Documents published by the DWP today hint that shocking neglect within the benefits system may have contributed to claimants’ deaths yet heavy redaction means there is little hard evidence.
The department have finally released 49 peer reviews into the deaths of claimants following a recent ruling from the Information Rights Commission. The documents are so heavily censored however that many of them are completely blank with all relevant details redacted including dates, and even cause of death.
The DWP claim that withholding this information has been done to protect the identity of claimants – in line with the tribunal ruling. But then they would fucking say that wouldn’t they. This is the same DWP who want to share benefit claimants’ personal details with local authorities, landlords and charities. It seems they only start to care about your privacy once they’ve killed you.
Despite the lack of details the documents deserve close scrutiny. The over-riding theme seems to be a lack of processes in place to identify claimants at risk of suicide. There are also indicators of grotesque incompetence within the system. One report recommends that staff working on the Employment Support Allowance helpline are given refresher training to “help them better understand the claim process.” Others call for more to be done to ensure claimants deemed vulnerable have a home visit before benefits are ‘disallowed’. It is unclear whether this report was carried out before or after the DWP finally admitted that safeguarding visits should be carried out before any claimant with a mental health condition is sanctioned.
What is clear is that DWP policies were deemed to be a contributory factor in at least one of these deaths. One report also raises the question of whether the death under investigation represents “a dislocation between policy intent and what actually happens to claimants who may be vulnerable”.
Police in Scotland are currently assessing whether to hold an investigation into former DWP ministers Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith over “wilful neglect of duty by a public official” following a complaint brought by the Black Triangle Campaign over suicides linked to the despised ‘fit for work’ tests. There may be evidence of this neglect in these peer reviews.
What we know for sure is that these 49 people are dead. And that even amongst the scant information available there is evidence of DWP failings that contributed to these deaths. The government has failed in its duty of care to vulnerable claimants and people died as a result. How far that failure goes must now be urgently investigated.
The documents can be downloaded at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-foi-releases-for-may-2016
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