A DWP deaths scandal was buried under the budget

A black and white graveyard and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made a mind-blowing admission about how it deals with the sickest of claimants. An MP has forced it to reveal it has no idea how many terminally ill people are dying, waiting for benefits, or how many of these people it denied benefits altogether. But the statement, made on Wednesday 11 March, was lost in the budget.

The DWP and terminal illness

Terminally ill people’s ability to quickly access DWP benefits has been mired in scandal. In July 2019, the then-DWP secretary Amber Rudd said the department would be doing an:

honest and in depth evaluation of how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their life and those with severe conditions.

As HuffPost reported, Rudd’s move came after a storm grew around how the DWP was failing terminally ill people. HuffPost found that between 2016 and 2018, more than 17,000 claimants said they had a terminal illness. But these people had to apply for Universal Credit. As it reported:

Charities have called for an urgent reform of the system, saying thousands of terminally ill people could be missing out on crucial funds.

They claim people with terminal conditions are experiencing significant distress due to difficulties and delays in the system… or dying before they receive payments.

But fast-forward to March this year, and it appears little has changed.

The DS1500 form

DWP minister Justin Tomlinson has answered several written questions from Labour MP Jessica Morden about the DS1500 form. A medical professional who knows the claimant fills this form out. It’s for claimants who want to use the special rules for terminal illness. The form is for:

  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
  • Attendance Allowance.
  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
  • Universal Credit.

The DWP uses the form to decide if someone’s benefits should be fast tracked. This is usually when the person will die within six months.

‘No information held’

In February, Morden asked four questions of the DWP. She wanted to know, between January 2018 and December 2019:

  • How many claims using the DS1500 form the DWP recorded as being made, refused and granted.
  • The number of successful claimants who then died within six months, and also those that died within a year, after the DWP gave them their first payment.
  • How many claimants the DWP denied benefits to died in those time frames.
  • The number of claimants that the DWP first denied PIP to, then were later either given or refused benefits after they did a DS1500 form.

Tomlinson’s answer was the same for each question:

The information requested is not readily available and could only be provided at disproportionate cost.

But Morden wasn’t happy with his response.

Still no information held

So, she asked another question on 6 March:

for what reasons the information requested is not readily available?

On 11 March Tomlinson replied. He said:

We do not record receipt of the DS1500 centrally for all benefits. Whilst the Department does collect some information on DS1500 forms providing the requested data would necessitate complex data matching; and the extraction of the data requested would require significant time applying specialist knowledge and a high level of skill. This task, in addition to assessing the completeness of recording on DS1500 forms, and quality assuring the figures would therefore take in excess of four working days and exceed the appropriate cost limit for central Government.

This is damning. It reveals the DWP has no idea of how it treats countless terminally ill people.

The Canary asked the DWP for comment. But it had not responded at the time of publication.

Systemic failures

Essentially, the DWP has said it has no regular, central record of:

  • How many DS1500 forms it gets.
  • What numbers of specific illnesses people applying for fast tracked benefits are living with.
  • The number of terminally ill people it gives or denies benefits to.
  • How many terminally ill people are dying while waiting for benefits.
  • If DS1500 forms are generally being completed correctly.

For the DWP to admit it is so lax with the data for terminally ill people is unfathomable. Because by not having these stats, it cannot know if the system is working. So, it’s of little wonder Rudd pledged a review. The DWP is systemically failing dying people on a massive scale. But this admission of wilful incompetence forms part of a wider picture of DWP systematic neglect.

Systematic neglect

As The Canary has recorded, the DWP is systematically failing across numerous fronts when it comes to gathering timely and important data. This year, The Canary has revealed how:

  • The DWP has destroyed its own investigations into claimant deaths.
  • It doesn’t record how many Universal Credit advances it is giving out to new claimants.
  • It’s made no assessment of if the five-week wait for a Universal Credit payment is pushing claimants into poverty, debt, food bank use and homelessness.
  • The DWP has effectively “buried” a secret report into foodbank use.
  • It collects no information on safeguarding visits to vulnerable claimants and its stopping of these people’s benefits; a situation which led to the death of Errol Graham.
Industrial-scale negligence

The DWP’s lack of hard data across the board is mindblowing. As it shows it’s quite literally playing fast and loose with people’s lives. It has no idea about the effects or effectiveness of its policies on so many fronts. So, the DWP can have no idea if these policies work; or, if they don’t. Moreover, the recently-announced DWP Serious Case Panel will not even look into any of this.

Rudd’s inquiry into terminally ill claimants still has not seen the light of day. But with just under 12 PIP claimants a day dying while waiting for benefits, it is negligence on an industrial scale.

Featured image via Max Pixel and Wikimedia 

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