Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff have been exposed in the government’s Christmas parties scandal. And although the government claims they weren’t partying, the DWP’s actions are the most contemptible of them all. Because while they enjoyed themselves, the pandemic hit chronically ill people, disabled people, and people who rely on social security the hardest.
DWP staff: boozing away but ‘they weren’t parties’
The Sunday Mirror reported that DWP political staff and officials frequently drank alcohol after work until the early hours of the morning. They also ordered food to boss Thérèse Coffey’s office at the DWP. The Sunday Mirror said some of these evenings took place while hospitality and office parties were banned under coronavirus (Covid-19) regulations. On one occasion, Coffey also gave out presents to her team. A source told PA that desks in the office are socially distanced and there was “no party atmosphere going on”.
This comes amidst the furore over the Tory government repeatedly breaking its own coronavirus rules – something Downing Street denies. The Mirror, its Sunday version and ITV News have made numerous allegations about parties in government offices while the government forced restrictions on the rest of us. Most recently, late on Saturday 11 December, the Sunday Mirror revealed Boris Johnson hosted a quiz as part of a government office ‘do’:
— Mirror Politics (@MirrorPolitics) December 11, 2021
The government has denied it broke any coronavirus rules. But it’s the DWP staff’s actions which are perhaps the worst of the lot. Because while they ate and drank late into the night, countless people who they make decisions for were suffering.
A pandemic of chaos
The pandemic put into sharp focus the state of the UK’s welfare system. For example:
- The government did not increase so-called legacy benefits like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) like it did Universal Credit. This affected around two million chronically ill and disabled people.
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s autumn budget removed the Universal Credit £20-a-week uplift. This left millions of claimants worse off.
- The DWP has already investigated twice as many claimant deaths in 2021 than in 2020; these are deaths where a claimant took their own life.
But ultimately, perhaps the biggest scandal of the pandemic was that 58% of coronavirus deaths were disabled people. This shows an abject failure by the government to protect those who were clinically vulnerable from coronavirus. And all this was going on while DWP staff drank alcohol at work and shared takeaways.
The DWP says…
A DWP spokesperson told PA:
Throughout the pandemic, DWP officials have followed Government guidance while continuing to deliver vital services for millions of people.
Staff worked from home where possible but a core team working directly to the Secretary of State regularly worked from the office, in accordance with the Covid-19 rules as they evolved.
The team regularly worked late into the evening and on a number of occasions they ate takeaway food and drank some alcohol. No karaoke took place.
Because ‘no karaoke’ makes it all OK, apparently.
For years, the DWP and its staff have treated claimants with contempt and disregard. This led to a report by the UN which accused successive governments and the DWP of “grave” and “systematic” violations of chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the UN committee who did the report said they had created a “human catastrophe”.
It was only this week that Disability News Service (DNS) reported that the DWP has refused to publish a damning report. It found that despite years of reforms, the social security system was still failing to meet chronically ill and disabled people’s needs. And despite the report being “watered-down”, the DWP has failed to publish it.
It seems that nothing changes in the DWP. Staff think it’s OK to booze while working. The fact they “drank some alcohol” and ate takeaways while countless claimants suffered sums up the contempt they have for the people they’re supposed to be working for: people who, for whatever reason, rely on them to deliver this country’s social security system. After so many chronically ill and disabled people died of coronavirus, the antics of DWP staff are perhaps the most twisted part of the whole government parties scandal.
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