With government pitching higher accessibility standards for new homes, the DWP has a “systemic problem” in dealing with the disabled that requires independent review, the House of Commons heard.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd in now under increased pressure to reconsider her initial rejection of such a review, with the DWP accused of incompetence or cover up over claims it kept key documents hidden from reviews into fitness-for-work tests.
During an Urgent Question debate several members supported calls for an independent review into the deaths of ill or disabled people that may have been linked to DWP activity.
Labour’s Margaret Greenwood said it was “shocking” the DWP had not kept documents over deaths that could have been related to DWP activity.
“There is a systemic problem at DWP when it comes to meeting the needs of disabled people, and the facts speak for themselves: more than 1 million sanctions have been imposed on disabled people since 2010, and in 2018-19, 73% of PIP and ESA cases that went to tribunal were found in favour of the appellant,” said Greenwood.
Raising the Urgent Question, Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Debbie Abrahams asked the Government for an update on peer reviews and coroners reports availability to reviewers.
An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment was carried out over the first five years of its rollout, between 2008-13, by Professor Malcolm Harrington and Dr Paul Litchfield.
Abrahams questioned the availability of documents concerning the peer reviews and coroners reports into social security claimant deaths to the reviewers.
DWP minister Will Quince MP held the departmental line that the record of the documents requested by or shared with the independent reviewers no longer existed – as dictated by document retention policy.
Organisational changes and staff turnover were also cited as reasons.
“Under our data retention policy, emails going back more than 12 months were not retained. However, under peer review, such emails are held for six years, and we would have shared outcomes and lessons learned.
We would have shared further information with the independent reviewers, but my understanding is that it was not requested,” said Quince.
Abrahams told the House: “It is deeply troubling that the (DWP) appears to have had no record of what was supplied to the reviewers, especially when both Professor Harrington and Dr Litchfield say they did not receive such documents.”
Backing an independent inquiry, the SNP’s Carol Monaghan said it was “sickening” that, when faced such serious allegations as people’s deaths, the Government took so long to admit their failure to send their own independent reviewer documents that Ministers knew would have linked the fitness to work test with the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.
Monaghan wanted the DWP to take the Scottish Government’s lead and introduce audio recordings of assessments as standard to ensure accuracy and transparency.
Work and Pensions committee chair Frank Field referenced his raising of the death of a constituent shortly after he lost his personal independence payment.
Rudd refused the resulting request for an independent inquiry, a rejection Field asked Rudd to revisit given the document debate.
“As the Prime Minister laid down for Hillsborough and the poisoned blood inquiry, it is the duty of Departments to produce information, not for the chair of an inquiry to fish for information crucial to the proper consideration of events that lead to someone’s death,” Field said.
Last month, the government confirmed mandating higher accessibility standards for new housing, acknowledging “injustices” endured by the disabled.
Such standards could, government said, help deliver up to 300,000 new accessible and adaptable homes every year.