Disabled man died of heart attack after being told of ESA sanction threat


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.”

  • User Ratings (19 Votes)
  • Pei Kang

    evil government worker, how heartless can they be?

    • srgc2731

      as heartless as this tory govt has told them to be
      atos / maximus and the dwp are only doing what Ian Duncan Smith has told them do
      what you are made aware of is only the tip of the iceberg
      since they came to power they have been removing benefits from the long term sick / disabled and dieing
      with the publics blessing

      shame on you britain

      • Pei Kang

        This happens in America too, sadly. The weak “huddled masses” are always the first victims.

        • srgc2731

          This Tory Govt has advisors who work for american insurance giant umumn

          A firm that will reap vast rewards if the welfare state ceases to exist
          Who no doubt have lucrative jobs for ex tory ministers

          At UnumProvident we have a non-medical, enabling model of rehabilitation

          and we are working with our partners at the UnumProvident Centre for

          Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University to better

          understand what places people at risk of long-term or chronic illness.

          Further information about this model can be made available

          to the committee.9 (item 24)

          Supplementary memorandum submitted by UnumProvident(TM) – 20069

          The SCBIB6 was, essentially, the blue print for the future introduction of the WCA, using a discredited bio-psychosocial (BPS) model of assessment as planned following the New Labour conference in November 2001: Malingering and Illness Deception,12
          with Aylward as a contributor and ‘malingering’ very firmly planted as
          being the motivation for claimants of disability benefits. Guilty until
          proven innocent was the mind-set that continues to this day. ‘And the
          methodology used by Waddell and Aylward is the same one that informs the
          work of UnumProvident.’(TM)12

          • srgc2731

            Not to be confused with a medical assessment, the WCA is described as a ‘functional assessment’15 using an IT tick-box questionnaire and totally disregarding diagnosis.

            The influential 2007 report by the unelected David Freud,16
            promoted the use of the private sector in welfare reforms when adviser
            to the New Labour Party and before being appointed as the Minister for
            Welfare Reforms in 2010 by the Coalition government. Subsequently, the
            WCA was sub-contracted to Atos Healthcare in 2008 and according to the
            General Medical Council, Atos Healthcare ‘have total immunity from all
            medical regulation.’17,18

            The WCA uses a manipulated bio-psychosocial (BPS) model of assessment, designed in consultation with Unum Provident Insurance17,18,19,20
            and is a replica of the discredited healthcare insurance assessment
            model historically used by Unum Provident Insurance to resist funding
            insurance claims.21
            The LiMA IT programme used for the WCA was designed by Atos Origin IT
            Ltd, the parent company of Atos Healthcare, for exclusive use for DWP

        • srgc2731

          a manipulated version
          of the Engel BPS assessment model, emphasising the possible
          psychological factors of disability and disregarding the biomedical
          factors, is used by Unum Provident Insurance and by the DWP as a method
          of removing as many chronically sick and disabled people as possible
          from funding, or preventing access to it.17,18,19,20,21

          Unum Provident Insurance were fined $31.7 million in 2003 in a class action law suit in California for running ‘disability denial factories’18 and $15 million in 2005 by the California Department of Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi, who stated that ‘Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years

        • srgc2731

          2006 the State insurance commissioners of 48 American States approved a
          settlement in an investigation of the Unum Provident Corporation that
          required the healthcare insurance giant to reconsider 200,000 claims and
          to pay $15million in fines27 whilst
          not forgetting, at the same time as these fines in America for
          malpractice, the company were funding Aylward and Waddell at the Centre
          at Cardiff University.

          Unum Provident
          Insurance changed its name to Unum Insurance in 2007 to distance itself
          from increasing negative publicity for identified malpractice. Yet, the
          only opinions considered by the DWP regarding the benefits of work and
          the assessment model used to assess disability benefit claimants are
          those of Aylward and Waddell, whose research was sponsored until 2009 by
          Unum (Provident) Insurance; identified by the American Association of
          Insurance in 2008 as the second most discredited insurance company in

          In January 2007 Professor John Langbein of the Yale School of Law produced a paper identified as ‘The Unum Provident Scandal’29 that exposed Unum’s practice of disability denial, and
          in November 2007 BBC News reported that the British government were
          being advised by an American insurance company with a reputation for

          Employees interviewed on the Dateline program disclosed that the claims

          that were “the most vulnerable” to pressures for bad faith termination were those

          involving “so-called subjective illnesses, illnesses that don’t show up

          on x-rays or MRIs, like mental illness, chronic pain, migraines, or even Parkinson’s.”

          The Dateline story pointed to an internal company email cautioning a group of claims

          staff that they had one week remaining to “close,” that is, deny, eighteen more claims

          in order to meet desired targets.

