A disabled widow has accused the government of subjecting her and her late husband to “inhumane and cruel” treatment, after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) argued that it was not responsible for supporting them.
Laurel Duut’s husband Peter died in October 2011 at the age of 42, just seven months after being told he was not entitled to claim employment and support allowance (ESA) or jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), because he was a Dutch national and was not “active in the labour market”.
They had returned to the UK in 2008, although Peter had spent most of his life working in the Netherlands. He worked as a carpenter, firstly in London – commuting six hours a day from their home in Suffolk – and then closer to home for a housing association.
But in March 2011 Peter lost his job, and was told he was not entitled to JSA because he was a Dutch national.
They were forced to survive on Laurel’s disability living allowance (high rate care and lower rate mobility), and the carer’s allowance that Peter claimed. This left them just a few pence every week for food after paying their bills.
Peter became ill with undiagnosed cancer in April 2011, but his health deteriorated rapidly from June 2011, and he began to lose weight. He was six feet three inches tall, but his weight fell from 11 stone four pounds to just nine stone two.
After being told by Jobcentre Plus that he would need to travel to find work – despite writhing in pain during the interview – Peter walked in despair to his local newspaper and told them how he was being treated.
He told the Cambridge News that he and Laurel were living on just 12p a day each for food.
Laurel finally received about two weeks’ worth of ESA for her husband, but it only arrived after Peter died in October 2011. She put it towards the cost of his funeral.
This year, Laurel was unexpectedly granted support of about £700 per month under the Dutch National Survivor Benefits Act (ANW), which ensures a basic income for those who have lost a partner and is intended to be paid on top of other monthly benefits.
But the first payment was made in a lump sum three years in arrears, and when DWP found out, it stripped her of most of her UK benefits, including ESA, housing benefit, council tax benefit, and even the care component of disability living allowance, which is not means-tested.
As a result, she now misses out on associated benefits such as free dental treatment and prescriptions.
This has left her with about £50 to survive on every week after paying rent and council tax, and she has been forced to miss hospital appointments because of the cost of petrol and parking.
DWP claims the Netherlands should have been responsible for supporting Peter before his death, and for supporting Laurel after he died.
But she believes DWP breached both her and her husband’s human rights, under article two (right to life) and article three (freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment) of the Human Rights Act.
Laurel, whose mother, sister, three children and five grandchildren all live in the UK, said: “The UK starved him after he had worked so very hard all of his life. The DWP consistently ignored his frailty, his plight, terror and hunger, telling him he had to be fit for work.
“Surely this is inhumane and cruel. My husband was officially my carer and I also had to suffer starvation and struggle caring for him and witness all that happened which was horrific, and I was unable to do anything about the situation.”
She is now appealing against the decision to remove her DLA, against the treatment of her husband, and against DWP’s decision that the Netherlands was the “competent member state” to pay their benefits.
DWP has so far failed to comment.
27 November 2014