DWP wasted £66m that was supposed to help prevent claimant suicides

New DWP logo in relation to a PIP systems crash
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has effectively admitted it has not made progress on a plan that was supposed to reduce the number of claimants taking their own lives. In the process, the department has also failed to account for the £66m it had assigned to the programme. Moreover, it is using the pandemic as an excuse – and only admitted to all of this because an independent media outlet forced it to.

DWP: countless claimants taking their own lives

For many years, countless claimants have taken their own lives on the DWP’s watch. It’s hard to put a number on the exact figure. However, for example, in 2018 alone there may have been 750 people who took their own lives while claiming from the DWP. The department is supposed to review these deaths using Internal Process Reviews (IPRs). However, across five years the DWP only carried out 69 of these.

One such person who took their own life was Jodey Whiting. As the Canary previously reported:

Jodey Whiting was a 42-year old mother. She took her own life after the DWP stopped her social security. Because the DWP stopped Whiting’s ESA, she also lost her Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction. Whiting lived with various health conditions and mental health issues. These included a brain cyst, curvature of the spine, and bipolar disorder. Whiting was taking 23 tablets a day for her illnesses and conditions.

She took her own life on 21 February 2017, three days after the DWP made her last Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payment. This was because she missed a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

Whiting’s case is not isolated. In 2019, the then-DWP boss Amber Rudd launched the DWP Excellence Plan. It was supposed to improve how the department operates, seeking to reduce the number of claimants taking their own lives. However, we now know that – over three years and £108m later – the DWP has barely done any work around this.

Read on...

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Watering down a plan

John Pring from Disability News Service (DNS) has been reporting on the DWP Excellence Plan. As he noted in October, under former boss Thérèse Coffey, the department took a:

series of decisions… to weaken the plan, which was supposed to cut the number of claimant deaths, improve support for “the most vulnerable” and provide a “more compassionate” culture within the department.

The plan aimed to help create an environment where DWP’s services were “safe” and assist in “avoiding harm” to benefit claimants “as they interact with our services”.

But DNS has so far confirmed at least six ways in which the DWP Excellence Plan was watered down under Coffey’s leadership

Now, DNS has reported the DWP’s Excellence Plan has effectively stalled. Pring submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the department over the scheme. Pring wrote that:

since February 2020, DWP has not produced a single report on progress made in delivering the plan.

It has also failed to adopt any “critical success factors” (CSFs) that would have been used to measure progress, and it has failed to report to the Treasury on how the £66 million on supporting “vulnerable people” was spent in a way that maximised value for money, a “specific caveat” that was applied to the use of the funding.

Somewhat predictably, in its response to Pring in the FOI, the DWP blamed the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It said:

It is worth highlighting, the reason we do not hold the information you are requesting, is because the Department’s activities and processes during this period were heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pring asked the DWP for comment. DNS reported that:

A DWP spokesperson refused to comment on the FoI response this week or to say if the Excellence Plan had been abandoned and how the department justified that decision, other than referring to a statement given seven weeks ago for the report of Coffey watering down the plan.


DNS also reported that campaigners and people affected reacted angrily to the DWP’s lack of action on the plan. Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, told Pring:

It’s disgusting that they had all these things to make a better system and they seem to have abandoned it…

Of course, we only know all this because of Pring. It is unlikely the DWP would have released any of this information of its own accord. That in itself is a damning indictment of the department’s callous, wilful disregard for claimants. But the very fact it was having to put in place measures because so many people were taking their own lives on its watch is the most horrific part of this story. No government department charged with the ‘welfare’ of chronically ill, disabled, and non-working people should have to take measures because so many people are killing themselves – because that should not be happening in a civilised society in the first place.

Featured image via Wikimedia/UK Government

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  • Show Comments
    1. None of this revelation is a surprise to anyone who is disabled, and forced to claim Disabity Benefits.

      This abuse of claimants, via the DWP, started on New Labour’s watch, when the Government started their vitreol against Disabled Claimants, presumably in an attempt to bully, or shame, them into not claiming.

      This behaviour, once the Tories took power, has gotten progressively worse over the years, and the DWP have lost any smidgen of compassion that they may, once, have had towards us.

      There have been more deaths by suicide, or neglect, due to the DWPs intransigence, and even willful neglect, in this last 12-odd years, than has happened throughout the Covid crises.

      The DWP have been consistently warned about the way that they treat the Disabled, especially by the UN, but have stubbornly insisted that their way of doing things was perfectly legal, thus doing nothing to change the culture of abuse towards the most vulnerable in society.

      They keep on changing the ways in which the Disabled have had to claim various new Disability Benefits which, while the DWP laud them publicly, as new ways to make it easier to claim, we disabled know that they are just new ways in which we can be humiliated on a daily basis and, in too many cases, denied the vital benefits needed merely to survive.

      The DWP constantly quote figures to do with Fraudulent claiming – and far too many of the Disabled are having to face this attitude via the Public, because of it – but the systems they have set up make any kind of deliberate fraud nonsensical.

      As anyone forced to claim Disability Benefits would tell you that we are made to jump through so many varied, and tortuous, hoops where we have to reveal ever more embarrasing, and often humiliating, details of our lives, as we learn to cope with our own disabilities – because the Social Care system has been gutted by the Tories – and where we have to fill in, almost literally, reams of information for them – which they, so often, subsequently ignore – in order to claim anything at all now, that it would take a Master Criminal to be able to deliberately commit fraud – and someone who must also enjoy ritual humiliation, too!

      They also don’t tell the Public how many mistakes they, themselves, make with claimants, leaving far, far, too many without a penny to their name, while the DWP take their own sweet time ‘sorting out the problem’ – with that ‘problem’ being something they’ve neglected to do, themselves, most of the time, or where their ‘rules’ have got so convoluted now, that even their own people don’t understand them – but which has left claimants suicidal while trying to sort it out.

      The whole Department is a nightmare to navigate and, if you need to contact them with any kind of emergency situation, when you do
      , eventually, get through to a real person, so often the attitude towards the claimant is almost callously neglectful in their response to your problems.

      As someone who belongs to numerous Disabity groups, I’ve watched this situation getting ever harder for claimants to cope with, but it was during the worst of the Covid Crises that we disabled – who are still on the so-called Legacy Benefits, because our cases are quite complicated, due to our circumstances – that we all felt the true disfavour of the DWP, when they neglected to help US financially through the crises, at a time when, due to being extremely vulnerable to the Virus, our costs of living went sky high, as we desperately tried to protect ourselves, and our loved ones, by having to pay extortionate sums of money for the necessary PPE to keep us safe.

      The vast majority of Disabled claimants are those on Legacy Benefits, and so we felt it a very personal attack on us, when the DWP refused to include us in the £20 a week uplift they were giving to all of those claiming their new Universal Credit Benefit.

      While we have a Government who show such hostility to the Disabled, nothing will ever get done to right the wrongs being inflicted on the Disabled, by their mouthpiece – the DWP!

    2. DWP staff are paid some £42m per annum from the NON RELATED BONUS PAYMENT SCHEME which pays out thirty pieces of silver when they take a claimant off of the register. There is an abundance of money to waste but not help those who cannot help themselves fully to the best of their ability. I see this as democide.

      1. This doesn’t surprise me any, and answers some of the questions I’ve asked myself, over the years, as to why those who are paid to help us, seem so reluctant to do so!

        Those thirty pieces of silver must obviously have a better market rate, than the wages paid to them, in order to help us! 😡

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