limited capability for work-related activity or they are carers. We also know that 222,075 people were planning or preparing for work:

We also know that as of May 2019, 88,313 people claimed Universal Credit along with disability benefits Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance (DLA):

So, this is the extent of the data the DWP has. The situation is similar to its lack of data on safeguarding visits for vulnerable people. As I previously wrote:

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?

But there’s a far more serious flaw in the DWP’s reporting. Because it has also repeatedly avoided giving Universal Credit mortality rates to people making Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Just two weeks ago, it swerved an FOI on the subject. Previously, it only admitted to four deaths after John Pring at Disability News Service (DNS) forced it to.

Nine people a day dying

The DWP only collects data for people leaving Universal Credit due to work:

What we do know is that under Employment and Support Allowance, between March 2014 and February 2017, around nine people a day were dying during the assessment phase. That means nearly 10,000 people died while the DWP decided whether they were fit for work or not. It’s likely that the figure for Universal Credit is similar. The only protection claimants get is if they are terminally ill and have less than six months to live.

But even this process is flawed. So much so that former DWP secretary of state Amber Rudd promised an “evaluation” of it in July 2019. That review is still nowhere to be seen.

The DWP says…

The Canary asked the DWP for comment. We wanted to know:

  • Where Rudd’s evaluation is?
  • Why the DWP is not collating data around the three month wait, when it knows things like the mortality rate under ESA?

A DWP spokesperson directed us to Tomlinson’s answers and the FOI. Of Rudd’s evaluation, they said:

We recognise how devastating dealing with a terminal illness can be, and the impact it can have on families. This evaluation of support for people nearing the end of life is an absolute priority for us.

This vital work is well under way and we are working closely with medical professionals and charities like Motor Neurone Disease Association and Marie Curie.

We are making positive changes and actively gathering all the relevant medical evidence needed to shape the proposals.

Further deaths?

Campaigner and disability rights activist Paula Peters told The Canary:

It’s an absolute outrage and a scandal that for the second time in a week the DWP has admitted it does not gather data on disabled claimants. Now, this time under Universal Credit.

It needs saying repeatedly and clearly: the long wait for the outcome of assessments is causing serious distress and harm. Disabled people are dying waiting for the outcomes of their assessments and this is deeply saddening and distressing. The fact the DWP has made no attempt to collate data shows how little they care about the claimants subjected to this process, and the distress it causes.

With managed migration due to begin in July this will have serious repercussions. It will cause further distress if not addressed. I’m sad to say it could lead to further claimant deaths. The DWP needs to be held to account on this. We must make sure safeguards are in place, especially before managed migration begins.

Gambling with people’s lives

It’s staggering that the DWP barely collates any data regarding sick and disabled people under Universal Credit. And it’s the second time this week that the department has admitted that it fails to gather information centrally on vulnerable people. It’s damning that the DWP is still refusing to release mortality rates under the benefit. Even its Serious Case Panel will only be looking into specific people’s deaths. It will be ignoring the macro data, or in this case, the lack of it.

This situation also shows that the DWP is making up policy as it goes along. Much like the Serious Case Panel, where it’s changing the detail on a regular basis, Universal Credit is the same. The DWP calls this “test and learn”. But in reality, it’s making Universal Credit up as it goes along. At best, this is unprofessional. At worst, it’s literally gambling with people’s lives.

Featured image via Preston Gornick – YouTube and Wikimedia

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  • Show Comments
    1. To ignore the qualified advice of doctors and instead listen to people who are unqualified to practise as doctors is to engage in quackery and quacks. How can this advise even be legal? Try giving legal advise in court while unqualified to do so, it can land you in jail. Medical diagnoses while not qualified should be the same but it seems the get-out clause for this scam is they do not call themselves doctors but “medical professionals”.

      It should be illegal. They wouldn’t accept somebody was ill from work because their medical professional said so.

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