New research has exposed how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has “weaponised” time as a strategy to avoid being held accountable for deaths related to the benefits system.
It shows how the department’s use of delaying tactics has helped deny justice to the relatives of those who have lost their lives.
The research highlights a decade-long battle by Disability News Service (DNS) and others to uncover the records that DWP keeps on the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.
It draws on the online Deaths by Welfare timeline, co-produced by disabled people and published in draft format last summer, to show how the department has spent years attempting to “invisibilise” its role in the deaths of claimants.
The timeline tracks the slow, accumulated violence caused by the social security system over the last three decades by highlighting documents that are mostly publicly available.
The article, Weaponising Time in the War on Welfare, was researched and written by Dr China Mills – who leads the Deaths by Welfare project at Healing Justice Ldn, and is a senior lecturer in public health – and DNS editor John Pring.
It details the strategies that were used by DWP “to distance their policies from being linked to people’s deaths”.
The article, published in the journal Critical Social Policy, focuses on the secret reviews carried out by DWP into the deaths of claimants, now known as internal process reviews (IPRs).
It shows how, “despite being one of the main governmental tools to investigate deaths linked to the social security system”, the design of the reviews has made it almost impossible to hold the department to account for deaths linked to its policies, procedures and failures.
But redacted versions of the reviews – revealing their recommendations – did eventually show how the actions of DWP ministers, civil servants and private sector contractors have continued to be linked to the deaths of claimants, “making the disability benefits system deeply harmful and unsafe”.
The article argues that DWP has “weaponised” delays in releasing information from the reviews and other documents.
But it shows how the timeline provided a way to “piece together seemingly unconnected singular events, along with key evidence that only came to light years after it occurred”.
This has allowed patterns of harm caused by DWP to be tracked across time.
The article says that the IPR findings and recommendations “come from within the system that kills people, and therefore may never be enough for full accountability or justice”.
It concludes that the evidence of countless deaths suggests that the social security system needs “dismantling” and creating afresh, with disabled people and their lived experience “at the core” of that work.
Picture: Some of the benefit claimants whose deaths have been linked to DWP (clockwise from top left): Mark Wood, Faiza/Sophie Ahmed, James Oliver (right) with his brother Dave Smith, Stephen Carré, David Clapson, Errol Graham, Philippa Day, and Jodey Whiting
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…