A former DWP civil servant commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to review disability benefit assessments has publicly disagreed with government claims that the department does not have a duty of care to benefit claimants.
Paul Gray, who carried out two independent reviews of the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment system, which reported in 2014 and 2017, was asked by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams whether he believed his former department had a duty of care to claimants.
She had earlier told him of the case of Philippa Day, a young disabled mum whose death was linked by a coroner earlier this year to flaws in the PIP system.
Gray, who was giving evidence yesterday (Wednesday) to the Commons work and pensions committee, said: “Yes, of course there is a duty of care in any process of this sort to treat people fairly, appropriately and empathetically.”
He pointed to the DWP’s duty to ensure the logistics of arranging face-to-face assessments are convenient and appropriate, the way the department communicated with claimants about PIP, and enabling relatives and others to support claimants.
He said: “Those are all things that I think it is entirely appropriate for the department to undertake and my sense is the department is aware of that sense of duty.
“Have they always got it right in every case? In the same way, do any of us ever get all of these things right in every case? … it’s a learning process.”
Gray did not appear aware that work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey has repeatedly claimed that DWP does not have a legal duty to “safeguard” its claimants, and has said that such tasks are instead the responsibility of local agencies such as social services departments and doctors’ surgeries.
Her denials follow a decade of cases linking DWP’s policies and practices to the deaths of disabled people, particularly those who were being assessed for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment and had experience of mental distress.
But DNS has reported how two DWP documents show civil servants discussing the department’s duty of care, both believed to have been written in 2014 or 2015.
One recommended that the department should carry out a review of its “ongoing Duty of Care”.
A second document was obtained by Leigh Day, solicitors for the family of Errol Graham, who starved to death in 2018, months after DWP cut off his ESA when he failed to attend a work capability assessment.
This document is a copy of pre-2016 internal guidance for DWP staff, written to assist them in dealing with claimants who need support in using its services.
The guidance states: “Where the claimant has a known background of mental illness there are minimum requirements that Jobcentre Plus should be adopting to ensure that we are not found to be neglectful in our duty of care towards these claimants.”
Gray also told the committee yesterday that he believed there should be another independent review of the PIP assessment process.
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