Skip to content

Search

9th June 2022

In this week’s edition: 

  • DWP ‘ignored five weeks of pleas for help from suicidal claimant’
  • Anger over ‘nail in coffin’ civil service job cuts, with DWP already facing ‘serious backlogs’
  • Minister announces ‘new’ policy, 12 years after it appeared in Labour’s Equality Act
  • Less than 20 questions on disability asked at PMQs since December 2020, research shows
  • Firefighters’ union tells government to think again on evacuation
  • Leading independent living figure tells peers of crucial role of personal assistance
  • DWP finally admits defeat in information battle with DNS… after two-and-a-half years
  • Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

 

DWP ‘ignored five weeks of pleas for help from suicidal claimant’

A severely distressed disabled man who repeatedly warned Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff that his life was at risk says they refused to take action to protect him, breaching their own guidance on suicidal benefit claimants.

Finn Jaradd says it was only after he spent weeks sending emails and phone messages to junior staff and management that a DWP manager finally followed the department’s six-point plan and passed on concerns to the police, ambulance service and the local mental health trust.

DWP said this morning (Thursday) that it was “urgently” looking into the case.

The six-point plan is supposed to guarantee that staff know how to deal with statements by customers that they intend to self-harm or take their own lives.

But Jaradd says DWP staff failed to follow the guidance despite a string of emails and phone messages he sent about his benefit claim, in which he warned that the department’s actions were causing him severe mental distress and were “killing” him.

It follows years of evidence of DWP’s failure to safeguard disabled people who come into contact with its services, and countless links between the department and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

Almost exactly 18 months ago, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that DWP staff had had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants stated that they intended to self-harm or take their own lives, following secret reviews into as many as six suicides linked to the benefit system.

Jaradd, from Manchester, had provided DWP with detailed evidence of his mental distress and says he told several members of staff in its complaints department, a benefits service centre, and through a DWP correspondence address, that the department’s actions were putting his life in danger.

The alleged failings came less than a month after DWP’s own independent case examiner (ICE) upheld a series of complaints Jaradd had lodged about the way he had been dealt with by DWP on a claim he made for universal credit (UC) in September 2019, and a later request for a work capability assessment.

The ICE investigation had begun in March 2021, after he complained that DWP was failing to communicate clearly with him, was ignoring questions he asked through his online UC journal, even though he was “begging for help”, and that its actions were negatively affecting his mental health.

He also told ICE that DWP staff had discriminated against him by refusing to send him text messages each time he was sent a message through the journal, and that he had been left “utterly disgusted” and “distressed” by his treatment

At one point, he said this week, when he asked for help through his journal, a DWP staff member told him to just Google the mental health charity Mind.

Last month, ICE concluded that DWP had provided him with “inaccurate and conflicting information” on how to report health conditions and about his UC journal; failed to “appropriately investigate and respond” to complaints and questions he raised through his journal; and failed to agree to alert him by text message every time a message was left on his journal.

ICE told him that this failure to “routinely” provide him with text notifications “will have heightened your mental health conditions”, but that DWP had “acknowledged and apologised for all the service failures identified”.

DWP had paid him £150 compensation for the “distress and inconvenience” he had endured.

The ICE report described how Jaradd’s UC claim was eventually closed in August last year, after he approached DWP to admit that he had made a “huge error”, after realising that the savings limit was actually £16,000 when he had thought it was £160,000.

He told DWP he had savings well above the £16,000 limit. He says this was accepted by DWP as a simple error, and was not investigated.

In April this year, despite the ICE investigation, Jaradd says that DWP’s safeguarding failings re-emerged.

He had spent six weeks working at a restaurant last autumn, but he had to leave the job because he was so unwell, having made three attempts at taking his own life and walking out of work three times in the middle of a shift because of his mental distress.

His mental health was so poor that he forgot to inform DWP about the brief period in work.

DNS has seen a letter sent by Jaradd’s line manager at the restaurant chain, in which she describes how she was “very aware of his declining mental health” and “genuinely feared for his safety and wellbeing through-out his employment”.

When DWP found out about these few weeks of work in April this year, he apologised and told them he had been “struggling to keep myself alive, let alone deal with day-to-day admin”.

He says the department responded by sending him “horrifically threatening” letters that warned him it was launching an investigation.

Since April, he says he has repeatedly warned DWP of the significant impact the investigation was having on his mental health, and has begged for updates on his case, twice telling them: “You will only sit up and take notice once I am dead.”

