The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has stopped answering questions from Disability News Service (DNS), and is refusing to explain why it has taken the “totally unacceptable” step.
Since early July, DWP’s press office has failed to provide a meaningful response to questions submitted by DNS on 10 consecutive news stories.
There has been no explanation from DWP for the apparent refusal to respond on issues including the deaths of benefit claimants, the failure of minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson to engage with disabled people’s organisations, and the silence of the government’s Disability Unit during the coronavirus pandemic.
In two of the stories, the DWP press office suggested that it could not respond for legal reasons, but with the other eight there was no explanation for the department’s refusal to comment.
The stories DWP refused to comment on include the department being accused of “careless cruelty” after it mistakenly sent out letters to disabled claimants during the pandemic that informed them their disability benefits had been stopped for failing to fill in review forms.
It also failed to comment on its own research which showed that levels of satisfaction with working-age disability benefits had plummeted in the two years to spring 2019.
The department continues to respond to requests from mainstream news organisations, but not to those from DNS, which is run by a disabled journalist, John Pring, and was founded in April 2009.
A Guardian journalist confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that DWP was continuing to provide responses to Guardian queries.
This week, DNS asked DWP why it did not appear to be responding to questions, and whether it agreed that its policy appeared to be discriminatory.
DWP had failed to comment by noon today.
Over the last decade, DNS has reported on links between DWP and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, DWP’s breaches of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, evidence of flaws in DWP programmes such as Disability Confident, and misleading statements made to parliament by work and pensions ministers.
Over the last six months, DNS has also exposed repeated breaches of disabled people’s rights by the government during the pandemic.
In July, DNS reported how DWP had re-introduced benefit sanctions, while millions of disabled people were still shielding from the virus, a move described by disabled campaigners as “barbaric” and “life threatening”.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We are saddened to hear that DWP is failing to answer the important questions put to them by DNS, which is totally unacceptable whatever the reason.
“We hope that this failure of DWP press office is urgently resolved.
“The work and investigations carried out by DNS have uncovered many facts which we’re sure DWP would have preferred to keep covered up and provide a vital resource for disabled people and our campaigns for equality and justice.”
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