Underhand ministers ‘showed contempt for disabled people’
by Felicity Collier
THE Department for Work and Pensions “hid” the deaths of seven disability benefit claimants from an independent expert hired to review its “fitness for work” assessments, a freedom of information (FOI) request has found.
Campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) accused the government of showing “contempt for disabled people’s lives and wellbeing.”
The FOI request, obtained by the Independent newspaper, revealed that data from the DWP’s work capability assessments had been withheld from Professor Malcolm Harrington, who was preparing a report on them.
The assessments are used by the DWP to determine whether claimants are entitled to sickness benefits. It is mandatory practice that claimant deaths — including suicides — which could be linked to the test are peer-reviewed.
Speaking to the Disability News Service website, Prof Harrington said: “I have NO recollection of seeing any of these reviews.
“Such damning indictments of the system — if seen — should have triggered a response from me. It didn’t.”
DPAC co-founder Linda Burnip said: “The failure of the DWP to pass on all information to Malcolm Harrington relating to the deaths of disabled people which were a direct result of the failure of their work capability assessments show their contempt for disabled people’s lives and wellbeing.”
She said the Disability News Service had worked relentlessly to uncover the information “in spite of the many obstacles put in the way by DWP in trying to suppress the truth.”
In its response to the FOI request, the DWP said: “The department does not hold any information to confirm or deny whether these peer reviews were shared with Prof Harrington.”
On Thursday, it was reported that James Harrison, a man who was physically and mentally unwell, had died 10 months after his doctor was told by the DWP to stop writing him sick notes.
Mr Harrison, of Liverpool, had been suffering from a serious lung condition and a hernia, as well as depression and anxiety.
His mental health condition developed after he lost his job at a community centre near his home when it was forced to close by government spending cuts. He had worked there since leaving school.
In the months before his death, he was declared “fit for work” following a work capability assessment with the DWP in Birkenhead. But he nonetheless needed to see his doctor regularly.
Only when his daughter asked to see his medical records was it revealed that the DWP had contacted his GP declaring him “fit for work” and asking for him not to undergo any further assessment unless an appeal was made, his condition worsened significantly or a new medical condition arose.
Ms Burnip commented: “It is totally unacceptable that a job centre manager with no medical training can tell a GP to stop writing fit notes for a patient.
“There should be an independent inquiry into how this was allowed to happen.”