He says he emailed five different people and departments, wrote a letter and called at least 20 times, but DWP refused to update him, despite him explaining “in great detail” each time “how much this was affecting me and destroying me”.

He says he also emailed DWP a 285-page psychiatric report, and information from his doctor, which showed how he had tried to take his own life three times the previous autumn and about leaving work three times in mid-shift.

He says he repeatedly told DWP that he was worried for his own safety and that its actions were making him unwell, that he was “not coping” and that he could “not guarantee being able to stay alive for the next 24 hours”.

But he says not one of the DWP staff or departments offered any support or advice for five weeks, or took any safeguarding action, despite knowing about his significant mental distress and history of suicide attempts.

Instead, he says, the department sent him two letters – one early last month and another this week – warning him that he could be prosecuted.

Last week, in growing despair, he says he contacted DWP to warn yet again that he feared for his own safety because of its failure to respond to his emails and phone calls about the investigation.

On Friday 27 May, he hand-delivered a letter to his local jobcentre, asking them to ring him urgently and to leave a voicemail if he did not answer so that he could call back.

Three days later, after weeks of ignoring his warnings about his mental distress, he says DWP finally took safeguarding action and alerted Greater Manchester Police, which sent an officer to check on his welfare, as well as alerting the local ambulance service, and the mental health crisis team.

Jaradd says this showed DWP was “cherry-picking” when it chose to take action to safeguard claimants.

The same day, he says, a “compliance manager” called him to apologise, and said his colleagues had clearly and repeatedly failed to follow the six-point plan and that DWP had failed him.

DNS has seen an email sent to Jarrad by a DWP work coach team leader on 1 June, which confirms that his complaint about his treatment is being investigated.

Jaradd told DNS that DWP had now put him “through hell” twice and repeatedly failed to follow its own guidelines.

He said: “They are aware that I have had a number of suicide attempts in recent years and how seriously mentally unwell I am.

“I have told them they are killing me, making my life hell, and contributing substantially to my mental illness and disabilities.”

He said it was clear DWP had learned nothing from the ICE investigation and that despite years of investigations into the deaths of other claimants, it was still failing in its duty of care and was not fit for purpose.

He said: “My life is on hold, I’m having night tremors, night sweats and nightmares.

“I can’t focus on anything, I can’t see a future, because I am fearful of how DWP will treat me in the future.”

He added: “My health has been damaged beyond repair solely because of my dealings with DWP, and they have caused irreversible damage to my health.

“I have withdrawn from life, I don’t see or speak to anyone. They have destroyed my life and they do not care.”

A DWP spokesperson said this morning (Thursday): “We are urgently looking into Mr Jaradd’s case.”

9 June 2022

 

 

Anger over ‘nail in coffin’ civil service job cuts, with DWP already facing ‘serious backlogs’

Government plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs over the next three years are a “travesty” and “another nail in the coffin for decent public services”, disabled campaigners have warned.

The cuts would return the civil service to the staffing levels of 2016, but they come at a time when many public services are facing substantial backlogs and delays.

These include backlogs in the criminal and civil courts, with driving licence applications and passports, and across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disability News Service (DNS) reported last month that DWP’s Access to Work scheme was in crisis, with new figures showing the number of disabled people waiting for decisions on their applications had more than quadrupled in a year, from 4,890 to 20,909.

And in March, DNS reported how the backlog of disabled people waiting for a personal independence payment (PIP) assessment had more than trebled in the last five years, from 88,500 in October 2016 to nearly 312,000 by December 2021.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which is opposing the job cuts, said last week that the Cabinet Office had written to civil service unions confirming that departments and arms-length bodies which employ civil servants must offer proposals on how they would achieve cuts to staffing of 20 per cent, 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

Government figures updated last year showed DWP employed about 91,000 people.

Targets for job cuts will be set this autumn.

The Cabinet Office says the size of the civil service has grown by almost 25 per cent since 2016, which it believes was partly driven by the pandemic and Brexit, but that growth followed a fall of about 86,000 staff between 2010 and 2016.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “Cutting 91,000 civil service jobs will be yet another nail in the coffin for decent public services that we all depend upon.

“We have witnessed a systematic erosion in the quality and provision of public services over the last 12 years which is having a devastating impact on the country and disabled people in particular.

