A dozen disability charities have refused to back demands for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of benefit claimants, despite being reminded of the years of evidence behind those calls.
The 12 charities refused earlier this month to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry**, and makes other demands aimed at securing justice for those who have died and securing improvements to DWP’s policies and procedures.
Last Friday (26 July), Disability News Service (DNS) and grassroots groups supporting the petition used social media to present evidence to the charities from the last decade that showed the links between DWP and the deaths of claimants, and proved the department’s institutional disablism, safety failings and other serious flaws.
The aim was to persuade just one of the charities to change its position and back the petition.
But the charities – Action on Hearing Loss, Epilepsy Action, Parkinson’s UK, Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, the MS Society***, the National Autistic Society, Rethink, RNIB, Scope, Sense, Turning Point – failed to respond to the contact via social media or make any attempt to defend their position.
One manager from Mencap asked on Twitter who DNS had contacted at the charity about the petition, but then failed to follow up her query when DNS asked her to email for further information.
The only other contact from one of the charities this week came from Sense, which emailed a press release to DNS asking for coverage of a series of new fundraising shops.
The non-user-led charities’ refusal to support efforts by disabled people and allies to secure justice for those who have died, ensure DWP improves its record on safety, and enable a recognition that the department is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose angered many campaigners.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which backs the petition, said: “The lack of response from charities speaks volumes about their priorities and continuing lack of commitment to the lives and safety of disabled people.
“However, we’re sure their CEOs will sleep comfortably in their beds knowing that their own vastly inflated salaries are safe.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “A so-called ‘charity’ that does not stand up and speak out forcefully for our citizens with the impairments they represent can only be described in one way: parasites.
“They are taking pay cheques off the back of the suffering of those whom they were set up to defend.
“We call upon all our people with relevant impairments whom these ‘charities’ pretend to fight for to mount letter writing, petitions and telephone campaigns demanding the resignations of these corporate parasites without delay.
“They are the betrayers of disabled people. Enough is enough.”
Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled city councillor in Liverpool and a former activist with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), said on Twitter: “There is a long history of charities not supporting disabled people’s activism.
“Although they may be happy to take the credit and pretend it was all their doing when disabled people’s campaigns are successful.”
Another long-time disabled activist, artist Tony Heaton, said on Twitter: “The usual suspects… remember the fight for anti-discrimination legislation back in the 1980s…?”
He added: “Too scared to bite the hand that feeds them the crumbs…”
Some claimed the charities’ silence was due to a fear of losing government funding, or because of being “in the pockets of Government”, “feathering their own pockets”, or being “self serving businesses”.
Others suggested it was linked to lobbying laws introduced by the government.
One Twitter-user asked Scope: “I wrote and asked why aren’t you supporting this? You didn’t respond. I emailed, no response.
“Could you respond here on Twitter please? It makes people like myself hesitant to approach you as a charity professing to support disability. Thanks.”
Four days later, Scope had failed to respond to his tweet.
One disabled campaigner said: “By not supporting the inquiry they are just saying their #DutyofCare to their #ServiceUsers is diminished due to gov influence. Hang your heads in shame!!”
Other Twitter users said the charities’ silence meant they were “complicit” in the hostile environment for disabled people created by the government.
Many Twitter users said they would no longer donate to the charities because of their failure to support the petition.
Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.
The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.
But her death was only the latest avoidable tragedy to be linked to DWP’s actions, with previous deaths stretching back nearly a decade.
*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition
***The MS Society has asked DNS to make clear that it was not aware of the tweets sent out to the 12 charities on 26 July, due to an error by DNS.
It does not support the petition, and has made clear that the evidence shared by DNS on 26 July would not have persuaded it to change its mind if it had been aware of the tweets.
But the charity says that it does back much of the petition. It believes that DWP should urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority, and it supports the call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of DWP, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police. However, it says that any recognition that DWP is not fit for purpose and is institutionally disablist should be determined by the inquiry.
Through its MS: Enough campaign, it is calling on the government to make immediate changes to the social security system so disabled people ‘can rely on support when they need it, without unnecessary burden or constant fear of having it taken away’.
DNS has apologised to the MS Society for the error and is happy to put the record straight.
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