Evidence that the DWP are involved in a cover-up over their own negligence in connection with the death of 49 claimants is growing. Private sector work programme providers may also be implicated in the deaths.
Disability News Service discovered last year that the DWP had carried out secret reviews into the deaths of 49 claimants. The DWP have refused to publish details of those reviews.
In June of this year Benefits and Work made a freedom of information request asking:
a) How many of the 49 claimants whose deaths were peer reviewed were ESA claimants who were, or had recently been, on the work programme.
b) How many of these were deemed to be vulnerable claimants in relation to ‘safeguarding’ procedures.
We asked these questions because the DWP had recently issued reminders to work programme providers about the safeguarding procedures, implying that they were not being properly followed. The procedures should ensure that all ESA claimants with mental health conditions receive home visits when threatened with sanctions.
However, in a response received today the DWP admit that they hold this information but they are refusing to hand it over. Their grounds for refusing are:
“The Department considers this to be confidential information about our clients gathered by civil servants in the course of their duties. This being the case Section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (SSAA) prohibits the release of such information. As the SSAA is prior legislation this engages Section 44 of the FOI Act making the information ineligible for release under the terms of that Act. As section 44 is an absolute exemption the Department has no duty to consider where the public interest lies.”
This is, of course, a nonsense response. We are asking the DWP to provide us with two numbers such as:
These are statistics, not confidential information and there is no possibility whatsoever of client confidentiality being breached by providing two numbers.
The grounds the DWP are using are the same ones they have successfully used to refuse to release anonymised versions of the 49 reports. But in this case all we were asking for is those two numbers.
The fact that the DWP are refusing to give the information very strongly suggests that at least some of the claimants who died were indeed vulnerable ESA work programme participants and that the proper safeguarding rules were not followed.
If this was not the case then it is very hard to see why the DWP would refuse to release the information and claim public interest immunity.
We have asked for a review of the DWP’s decision and we will pursue this issue as far as we possibly can.
In the meantime, the suspicion that the DWP are involved in a cover-up that involves both the department and private sector providers in what may even be corporate manslaughter is only going to gather momentum.