“The unacceptable three to six months waiting-times for vital benefit assessments like PIP and vital support like Access to Work, are just two of many examples of broken services and broken infrastructure brought about by a combination of ‘small state’ dogma, austerity, outsourcing and de-skilling which is causing untold anxiety and misery.

“Given the precarious position of the prime minister, he urgently needs to understand that successfully delivering the ‘levelling up’ agenda requires adequately resourced services staffed by skilled people on decent wages and conditions – not to do so will be disastrous for us and him.”

Catherine Hale, founder and director of Chronic Illness Inclusion, was also critical of the proposed cuts.

She said: “The brilliant Access to Work scheme is the one government programme with proven success in enabling disabled people to enter or remain in work.

“But the under-resourcing and the delays make it worthless.

“How can you apply for a job and convince employers to hire you if the support you need to do that job from Access to Work will take six months even to be considered?

“The idea that staffing levels will be reduced even further, causing even greater delays, is a travesty and shows the utter contempt that this government has towards disabled people.”

Dr Jenny Ceolta-Smith, a member and employment advocate with the charity Long Covid Support, said she and her colleagues were already aware of “unacceptable and lengthy delays” in the PIP assessment process for people with long Covid.

She said: “In some cases, delays have been reported to be seven months plus for the award of the benefit and 12 months plus if a mandatory reconsideration or appeal has been pursued.

“DWP’s PIP assessment process is already challenging and energy-draining for people with long Covid to use, for example, with DWP telephone call answer times often being at least an hour.

“The number of people with long Covid applying for PIP is likely to increase, especially as Long Covid Support campaigns are underway to reduce the known barriers to claiming.

“Therefore, any cuts to DWP staffing are likely to cause further PIP delays which will no doubt impact on people’s health and wellbeing, quality of life and may well hinder their recovery from long Covid too.”

Vicky Foxcroft, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said the planned cuts were “irresponsible” and would “take a wrecking ball to the very frontline services people so desperately need at the moment”.

She said: “Instead of focusing on the cost-of-living crisis, the government has chosen to threaten mass unemployment and disruption at a time when we are already facing massive delays.

“I am extremely concerned about how ministers plan to deal with DWP backlogs whilst making these cuts.”

A PCS spokesperson said the proposed cuts of 91,000 civil servants would have a “profound effect on the services that DWP are able to offer”.

She said: “Already PCS is fighting the closure of 44 benefit processing sites.

“There are serious backlogs in many areas of DWP service delivery such as Access to Work, personal independence payment, pensions underpayments, as well as the prospect of losing 5,000 fixed term staff who currently deliver jobcentre services.

“Disabled people make up a large proportion of those who require the use of DWP services.

“The decisions to cut jobs and close offices are a clear attack on disabled people as well as the staff that deliver these vital services.

“PCS urges all disability campaign organisations to join PCS in fighting these attacks to maintain the best services, jobs and communities.”

Both DWP and the Cabinet Office declined to explain how it could be a good idea to cut thousands of jobs from DWP’s payroll when it was already struggling to cope with Access to Work and PIP claims, and other areas of its work.

But a government spokesperson said in a statement: “We are incredibly grateful to the civil service for the outstanding job they do in delivering for the public but when people across the country are facing huge living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to run as efficiently as possible.”

9 June 2022

 

 

Minister announces ‘new’ policy, 12 years after it appeared in Labour’s Equality Act

A government minister has described a proposal to make it easier for disabled tenants to make access improvements to the common areas of residential properties as “a new policy”, 12 years after it was included in Labour’s Equality Act.

The proposal to impose a duty on landlords in England and Wales to allow reasonable access upgrades to hallways, staircases and entrances became law just before the 2010 general election, but successive Tory-led governments have refused to bring it into force.

But today (Thursday), the Government Equalities Office (GEO) said it was launching a consultation on “a new policy which would require landlords to make changes to communal spaces outside disabled people’s homes, to make them safer and more accessible”.

GEO claimed the policy would “expand” the Equality Act, when in fact the duties are already part of the act but have just not been brought into force by successive Tory-led governments.

It said the “new” policy was an example of how Boris Johnson’s Conservative government was providing “the leadership needed in difficult times”, and how it was ensuring “everyone is able to reach their full potential”.

Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, said: “This policy would ensure every disabled tenant has the right to ask for changes to where they live, so they can access and leave their homes without fear or difficulty.

