Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Nov 29, 2015 18:36:15 GMT
Disabled man died of heart attack after being told of ESA sanction threat
By John Pring 13th November 2015
A disabled man died of a heart attack, just an hour after being told that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was threatening to stop paying his out-of-work disability benefits.
Alan McArdle (pictured), who had previously been homeless but was living in council accommodation in Slough with the support of a charity, told the friend who had read the DWP letter to him: “They’ve sanctioned my money,” before he collapsed.
The government contractor responsible for finding him work, the discredited outsourcing giant Maximus, had reported him to DWP for failing to attend appointments intended to move him towards work, as part of the Work Programme, despite being told about his severe ill-health.
Slough’s Labour MP, Fiona Mactaggart, accused DWP of being responsible for her constituent’s death, and told Disability News Service she would raise his case in the House of Commons.
McArdle, who had alcoholism and was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago, had just come out of hospital following a fall, and had been too unwell to visit the Maximus offices in Slough high street.
The impact of the diabetes meant he had no feeling in his arms and legs, and could hardly move.
Despite his poor and deteriorating health, he had been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance (ESA), designed for those found “fit” enough to carry out some work-related activity, but not yet well enough for a job.
Mandy McGuire, project manager of the charity Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC), who had supported McArdle for 16 years, had told Maximus he was not well enough to attend their appointments.
She had already tried repeatedly – but unsuccessfully – to have him placed in the ESA support group, so he would not have to attend work-related appointments.
McArdle, who had been homeless and living in a hostel before SHOC found him council accommodation, attended the first couple of appointments in the Maximus offices, but his health and mobility had continued to deteriorate.
McGuire eventually found it impossible to transport him to the meetings because his mobility was so poor, so Maximus allowed him to keep in touch by phone.
After he had a fall and had to be admitted to hospital, he asked McGuire to explain to Maximus why he had not been in touch, as he was concerned about losing his benefits.
But when she called Maximus, she was told: “He hasn’t come in, so we will get him sanctioned.”
When the letter from DWP arrived, McArdle was with a friend, who had been caring for him, and read the letter to him.
It is believed the letter stated that he needed to provide evidence to DWP to prevent his benefits being sanctioned.
McGuire said: “When she read the letter to him, he went a deathly grey colour and complained about pains, and then he collapsed. Within an hour, he was dead.”
She added: “He wasn’t a well man. That letter was the final straw.”
Mactaggart said it was “shocking” that the only way McArdle could prove he was not well enough to take part in the Work Programme was by dying.
She pointed to last month’s refusal by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to commission an independent review into benefit conditionality and sanctions, despite a recommendation by the work and pensions select committee, which she said showed he was “prepared to act with impunity”.
She said: “I think it is shocking that the arrogance of the DWP and their belief that they do not have to be held accountable has frankly led to the death of one of my constituents.
“I think that the complacency of employment ministers who say that it is wrong to draw a link between the deaths of claimants and the removal of sickness benefits has to be exposed.
“This is just another example where the link appears absolutely direct.”
She was also scathing about Maximus, which now has a swathe of DWP contracts.
Mactaggart said: “Instead of reaching for a sanction as the first step, what you have to do is talk to someone if they cannot get to an appointment.
“You have to move your butt, because you are more mobile than they are.”
Mactaggart said she had visited Slough jobcentre and had seen what appeared to be targets – written on a white board in the office – for moving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants off the benefit.
After 13 weeks, according to the figures, staff were expected to clear 62 per cent of JSA claimants, and after 52 weeks, 92.7 per cent of claimants.
Mactaggart said this would be done either through finding claimants work, or by sanctioning them, and she said she had been told by former jobcentre staff that they would be “sanctioned” themselves – for example, by losing bonuses – if they didn’t meet their targets.
The latest DWP figures, released this week, show there were 1,852 decisions taken to apply a sanction against someone claiming ESA in June 2015, compared with 3,113 in June 2014, 1,679 in June 2013, and 976 in June 2012.
Mactaggart also pointed to a DWP freedom of information response which revealed that of the 49 secret peer reviews carried out into benefit-related deaths – first exposed by Disability News Service last year – 10 had concerned someone who had had their benefits sanctioned.
