The DWP’s unlawful discrimination nearly pushed a claimant to suicide

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Content warning: this article contains discussion of people taking their own lives, which people may find distressing.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly breached the Equality Act in the case of a Universal Credit claimant. The department treated him so badly he needed emergency hospital treatment on three occasions because he was on the verge of taking his own life. But even now, after the DWP admitted liability in court, it is still arguing over how much compensation to pay the claimant.

DWP: ignoring disabled people’s accessibility needs

Disability News Service (DNS) reported on the case of George, who asked for his surname not to be used. You can read the full article here. As DNS reported, George lives with a neurological impairment which causes:

regular seizures, memory problems and “brain fog”, and [he] has significant care needs, needing assistance with washing, dressing, eating, reading, writing, and completing paperwork.

George made a claim to the DWP for Universal Credit in February 2020. However, staff immediately ignored his accessibility needs. They told him he could only claim online. This is not correct. You can claim Universal Credit via telephone. DWP staff also failed to put on his records that he was a vulnerable claimant. After this, according to DNS, staff “ignored or refused” George’s requests for support and reasonable adjustments. They continued to communicate with him online for a year – ignoring his requests for phone calls instead. But it gets worse.

Discrimination and law-breaching

As DNS reported, George:

made repeated attempts to complain about the discriminatory way he was being treated

Read on...

But DWP staff failed to investigate many of these complaints. And on the same day they finally said George could get paper letters and phone calls, one staff member still put sent him an online letter and message. DNS noted that twice the DWP gave George a new case manager:

who then refused to accept the reasonable adjustments that had previously been agreed.

DWP: driving people to the brink

The end result of this repeated unlawful treatment was that the DWP left George:

needing hospital treatment three times for suicidal thoughts

In court, the DWP admitted liability, but it is arguing over the £25,000 George is seeking in damages. Also, DNS wrote that that the DWP is still denying George “the reasonable adjustments he needs”, and is still asking him “to respond online”. You can read George’s full statement to DNS here. But he said:

They have conceded my case, but that doesn’t change anything for other people. If they are admitting they did this to me, why aren’t they looking at the system as a whole? I think this is happening to potentially thousands of other disabled people.

George is probably correct, given the DWP’s track record.

Institutionalised discrimination

The Canary and DNS have documented countless incidences of DWP discrimination, abuse and wilful negligence for many years. Nearly 35,000 people died in the 2010s on the DWP’s watch after it stopped their benefits, told them they were fit for work, or told them that they should be moving towards work. The UN accused the DWP and successive governments of “grave” and “systematic” violations of chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights.

Yet here we are, in October 2022, and another shocking case of DWP discrimination has come to light. Its failings and intentional disregard for claimants are now institutionalised – only a government that will raze the DWP to the ground and start again will change this.

Featured image via Stevovo B – pixabay and Wikimedia 

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