“We want to hear the views of everyone impacted by our plans, to make sure we can make lasting change to people’s lives.”

Even now, 12 years after the proposal was included in the Equality Act, there will be further delays while the government holds a delayed 10-week consultation.

Last year’s National Disability Strategy – later declared unlawful by the courts – included a pledge to bring the provision into force, and said a consultation was planned for 2021.

The government previously promised to bring the law into force more than four years ago, in March 2018, although it said then that it would need to carry out “further work on identifying and assessing any additional burdens on local authorities” before it could say when the laws would be implemented.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said at the time that it was “working towards a full commencement date” for the proposals.

The provisions are contained in section 36 and schedule four of the Equality Act 2010 and relate to the “common parts” of blocks of flats and other residential premises.

Once these parts of the act are implemented, those responsible for the common parts of a building will have to give permission for reasonable adjustments to be made – such as installing a stairlift, better lighting, a parking space near the entrance, a handrail or a ramp – if asked to do so by a disabled tenant or leaseholder.

The landlord or owner of the freehold of the building will still be able to ask the disabled person to pay for the work, although a disabled facilities grant from the local council could contribute to the cost.

Asked why Badenoch was describing the proposals as an “expansion” of the Equality Act and a “new” government policy, a GEO spokesperson had failed to comment by noon today.

Badenoch also failed to explain why it had taken more than 12 years to introduce the “new” policy.

The consultation document had not been published by noon today.

9 June 2022

 

 

Less than 20 questions on disability asked at PMQs since December 2020, research shows

MPs have asked the prime minister fewer than 20 questions on subjects focused on disabled people and their rights in the last 18 months of prime minister’s questions (PMQs), Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

Analysis of the questions asked in the last 50 PMQs, dating back to December 2020, show that roughly between one and 1.5 per cent of the questions were aimed at seeking answers on issues such as disability discrimination and rights and social care.

The analysis by DNS looked for questions that included words such as “disabled”, “disability”, “mental health”, “social care”, “care”, “autism”, “autistic”, “learning difficulties” and “learning disability”.

Once questions about issues such as health, wellbeing, resilience, carers, diagnosis, treatment and care workers had been excluded, there were just 19 questions asked in the 50 PMQs between 9 December 2020 and 25 May 2022.

Of these 19, three were targeted at better-off recipients of social care who currently face having to sell their homes to pay for support.

Of the 19 questions, 12 were asked by Labour MPs, 2 by SNP, 1 by a Liberal Democrat, and one by Plaid Cymru.

Despite there being 359 Conservative MPs, only three of them have asked a disability-related question in the last 50 PMQs.

In all, during the 50 sessions, about 1,350 questions were asked.

This suggests that between one and 1.5 per cent of questions asked in PMQs raised issues around disabled people’s rights.

Those that were asked included a question from Labour’s Florence Eshalomi about ensuring disabled residents of high-rise tower blocks can evacuate in emergencies; Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asking about unaffordable electricity costs for disabled people; a call by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams for a public inquiry into benefit-related deaths; and a question from Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, on the failure to provide on-stage British Sign Language interpreters at the prime minister’s press briefings.

Others included Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper on the discharge of untested patients from hospitals into care homes at the start of the Covid pandemic; SNP’s David Linden on the government’s failure to extend the £20 universal credit uplift during the pandemic to disabled people and others on legacy benefits; and Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts on the rights of people with dementia to person-centred care.

The choice of which backbench MPs will ask questions at PMQs is decided randomly.

This suggests that few MPs are putting their names forward to ask questions about disabled people and disability.

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said she was “very concerned” about the lack of disability-related questions being asked in prime minister’s questions.

She said: “One reason why so few disability questions are asked in PMQs is because there are not enough disabled MPs in the Commons.

“The House of Commons deliberately omits to record statistics on how many disabled MPs there are.”

There are currently as few as five MPs who self-identify as disabled people.

In a statement submitted (PDF) as part of the UN’s current Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in the UK, Disability Politics UK and the Fawcett Society proposed amending electoral law to allow MPs to job share.

King said: “This could increase the number of disabled people, carers and parents who become MPs.”

Asked if the Commons Speaker could comment on the figures, a House of Commons spokesperson said: “The Speaker has no role choosing questions that are asked.

The order of questions is determined by a random shuffle, and the topic of questions at PMQs is a matter for members themselves, and therefore not something that Mr Speaker would offer a comment on.”