McGuire said the government’s sanctions regime was “appalling”.
She said: “Despite keeping in contact with the jobcentre and Maximus, they just showed no empathy at all.
“It’s killing people, it’s quite literally killing people. We are seeing people deteriorate so much where they haven’t had money.”
A staff member with Trinity, which works with people who suffer the effects of homelessness, and is closely linked to SHOC, has described in a blog how McArdle collapsed after the letter was opened.
She wrote: “They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. I would hazard a guess that it was his future that flashed before his: losing his home, returning to the streets, perhaps dying there. Does his life matter? It matters to us.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our sympathies are with Mr McArdle’s family and friends. However, it’s misleading to link a death to someone’s benefit claim.
“We write to all claimants who have not engaged with our support, asking them to get in touch and explain why. This is so they won’t face a sanction if they had a good reason.”
A Maximus spokesman said: “We were saddened to learn of the death of Mr McArdle and send our condolences to his family and friends.
“Participation in the Work Programme is mandatory for people in the WRAG who are in receipt of ESA.
“We make strenuous efforts to inform participants about their obligations and contact them if they fail to show up for arranged meetings.”
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Apr 2, 2016 21:37:35 GMT
Mr Nicholas Peter Barker
On 10 December 2012, Mr Nicholas Barker (51), a former shepherd from Helmsley in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, committed suicide. He had suffered a brain hæmorrhage in 1988 that left him partially paralysed and unable to work. As a result, he had been living on Incapacity Benefit for a number of years. On 4 December 2012, he was informed that his benefits had been stopped, and he contacted his GP for advice.
As the Coroner at his inquest noted: “The main factor worrying him was that his benefits had been stopped and had he attended the appeal he may have been successful, but it did not get that far,” he said. “It is evident that the matter was concerning him greatly.”
Mr Barker, a father of two, shot himself in his front garden with a shotgun, eight days before his appeals hearing was due to take place on 18 December 2012.
On 27 March 2013, Ms Elaine Lowe (53), of South London, committed suicide. She had tried to take her own life two days before and had been admitted to St George’s Hospital, Tooting. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She had received a letter from the DWP informing her that she was considered ‘fit to work’ and that her benefit would be stopped.
The Westminster Coroner said; “Ms Lowe’s quality of life was poor due to chest disease and lung problems… I am satisfied the drugs found in her system are a red herring. I am going to record the cause of her death as chest disease and conclude that she died from natural causes” and added: “Ironically, after her death another letter was found that [her benefits] weren’t going to be stopped at all.”
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on May 14, 2016 19:52:12 GMT
COMMENT: Long-awaited peer reviews suggest ministers failed to act after deaths of ‘vulnerable’ claimants
By John Pring 14th May 2016
After 21 months of smokescreens, excuses, obstruction and secrecy, work and pensions ministers have finally been forced to publish some of the conclusions reached by their own civil servants about the mistakes that led to 49 benefit claimants losing their lives.
Predictably, when the department finally posted 49 heavily-redacted documents online – and also emailed them to Disability News Service (DNS) – much of the most damning information was missing.
But ignore the acres of white space and the irritating redactions, and there is much within the previously secret reports that throws light on a very dark period in the inglorious history of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The documents are “peer reviews”, internal reports written by civil servants after investigations into suicides and other deaths that have been linked to benefit claims.
DNS has been trying to persuade DWP to publish the reviews since submitting a freedom of information request in August 2014. The department initially denied holding any such information but eventually admitted that “where it is appropriate we undertake reviews into individual cases”.
So followed appeals to the department itself, to the information commissioner, and, finally, to the information rights tribunal.
Last month, the tribunal ordered DWP to hand over all of the information from the 49 peer reviews that was not directly related to the people who died, thanks to the efforts of barrister Elizabeth Kelsey, from Monckton Chambers, who acted pro bono for DNS and pretty much destroyed DWP’s legal arguments at a tribunal hearing in March.
And what do those documents tell us?
As expected, most of the un-redacted information relates to the recommendations for improvements – both at local and national level – made by the reviews’ authors, while information about the individual claimants, summaries, conclusions and background information and dates has almost all been redacted.
