A Labour government would set up an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled benefit claimants linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its private sector contractors, the party has told Disability News Service.
The party’s pledge meets one of the demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition, which secured more than 55,000 signatures and called for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings.
Disabled activists have spent years highlighting the tragic deaths of disabled people that have been closely linked to the actions of DWP senior civil servants and ministers, their outsourced contractors and disability benefit assessment processes.
The deaths of Paul Donnachie, Mark Wood, David Barr, Lawrence Bond, David Clapson, Susan Roberts, Alan McArdle, James Oliver and Jodey Whiting (pictured) – and many others – have all been linked to the failings of DWP and its contractors in the last seven years.
Although the inquiry pledge was not included in the party’s manifesto, the party confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that an independent inquiry would take place if Labour won power, and that it would cover the period from the introduction of universal credit in April 2013 to the end of this year.
Its remit would include examining the causes of deaths linked to DWP assessments.
The call for an inquiry was backed in April by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, who said then that it was “not enough for [DWP] to be its own judge and jury”.
John McArdle, co-founder of the grassroots disabled people’s campaign group Black Triangle, who has played a key role in pushing for justice for DWP’s victims, said: “The news that the Labour party has committed to launching an independent public inquiry into these tragic and entirely avoidable deaths proves that they have listened carefully to our campaign and are fully convinced that there is a case to be answered.
“The evidence that we have painstakingly gathered together and submitted to both national and international authorities over the past 10 years is, we submit, conclusive and damning.
“We are confident that this inquiry will, for the first time, lead to government ministers and officials being held to account for their actions at the bar of our criminal justice system and this will prevent these blatant human rights abuses from ever being allowed to occur again under any future UK government.”
Labour’s pledge was also welcomed by Jodey Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, who has continued to campaign for justice for her daughter.
She said she was “really happy” with the announcement, which she said was “brilliant” and showed that those responsible for the deaths were “not getting away with it”.
She said people were joining the campaign for justice “from all corners”, and she added: “We will get justice in the end.”
Labour’s promise comes as Disability News Service (DNS) prepares to publish a 12,000-word article that will make the case for a criminal investigation into the actions of former DWP ministers and senior civil servants.
The article – to be published on Monday (2 December) – will pull together five years of investigations by DNS into the deaths of five disabled people, each of which was closely linked to the failure to correct flaws in the work capability assessment and decisions made by ministers and senior DWP civil servants.
Labour also told DNS yesterday that it will set up a serious case review panel to look at future deaths linked to benefits processes and cases that have caused claimants serious harm, similar to the serious case reviews already undertaken following deaths or serious harm caused to children or adults at risk of abuse.
The purpose will be to provide solace, redress and apologies for claimants and bereaved families, and ensure that lessons are learned and corrective actions are taken more quickly.
There have been years of criticism of the secrecy of DWP after deaths linked to its failings, with its secret internal process reviews not even made available to the families of those who have died.
The terms of reference for the new panel will be set out following public consultations, which Labour says will include disability rights campaigners and communities of disabled people.
In its manifesto, Labour says the “cruelty and heartlessness of the Tories” has made DWP a “symbol of fear”.
It says: “When people feel the DWP is more about harassment than a helping hand, something has gone seriously wrong.”
It pledges to replace DWP on day one of a new government with a new Department for Social Security, “which will be there to help and support people, not punish and police them”.
Labour also repeats its pledge to scrap universal credit (UC) and replace it with “an alternative system that treats people with dignity and respect”.
While it is developing an alternative system, a Labour government will end the five-week wait for a first payment to a new UC claimant by introducing an interim payment based on half their estimated monthly entitlement.
It also promises to pilot a universal basic income scheme, which would mean an unconditional social security payment made to all residents, and probably a lower sum paid to every child.
A Labour government would “immediately suspend” the Tories’ “vicious sanction regime and ensure that employment support is positive not punitive” – although it is not clear yet if it would scrap all benefit sanctions – as well as scrapping the bedroom tax and increasing local housing allowance.
The manifesto says that successive Conservative-led governments have “created a hostile environment for disabled people”, which Labour would aim to end.
There is also a pledge to scrap the “dehumanising work capability and [personal independence payment] assessments, which repeatedly and falsely find ill or disabled people fit to work” and ensure instead that all assessments are carried out in-house.
A Labour government would also increase employment and support allowance (and the equivalent universal credit payment) by £30 a week for those in the work-related activity group who lost out when the payments for new claimants were slashed by the government in April 2017.
Labour would also increase payments for disabled children, and for people with high support needs but no formal carer, and it would increase carer’s allowance to the same level as jobseeker’s allowance.
There would also be a review of support for disabled people at work, including through the Access to Work scheme, as well as the introduction of a government-backed Reasonable Adjustments Passport scheme.
This scheme, building on the work of the TUC, would support people and their trade union representatives to work with their employers to ensure that up-to-date, appropriate, practical and correct reasonable adjustments were in place, the party has told DNS.
Such a system would mean that disabled people who move roles – or if their line manager changes – would not have to re-explain or re-negotiate their workplace reasonable adjustments.
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