An autistic man was left stunned after a jobcentre work coach threatened to stick pins in his eyes, or at least poke them with a Biro, and then said she had doled out similar treatment to autistic children.
The comments made to David Scott during an appointment in September have again highlighted concerns over the hostile and discriminatory environment frequently faced by disabled people who are forced to engage with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Disability News Service (DNS) has listened to a recording Scott secretly made of the appointment on 28 September, in which the work coach’s comments can be clearly heard.
During Scott’s conversation with the work coach, he explains that the past treatment he has received from DWP had left him suicidal.
Despite initial disagreements, the conversation appears to be approaching a successful conclusion as the work coach agrees that he will not need to carry out any work-related commitments, other than taking steps to prepare for the start of a PhD in neuroscience the following April.
But when he thanks her for her help, she tells him: “So I am here to support you whether you like it or you don’t, right?”
Scott replies that this would be his first experience of such support from DWP.
But the work coach says: “I’m not here to stick pins in your eyes, unless you want me to. And it will be a Biro, not pins, all right?”
Scott, who also has long-term health conditions, appears to laugh nervously, but he doesn’t otherwise respond to her comments.
The work coach then adds: “I taught autistic children for a long time, so yeah, it will be a sharp poke.”
Scott is taking legal action against DWP over the treatment he has received as a disabled claimant of universal credit.
In one of his legal letters, he tells DWP’s lawyers that he is “routinely treated badly” because he is autistic and because of his “atypical non-verbal communication”, and that the key reason he had decided to seek an autism diagnosis was to protect himself from DWP.
He says in the letter that he was left “stunned” and “did not know what to say” to the work coach.
He adds: “Her statement that she feels autistic children deserve being assaulted and thus me being an autistic adult also deserves such mistreatment is particularly disgusting.
“From her statements, I feel that she should not be let anywhere near any child or vulnerable adult.”
Scott believes the department and its contractors have repeatedly breached the Equality Act when trying to assess his fitness for work, including during assessments in 2018 and 2019 which led to significantly inaccurate reports.
He experienced significant mental distress because of the treatment he received in those assessments.
DNS has seen a letter to Scott from the Government Legal Department which denies any discrimination, but it says that DWP apologises for the work coach’s “inappropriate and misjudged comment”.
The letter says the work coach made the comments in “a joking manner”, although she now accepts that they were “misplaced and inappropriate”.
Asked if DWP still considered the comments to be “inappropriate and misjudged” or if it accepted that they were more serious than that, the department refused to comment this week.
It also refused to say if any disciplinary action had been taken against the work coach.
And it refused to comment on whether the case again illustrated the toxic, hostile and discriminatory environment frequently faced by disabled people who have to engage with the department.
But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “The DWP processes millions of benefit payments, providing a crucial safety net for those in need.
“We have robust procedures in place to investigate complaints by claimants.”
Meanwhile, the Public Law Project (PLP) is keen to speak to claimants who have been sanctioned by DWP, as part of a project examining the barriers they face when trying to challenge benefit sanctions.
The charity’s researchers are also keen to speak to those with experience of providing advice or support to sanctioned claimants.
The findings will be used to suggest ways to improve access to justice for claimants who have been unfairly or unlawfully sanctioned, and will be shared with DWP, politicians, policy-makers, welfare rights advisers and lawyers.
PLP said there was evidence to suggest that many claimants do not challenge sanction decisions, even if they have a good chance of success.
It added: “We are keen to understand the reasons for this further so we can develop a strategy for how we can support claimants to effectively challenge unfair or incorrect sanction decisions.”
Picture: A jobcentre (not the one where the incident took place)
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