9 June 2022

 

 

Firefighters’ union tells government to think again on evacuation

A firefighters’ union has told the government to rethink its decision to reject a key recommendation from the Grenfell inquiry that would ensure disabled people could safely evacuate high-rise blocks of flats in emergencies.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the Home Office’s decision to reject the recommendation from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was a “negative, backward step” and would put disabled people’s safety at risk.

Disabled campaigners this week welcomed the union’s support for disabled residents of high-rise buildings.

The inquiry recommended that owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be legally required to prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.

But the Home Office concluded last month that such laws would cost too much, and would not be safe or practical, even though the government had promised to accept all of the recommendations made by the inquiry’s first phase.

Instead, it is consulting on its own “alternative package” of measures, which it calls Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing, which do not go as far as PEEPs and which will only apply to the minority of buildings that have been assessed as being “at higher risk”.

Residents of other flats, including disabled residents, will have to continue with the current “stay put” policy, which means staying in their flat if there is a fire in another flat in the building, as long as the heat or smoke is not affecting them.

Now FBU’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, has written to fire minister Lord [Stephen] Greenhalgh to demand that the government thinks again on PEEPs.

He told the minister that the government had stated that implementation of the recommendation would involve significant issues with practicality, proportionality and safety.

He said: “The FBU argues that resident safety is paramount, so there is a greater safety issue in declining to implement PEEPs.

“As for proportionality, the Inquiry has found the introduction of PEEPs to be a proportionate strategy, and the FBU agrees.”

The letter comes almost five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people lost their lives, including 15 of its 37 disabled residents, on the night of 14 June 2017.

Appalled activists have already called for disabled-led organisations and allies to organise a campaign of opposition to the government’s PEEPs decision.

Sarah Rennie, co-founder of the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, said: “We are really pleased to see the FBU express support for the disabled community.

“This reflects a trend we’ve witnessed over the last year, that stakeholders, experts and service-providers firmly believe that evacuations plans must be put in place for people who need them.

“The government’s U-turn is out of step.”

Wrack said in the letter that the inquiry had called for PEEPs because the advice for high-rise residents to “stay put” in their flat can “fail” if there is a “total building failure”, as happened with Grenfell.

Wrack added: “Some reasons given for the refusal seem poorly evidenced, for example stating that if a PEEP advised the purchase of an evacuation chair, there would be an ‘impact on the good relations between disabled residents and non-disabled residents if disproportionate costs were passed on to the latter’.”

Wrack told Lord Greenhalgh that building owners should carry these costs, rather than tenants.

The union’s response to a government consultation on the PEEPs recommendation, which ended last year, said there no “authoritative policies and procedures for mass evacuation and rescue from fire” at the time of the Grenfell fire.

The response added: “Four years on, there is still no definitive guidance on the evacuation and rescue process.

“Any future policies should be safe for residents and firefighters, with no more shortcuts or compromises.”

Wreck told the minister in the letter that his government’s decision on PEEPs was a “negative, backward step, and the FBU stands with disability campaigners, the Grenfell campaign groups and the [Local Government Association] in asking you to reconsider.”

A Home Office spokesperson said, in response to the FBU letter: “Our fire reforms will go further than ever before to protect vulnerable people as we are determined to improve the safety of residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised.

“That is why we have launched a new public consultation seeking views on an alternative package of initiatives, building on the information garnered from the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans consultation, that enhance the safety of those residents.”

9 June 2022

 

 

Leading independent living figure tells peers of crucial role of personal assistance

One of the most influential figures in the European independent living movement has told peers how the use of personal assistants has given him “a life, a job” and the ability to contribute to society.

Dr Adolf Ratzka was giving evidence to a House of Lords committee which is carrying out an inquiry into adult social care in England.

Ratzka, who became disabled at 17 and is now 78, said that community-based services were a “paternalistic approach”, did not provide enough hours of support, and only provided the necessities.

He said: “You are under house arrest, literally, because if you need more extensive services throughout the day you won’t get enough hours, so you have to stay home.

“Traditionally, these services are not allowed to follow you out into the community, you’re stuck at home.”

The alternatives to using personal assistants to provide support, he said, were relying on parents, traditional community-based services or institutions, none of which “give us the ability to get equal opportunities”.

He said none of these alternatives comply with the right to live independently under article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Ratzka is the founder and director of Sweden’s Independent Living Institute, the founding chair of the European Network on Independent Living, and the founder and chair of the Stockholm Cooperative for Independent Living.