I believe the most important conclusion from all these recommendations is this: that it is clear that ministers were repeatedly warned by their own civil servants that their policies to assess people for out-of-work disability benefits were putting the lives of “vulnerable” claimants at risk.
This is because many of the peer reviews – in fact, nearly all of those where it is possible to tell which benefits were involved – were commissioned following deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA).
And many of those related to the WCA process were also linked to the huge reassessment programme of hundreds of thousands of long-term claimants of incapacity benefit (IB).
This, remember, was a reassessment programme launched ahead of schedule by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and employment minister Chris Grayling in 2011, even though they had been warned by their own independent advisor the previous year that it was too soon to roll it out because of flaws within the WCA system.
So what do the peer reviews say?
On at least four occasions, the author calls for DWP to review the way vulnerability is dealt with by the department.
In one of these reports, the author concludes that the IB reassessment process is too far along for the government to review its “ongoing responsibility” to identify and support those IB claimants who are being reassessed and who “may be vulnerable”.
In another, the author says: “The risk associated with disregarding the possibility that some of these claimants need more support or a different form of engagement is that we fail to recognise more cases like [REDACTED], with consequent potential impact on the claimant.
“There is clearly a resource implication in treating more claimants with [REDACTED] as potentially vulnerable.
“However, that should be balanced against the resource implications of repeated appeals.”
In all, I counted at least 13 peer reviews in which the author explicitly raises concerns in her recommendations about the way that vulnerable claimants – this is likely to be mostly people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties – are treated.
“Consideration is given to a re-launch to staff of the importance of identifying vulnerable claimants and taking their needs into account…” says one.
“Processes in both have been revised to ensure it does not happen again, to make sure we provide adequate support for vulnerable customers,” says another.
A third author recommends: “In such cases DMs [decision-makers] are encouraged to retrieve all historical case files before making a decision so that the medical history and all supporting evidence can be perused to minimise the risk of withdrawing the benefit inappropriately and placing a vulnerable claimant at risk.”
Another says: “Vulnerable customer guidance to clearly highlight the actions required to mark a claim as vulnerable.”
And another warns: “Vulnerable customers, in particular customers experiencing mental ill health, may not understand the need to contact different parts of DWP for different benefits.”
And here’s another: “… special care should be taken when handling claimants who have received IB/IS [income support]due to incapacity for a long time and have been identified as vulnerable.”
And another: “That the guidance for handling vulnerable customers is reviewed and that staff are reminded of the correct process.”
It cannot be a coincidence that so many of these peer reviews call for improvements in how vulnerable claimants are treated.
These peer reviews show that ministers, through their senior civil servants, were warned repeatedly that these processes were risking the lives of benefit claimants, and that action needed to be taken. That review after review makes similar recommendations suggests one thing: that ministers failed to act because it would cost too much money to make the system safe.
Remember, these are not just reports on missing benefits payments, or delays in being assessed; every one of these reports is about a benefit claimant who has lost their life.
The next stage of DNS’s investigation is to find out if ministers made the changes recommended by the peer reviews, or if they simply ignored the lessons from these 49 tragic deaths because of the “resource implication”.
Duncan Smith tells DNS: ‘I’m not going to be accused by you’ over mental health deaths
By John Pring 6th October 2016
Iain Duncan Smith has denied responsibility for the deaths of people with mental health conditions who took their own lives after being unfairly found fit for work by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Duncan Smith was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) at the Tory party annual conference in Birmingham about his failure to act on a coroner’s written warning in 2010 on the need to address particular safety concerns with the work capability assessment (WCA).
In the unplanned interview, which took place in a busy foyer in Birmingham’s International Conference Centre, the former work and pensions secretary claimed repeatedly that five independent reviews of the WCA commissioned by DWP under his leadership had led to a “much improved system”.
But DNS asked Duncan Smith about a report written by coroner Tom Osborne, who had ruled that the trigger for the suicide of Stephen Carré in January 2010 had been DWP’s rejection of his appeal against being found “fit for work”.
Osborne had called in what was known as a Rule 43 letter for a review of DWP policy – which has still not changed six years on – that means it does not always ensure that it obtains further medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if an employment and support allowance (ESA) claimant has a mental health condition.