          Trust Law as Regulatory Law: The Unum/Provident Scandal

          and Judicial Review of Benefit Denials under ERISA

          Professor John Langbein: Yale Law School 2007 p1318 29

        • srgc2731

          There would also appear to have been a clear financial conflict of

          interest and possible breach of Civil Service protocol, in that a

          senior Civil Servant such as Aylward could not have been unaware

          while he was in post at the DWP that Unum Provident was already

          financing his next employment, which would allow him to indulge

          in his existing conviction that syndromes such as ME/CFS are

          affected by ‘cultural’ factors and are ‘behavioural’ in nature. It is

          also a matter of concern that a senior Civil Servant accepted

          sponsorship from a company with Unum’s track record.’31

          Concerns about a commercial conflict of interest underlying

          the DWP handbook entry on ME and CFS.

          Professor Malcolm Hooper 2005

  • Kooljeff

    Notice the complete lack of concern, empathy and humanity from both the DWP and Maximus spokespersons? They are more concerned with process and procedure than the life of a human being. These people need to face a Nuremberg.

    • srgc2731

      or any tory be it in govt or other

  • Maria Jacob

    in the early 1980s my dad aged 50 had to give up work due to ill health. he had heart problems . He lived for another ten years, he spent time in hospital and his health deteriated. He died age 60, and I am so glad it was acknowledged he was unable to work and he made the most of the time he had left. Its horrible how very sick and unwell people are being put through this, its inhuman. I hope the government will be held to account for what they are doing to sick people.

    • Graham Turvill

      Absolutely MRia, if they where a private company it would be Corporate Manslaughter. Id like to think they will never sleep again with their guilt but these scumbags are pity less low level humanity.

      • srgc2731

        aged 60 worked 30 + yrs retired medically 2005 deformed hip fused spine
        deemed Debilitating Degenerative Progressive
        Healed by Atos 2012
        used to get £103 Incapacity Benefit
        Now pay an extra £22 in council and bedroom tax
        from the £21 ESA i now recieve instead
        LOL LOL LOL

        welcome to toryland

        • srgc2731

          scored 15 points at Tribunal
          DWP didnt apply their own rules regarding ability to repeat and threat to healh which would have put mi in the support group
          my GP an ardent tory

          refused to support me in any form
          and his evidence to the DWP requested by them
          stated i sometimes complained of backache
          lol lol lol

          welcom to toryland

  • RGN007

    My daughter has just lost her PIP claim after being on DLA and higher mobility. She fell ill with ME from age 16, and now she is 30. A variable illness, perhaps 2x unpredictable “normal” days a week and 2x total incapacitated, and the remaining 3 probably Ok for a couple hours a day. No chance of working without causing a relapse in the few good bits she gets. If she wasn’t living at home with me, she would have to sell her 12 yr old car, and part with her companion dog who gives her a purpose, probably not buy any food or heat her home. I’m in disbelief.

    • Hope she appeals, but most importantly gets some advice from a welfare rights expert. Much more likely to succeed that way. Good luck…

      • srgc2731

        welfare rights lol
        govt cuts to funding have ensured that they are few and far between only the lucky few gwt reprisentation

    • srgc2731

      Regulation 29 of The Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008

      allows for a person to be treated as having limited capability for work in exceptional circumstances. This is the basic test to be entitled to ESA. If you pass this test, you will go into the work related activity group (WRAG). This is sometime referred to by Jobcentre Plus decision makers and by appeal tribunals as the ‘non-functional descriptor’.

      Regulation 29 allows that a claimant who has not scored enough points under the WCA can “be treated as having limited capability for work if … there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work.”

      Regulation 35 of the same regulations (link opens in new window PDF file size 655kb) allows for people to be treated as having limited capability for work-related activity on broadly the same terms as regulation 29. That is if there would be a there would be a “substantial risk” if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work-related activity. This is the test to go into the support group.

      • srgc2731

        there is a non govt form i believe by
        The black triangle
        which you ask your doctor or specialist to support you on the previously posted unfit to work grounds that i read does influence the decision

    • srgc2731

      its possible for someone who was awarded Severe Disabillty for life
      to go from SDA to jobseekers
      under the dwp atos/ maximus test
      you can be physically unfit to work but still judged capable

      welcom to toryland

  • srgc2731

    those that have died are well out of it
    whilst thousands are still suffering because of it

  • srgc2731

    Fifteen years ago Unum Provident Insurance was exposed in Parliament in the 1999 Permanent Health Insurance debate,38 where
    MPs identified the suffering of constituents as Unum Provident
    Insurance refused to pay out on income protection insurance policies. Given
    this company’s proven record of sustained misconduct and recorded
    malpractice over many years, one must surely enquire as to why this
    company have been advisers to the UK government on welfare reforms for
    the last 20 years…..
    The constant reference
    to ‘disabled people’ by DWP Ministers, whilst disregarding those with
    catastrophic illnesses, adds to the ongoing human suffering of the most
    vulnerable people in the UK. They are far too ill to consider working39
    but they now live in fear of claiming the income related benefit needed
    for their very survival, as the Coalition government consider all ESA
    applicants as potential malingerers, thanks to Professor Aylward’s
    influence, regardless of what can be a devastating diagnosis.40