He told the committee that personal assistance – and mechanical breathing aids and an electric wheelchair – had allowed him to work and study, moving from Germany to the US, where he completed his PhD, and then to Sweden to work as a researcher.

He said: “It has given me a life, a job, it has given me the ability to contribute to society. That’s what we are looking for in personal assistance. It’s a tool.”

He said his use of personal assistants also meant that his wife “is not working for me” and they can live “two independent lives”, just as other couples do, “where each of us could fulfil and pursue their own careers, and that’s what we have been doing”.

Ratzka also stressed the importance of covering 100 per cent of the costs of employing personal assistants through using direct payments, ensuring that those direct payments meet the PAs’ wages, as well as other costs such as training, social insurance, payroll costs, travel, and the PAs’ hotel costs when travelling.

He said: “Unless you have that 100 per cent, you will not be able to be equal, you will not be able to afford the amount you need in order to become an equal citizen with equal opportunities.”

And he told the committee of the importance of support from other disabled people and disabled-led organisations.

He said: “The other thing we need is encouragement and support from peers to help people with disabilities to discover the service, to free themselves, their family members, or to get out of institutions.”

The use of personal assistants in Sweden started through peer support, Ratzka said.

He said: “I had personal assistants in the US, as a student in the university, and then I got to Sweden and saw how miserable lives my fellow disabled friends who needed services had.

“I realised that that money that local government was spending on their services could be much better used if we could control it ourselves.”

They formed a co-operative, which became a pressure group, and began to work out how personal assistance would be arranged and how much it would cost.

He said: “The whole thing was not from up to down, it was from down to up.

“It was a true grassroots movement, and all was based on the peer model.”

9 June 2022

 

 

DWP finally admits defeat in information battle with DNS… after two-and-a-half years

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has finally released 90 pages of emails that include information about Disability News Service (DNS) editor John Pring, following a two-and-a-half-year legal battle.

It has taken since January 2020 to obtain the information from DWP, even though the department had a legal duty to release it within one month.

The emails, all sent during 2019, would never have been released without pro bono legal support for DNS from information rights legal experts at solicitors Mishcon de Reya.

Although there appear to be no startling revelations, there are a small number of emails which confirm errors made by DWP ministers and civil servants.

These include an apparent admission that the former minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, made an error in May 2019 when he dismissed reports that the government was planning to test merging the assessments for employment and support allowance and personal independence payment into one.

That comment from Tomlinson appeared to mislead MPs about the government’s plans, and it contradicted a statement from work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd and a later comment from work and pensions minister Baroness [Peta] Buscombe.

But in one of the emails, someone from DWP, asked how to respond to DNS, says: “Okay. Whatever the answer is, it has to reflect Amber’s words and Peta’s statement. Even if that contradicts [redacted] I am afraid.”

The author of the email advised ignoring the question on whether Tomlinson would be apologising to MPs, before adding: “Pring will write [redacted] up however he choose [sic].”

The emails also confirm that DWP’s “usual” approach to dealing with questions from DNS is to “issue an overarching response rather than answering each question in turn”.

Another email confirms that a news story DNS ran in March 2019 was right to accuse a benefits assessor working for DWP contractor Capita of lying about what they had been told by a disabled woman who had repeatedly spoken about her thoughts of suicide during a personal independence payment (PIP) assessment in November 2018.

Despite describing her paranoid delusions, hallucinations, psychosis, extreme levels of anxiety and suicidal depression, the assessor told DWP in her report: “She denies experiencing any thought disorders or perceptions.”

The woman was later admitted to hospital with suicidal thoughts, days after DWP removed her PIP.

A DWP civil servant later confirmed the decision to remove her PIP and told her that assessors have “nothing to gain by fabricating evidence or suppressing information and will invariably report what they observe and what they are told at the assessment”.

They concluded: “The available evidence indicates there is no significant degree of impairment.”

But a DWP email sent on 26 March 2019, and released to DNS this week, says: “Ops colleagues have looked into the case and have found that the assessment report is contradictory.

“The quality assurance team have looked at the case today and have identified a number of issues with the report and the decision making.

“We are therefore asking the assessment provider to look at this case again. It is possible that she will need to go for another assessment.

“Unfortunately we will not have clarity over the outcome for some time and certainly not before John Pring’s deadline, so it is not possible for us to apologise publicly until we have confirmation that we were at fault.”

