About 1,600 working-age disabled people are dying every year after having their claim for disability benefits rejected, the government has been forced to admit.
The Department for Work and Pensions figures (DWP) reveal that 7,990 disabled people who lodged a claim for person independence payment (PIP) in the five years after the new benefit was launched in April 2013 had died within six months of registering their claim, while also having that claim rejected.
These figures mean that more than 130 working-age disabled people a month have been found ineligible for PIP following an initial assessment by government contractors Atos and Capita but were still so unwell that they died soon afterwards*.
Another set of figures released by DWP shows that 3,680 disabled people – or more than 60 a month – died within three months of their initial PIP applications being rejected by DWP.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These shocking figures show that the cruel and callous PIP assessment is unfit for purpose.
“That thousands of people die three months after being denied vital social security payments is disgraceful.
“Ill and disabled people are being failed [with] the most tragic consequences.
“Labour will end the hostile environment in the DWP and replace the PIP assessment framework with a system that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.”
The figures were released to Labour MP Madeleine Moon by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people.
It was Moon who secured other figures last month which showed that more than 17,000 PIP claimants – out of a total of more than 3.6 million – had died during the five years while waiting for DWP to make a decision on their claim.
Newton also told her last week that 11,790 of these undecided claims were dealt with under “normal rules” and so had not been fast-tracked because they were terminally-ill.
The Bridgend MP said this week: “These shameful figures reveal how gravely ill people, eligible for benefits, have tragically fallen through the cracks of a failing system as they approach the end of life.
“Questions to the DWP have uncovered many cases where terminally ill people have had their PIP applications rejected when applying under normal rules** and have died within six months.
“It is disgusting that people who are dying have not been treated with compassion and support and their claim fast tracked.
“When you only have a short time left to live you must not be let down by a callous system which is not fit for purpose.”
Moon has introduced a private members’ bill, which would remove the current “arbitrary” time limit which means claimants can only be treated as terminally-ill if they have less than six months left to live.
She said: “My bill will bring the changes needed to ensure we bring dignity and some financial security to the terminally ill and their families.
“All terminally ill people should be able to access the special rules for terminal illness (SRTI) process.
“The clinical judgement of a healthcare professional should be enough to determine when someone has a terminal condition, without reference to a six months prognosis.
“Removing the arbitrary time limit provides medical professionals with greater clarity, and more importantly, ensures the terminally ill receive support with the speed and compassion they deserve.”
There are similarities between the new figures secured by Moon and statistics released by DWP in 2015, which showed that about 100 disabled people every month who had applied for employment and support allowance (ESA) were dying soon after being found fit for work.
As with the ESA figures, it is not currently possible to draw clear conclusions about how deeply flawed the PIP assessment process is because of DWP’s failure to release comparable statistics for the general population.
Disabled People Against Cuts researcher Anita Bellows, who has previously carried out widely-praised work examining the PIP contracts awarded to Atos and Capita, said: “Once again, the spotlight is on disability assessment contractors, Atos and Capita, and on the DWP, after the release of figures showing the number of claimants dying after their PIP were disallowed.”
She said the figures should be viewed in the light of around 70 per cent of claimants appealing a PIP decision having the initial decision overturned by a tribunal.
She said: “So it can be said with certitude that some of these people who died were denied the support they were entitled to, or they might have died because of this lack of support.
“DWP, Atos and Capita have shown time and time again that they are not fit for purpose, and neither are the tests supposed to assess disability and fitness for work, which have lost all credibility.
“It is time to overhaul the whole system to prevent it doing further harm.”
A DWP spokesperson refused to say whether Newton agreed that the figures showed that the PIP process was failing a substantial number of very ill people.
But she said in a statement: “DWP decision makers take into consideration all the evidence provided, including from their medical professionals, when determining eligibility for PIP.
“Meanwhile, we fast-track the claim process for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
“We are determined that people get the support they need and under PIP 31 per cent of people get the highest possible support, compared with 15 per cent under DLA.
“We are also stopping unnecessary reassessment for PIP for people with the most severe and life-long conditions.”
She also said that new SRTI claims currently take an average of six working days to process.
She said: “We are absolutely committed to improving the overall PIP claimant experience as this is what claimants rightly expect and deserve.
“Our thoughts are with the friends and family of anyone who has passed away but there is no evidence in this data to suggest someone’s reason for claiming PIP was the cause of their death and it would be misleading to suggest otherwise.
“People claim PIP for various reasons, the majority of which are non-life threatening.”
Meanwhile, DWP has published the results of its annual benefits satisfaction survey, which show that the percentage of PIP claimants who had been in contact with DWP in the previous three months and were satisfied with the service they received plunged from 87 per cent in 2016-17 to 82 per cent in 2017-18.
The proportion who said they were dissatisfied rose from 12 to 17 per cent, and the proportion who said they were very dissatisfied almost doubled, increasing from five to nine per cent.
Newton also released figures this week to de Cordova which showed that the number of complaints received by Atos and Capita about the PIP assessment process increased from 8,900 in 2017 to 9,400 in 2018.
Newton said: “Both of these figures equate to less than one per cent of the total number of assessments carried out that year.”
*The cause of death may be unrelated to the condition or impairment for which the claimant was seeking PIP
**Those expected not to live longer than six months, as opposed to those applying under Normal Rules, should receive PIP more quickly
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