DWP wasted £66m that was supposed to help prevent claimant suicides
CONTENT WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS REFERENCES TO SUICIDE
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.
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
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.
Leave a ReplyYou must be logged in to leave a comment.Join the conversation
Please read our comment moderation policy here.