The attempts by DNS to secure the emails from DWP began in January 2020 when Pring submitted a request for DWP to release details of emails written about him during 2019 by the department’s communications department.

Although the Information Commissioner’s Office has agreed that the failure to provide the information was a clear breach of data protection laws, DWP repeatedly refused to release the emails.

Now, following pressure from Mishcon de Reya, DWP has finally backed down.

In a letter to Mishcon, the Government Legal Department said DWP had decided to release the documents “in the interest of dealing with the matter amicably” and to avoid “incurring unnecessary expense”.

Jon Baines, senior data protection specialist at Mishcon de Reya, said: “On any view it is remarkable – and greatly concerning – that it has taken two-and-a-half years for DWP to comply with John’s subject access request.

“Let us remember that the law actually required them to do so within one month.

“Unfortunately, the Information Commissioner’s Office decided (and seem to decide as a matter of course) that it was not for them to take enforcement action in individual cases like John’s.

“But this means that a worrying justice gap can emerge where a data controller fails to comply with a request, and the ICO choose not to order them to do so.

“Were it not for John’s extraordinary tenacity, we doubt very much that he would have ever received a full response. That cannot be right.”

DNS was originally put in touch with Mishcon de Reya last year by the Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFOI).

Katherine Gundersen, CFOI’s deputy director, said: “It’s very worrying that a government department can so blatantly breach the law and face no action from the ICO.

“People can enforce their data protection rights in court themselves, but for most people this is a daunting prospect and a risky one as they may have to pay the other side’s costs if they lose, which will include hefty lawyers’ bills.

“If the ICO demonstrated it was ready to enforce in cases like this, government departments and other bodies would take these rights more seriously.”

Pring said: “The aim of the request back in 2020 was to secure a snapshot of how DWP views key issues around disability equality and benefit reform, and my coverage of those issues.

“Although the information released does little to shine a light on any of that, I am glad that it shows that DWP’s communications department appears in general to have behaved professionally when discussing my work for DNS during 2019.

“However, questions must be asked as to why it has taken two-and-a-half years to obtain information that should have been released within a month.

“If this case shows one thing clearly, it is that DWP still has significant and worrying problems when it comes to transparency and meeting its legal duties to release information.

“I hope this case will encourage other disabled people, journalists and campaigners to persist in their efforts to push DWP to meet those legal obligations.

“I also want to thank Mishcon de Reya, and particularly the brilliant Jon Baines, for their fantastic support over the last year.

“Without their help, and legal expertise – and the original help from CFOI – there is no doubt that DWP would never have released these emails.”

9 June 2022

 

 

Other disability-related stories covered by mainstream media this week

Public hearings are under way in Northern Ireland in the inquiry into allegations of abuse of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital. The hospital is already at the centre of the UK’s biggest ever police investigation into the abuse of vulnerable adults. Some staff working at the County Antrim hospital are alleged to have carried out physical and mental abuse as well as “wilful neglect” of vulnerable patients: Read the BBC article

Compensation for victims of the infected blood scandal could run into billions of pounds after a government commissioned report suggested thousands of people should receive minimum payments of £100,000 each: Read The Guardian article

The family of a Scots dad with incurable blood cancer have hit out at the Department for Work and Pensions after he was denied benefits because his illness “doesn’t affect his life enough”. Paul Swain, 55, from Haddington, is undergoing intensive chemotherapy but may now be forced to stop his treatment so he can go back to work: Read The Daily record article 

Gatwick Airport has apologised to a disabled passenger who was left on a plane for more than an hour and a half after it had landed. Victoria Brignell said she was initially told it would take 50 minutes to help her from the aircraft. Gatwick Airport described Ms Brignell’s treatment as “unacceptable”: Read The BBC article

Disabled people are feeling “left out” of the UK’s sporting Covid recovery, according to charity Activity Alliance. The national charity says there has been “slow progress” in “engaging” disabled people as restrictions eased across the country. It spoke to more than 1,800 disabled and non-disabled people in the UK for its annual disability and activity survey: Read The BBC article 

A wheelchair-user was trapped on a train after staff failed to turn up with a ramp despite him booking assistance. Josh Hamilton ended up travelling on the service until it terminated when he could not get off at his stop at Benfleet in Essex. Mr Hamilton said he was “dreading” travelling by rail again: Read The BBC article

9 June 2022

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com