Neither the Atos assessor who assessed Stephen Carré, nor the DWP decision-maker who subsequently decided that he was fit for work and therefore ineligible for ESA, had sought information from his GP, his community psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist.
Osborne’s letter was believed to be in Duncan Smith’s in-tray when he was appointed secretary of state for work and pensions in May 2010, but it was not answered until February 2016, following questions raised by DNS.
Duncan Smith and Grayling also failed to pass the letter to Professor Malcolm Harrington, who carried out the first three reviews of the WCA, and they decided to roll out the assessment to hundreds of thousands of long-term incapacity benefit claimants with mental health conditions in the spring of 2011, without correcting the deadly safety flaw.
Duncan Smith (pictured shortly after the interview) repeatedly attempted to avoid answering questions on the coroner’s letter, but eventually admitted that he remembered the Stephen Carré case.
He said: “I remember the case and I remember the work we did and we had five reviews so I’m not going to be accused by you of anything.”
He also said that he remembered what he referred to as “the early cases”, but that he could not “remember every single letter from a coroner”.
And when asked if he remembered one particularly case of a man with a mental health condition who took his own life after being found fit for work – again without further medical evidence being sought, and more than three-and-a-half years after the death of Stephen Carré – he said: “Go and ask the department about where they are now with all of that.
“Honestly, because I am not there at the moment.”
He claimed that his former department had done much to “soften” the WCA for people with mental health conditions and to take more account of the fluctuating nature of their impairments.
But he appeared to accept that he had failed to commission a pilot project to test new ways to collect further medical evidence for people with mental health conditions – aimed at correcting the failing that led to Stephen Carre’s death – despite promising the courts that he would do so.
Ministers told a tribunal in March 2015 – following a lengthy judicial review – that they would test ways to make the WCA safer by collecting medical evidence about each claimant from their doctor and psychiatrist, but by the time Duncan Smith quit his position 12 months later – nearly six years after he saw Osborne’s letter – the promised pilot project had still not been launched.
When asked if this was the case, he said: “Yes. I don’t know where the situation is now, because I left back in March.”
When DNS said that people were still dying because of this failure, he said: “The whole idea was to make the changes; we made a lot of changes early on and we have a white paper set in to reform the whole of the sickness benefit, which doesn’t work properly.”
He also appeared to try to shift blame onto his former colleague, Chris Grayling, who as employment minister in 2010 was in charge of the WCA, saying: “Back in 2010-11, Chris Grayling was in charge of it, he changed the nature of what we looked at.
“What we inherited from Labour at the time was quite a harsh system and we had, if you remember, about four or five reviews and each one of them recommended changes to soften it.”
As Duncan Smith tried to end the interview – after becoming increasingly irritated with the questions – DNS asked him what he thought of Police Scotland now considering whether it would launch a criminal investigation into his WCA failings.
But he said he was “not going to get involved in the detailed questioning from you”, before turning his back on DNS editor John Pring.
Disabled activists have called for Duncan Smith and Grayling to face a criminal investigation for the Scottish offence of wilful neglect of duty by a public official.
This call has been backed by the families of both David Barr and Paul Donnachie, two people with mental health conditions who took their own lives after being found fit for work.
Police Scotland is currently considering a dossier of information submitted by Black Triangle – including information on the deaths of Paul Donnachie and David Barr, as well as a third case, that of a woman known as Ms DE – before deciding whether to launch a criminal investigation.
The interview comes in a week where Duncan Smith’s failure to address wider concerns about the WCA was highlighted in humiliating fashion by new work and pensions secretary Damian Green, who told the party conference that it was “pointless bureaucratic nonsense” to expose many disabled people with high support needs to repeated WCAs, and promised to scrap the practice.
how does one say you were the cause of many many deaths to which you took no notice and sent out your then chief greyling to take away justice to those who beating you back a bit nay you were and are a very dangerous person to all who are ill disabled mentally ill you were their worst nightmare a demon in charge just like a nazi ops nary was i but under orders but wait who be waiting the otherside for justice if not in this world bu the other il wait