The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has dismissed new research that for the first time brings together more than 30 years of evidence that links its systemic failings with the deaths of countless disabled claimants of benefits.
The Deaths by Welfare timeline is based on more than a decade of investigations by disabled people’s grassroots groups, journalists, academics and other organisations and campaigners, and has taken more than a year to put together.
The evidence includes government reports, academic research, disabled people’s activism, letters to DWP from coroners, media reports of deaths linked to DWP’s failings, freedom of information responses and political speeches.
It shows how years of warning signs of the harm to come were ignored, as well as demonstrating systemic negligence by DWP, a culture of cover-up and denial, and a refusal to accept that the department has a duty of care to those disabled people claiming support through the social security system.
The timeline – currently more than 300 pages long – shows how DWP continues to pose a serious and continuing risk to the lives of disabled people who pass through its disability assessment systems.
But it also shows how the campaigning and leadership of disabled people and bereaved families has been vital to resistance.
In an exclusive report for the Mirror this week, DNS editor John Pring revealed how the timeline shows DWP was alerted more than 40 times to life-threatening systemic flaws in DWP’s disability benefits systems over the past 30 years.
Its failure to act on those warnings can be linked to hundreds – maybe even thousands – of suicides and other deaths of disabled people.
Following the Mirror story, the timeline was mentioned in the House of Commons by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who has led parliamentary efforts to push for a public inquiry into benefit-related deaths.
She said the timeline provides “even more evidence of the impact of the so-called reforms on premature deaths and suicides”.
She later mentioned the case of David Clapson, who had diabetes and died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.
Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, and he had also run out of food.
The timeline is part of the Deaths by Welfare project, headed by Dr China Mills and supported by Healing Justice Ldn, which works with marginalised and oppressed communities.
Mills has led the work on the timeline alongside Pring, with key input from disabled activist Rick Burgess, disabled activist Ellen Clifford, author of The War On Disabled People, welfare rights expert and researcher Nick Dilworth, and disabled artist-activist Dolly Sen.
It is hoped the timeline will provide a solid database of evidence for researchers, activists and journalists to push for an inquiry.
It is being released in a draft format so disabled people and allies can provide feedback and suggest any gaps over the next two months, before a final version is published later this year.
Clifford said the timeline was “an enormously important piece of work”.
She said: “Welfare reform has destroyed lives and caused avoidable harm on such a scale the United Nations made a finding of grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights.
“At the most extreme end this has meant the loss of life. We will probably never know the true number.
“The culture of dehumanisation and hostility fostered within the Department for Work and Pensions to justify the government’s conscious cruelty has meant a complete lack of accountability or remorse.
“The timeline represents an important step in the continuing battle for justice for the victims of welfare reform.
“For those of us still living and challenging welfare reform the timeline will be an immensely useful reference point when we need to remember what happened when.
“From a historical perspective and for those coming to the issue new, the timeline exposes the deliberate steps involved in the conscious strategy of dismantling the welfare state in favour of privatisation, business and an economic agenda that puts profit before people.
“It also includes and is testament to key points relevant to the resistance that disabled people and our allies mounted, using all the determination, resourcefulness and collective strength they could.”
Mills said: “In making the timeline we traversed mountains of evidence, some almost prophetic in its warning of the harm to come.
“What started for me as an investigation into the many deaths of people claiming benefits, is also a story alive with resistance – of disabled people joining forces with bereaved families, bearing witness to welfare reform’s deadly impact, and collectively envisioning justice.
“We may never know the names of all of those who have died – the lives lived and lost.
“But as part of the Deaths by Welfare project, we’re making this evidence available and seeking people’s feedback, to remember those who have died and to reimagine welfare justice.”
Asked if it would examine the timeline, whether it viewed the work as useful, and whether it accepted that more than 30 years of evidence showed links between social security policy and the deaths of claimants, a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “These are tragic, complex cases and our sincere condolences remain with the families.
“We support millions of people each year and in the vast majority of cases we deliver a supportive and compassionate service.
“We continually improve our services and have new teams to focus on our most vulnerable customers, ensuring we make the right decisions and people get support as quickly as possible.”
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