A government contractor has told a traumatised abuse survivor he must be reassessed for employment and support allowance (ESA), just a week after a minister faced a call to resign for threatening to stop another of his disability benefits.
Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, caused outrage last week after it emerged that he had threatened the man – who is waiting to give evidence about the abuse in court – that his benefits would be stopped if he failed to co-operate with a personal independence payment (PIP) reassessment by Atos.
David* is a key witness in the trial and has been told by police not to discuss his case, or allow the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or Atos access to his medical records, because the court proceedings are live and the case is sub judice.
DWP finally agreed earlier this month to stop contacting David until after the end of the trial, although he later received a further letter from Atos and a threatening letter from Tomlinson via his MP.
But he has now been sent a demand by another government contractor, Maximus, to attend a face-to-face work capability assessment next month, warning him that his out-of-work disability benefit ESA could be affected if he fails to attend.
David has severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by the horrific sexual abuse he suffered as a child, and which has led to several suicide attempts.
He says the way he was being treated by DWP and its contractors was causing him “severe stress” and that he felt the department was “making fun” of him and subjecting him to harassment and humiliation.
Only this week, the new work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb – a candidate for the Tory leadership and therefore to be the next prime minister – told a meeting of the all-party parliamentary disability group that he wanted DWP to “do people well” and for it to “be a people organisation”.
He even spoke of his concern that he and other MPs were used to disabled people attending their advice surgeries “in tears” because of the way they had been treated by the benefits system.
Disability News Service has already revealed that DWP repeatedly contacted the police force investigating the abuse allegations to ask about David’s evidence, although Tomlinson denies this.
David said he planned to lodge a complaint with the police about the harassment he had experienced at the hands of DWP and its contractors.
Even though the toll of the criminal investigation on his mental health has been harrowing, resulting in a series of self-harm episodes, DWP has continued its attempts to force him to submit to a PIP reassessment, and now an ESA reassessment, even though it has been told repeatedly that his health records are part of the court case.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “[David] requested not to be contacted regarding his PIP claim – this letter relates to his ESA claim.
“We will of course look into this matter in relation to his ESA claim.”
When DNS said David had been assured that he would not be contacted at all, and had been told by a DWP manager last year that he would not be contacted about his ESA claim until after the trial, she added: “We are doing all we can to support [David] and our team in operations is looking at his case.”
David’s treatment highlights yet again concerns about DWP’s policies and procedures for dealing with vulnerable people, an issue highlighted last month when the department was finally forced to publish redacted versions of 49 secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of benefit claimants.
Those peer reviews showed that ministers were repeatedly warned by their own civil servants that their policies to assess people for disability benefits were putting the lives of vulnerable claimants at risk.
Only last week, a DWP spokesman denied that it was persecuting or harassing David, and claimed that Tomlinson had been trying to tell him in the letter to his MP “that we were going to try and leave [David] alone and not contact him, in acknowledgement of the fact that he is a vulnerable person and he is going through a trial”.
But Tomlinson has insisted that David has to be reassessed for PIP, despite the trial.
*Not his real name