The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appears to have secured funding to set up an independent panel to examine cases where its own failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.
Although DWP refused to provide any details on the plans, the spending round document published by the Treasury yesterday (Wednesday) said the new “independent serious case panel” would aim to improve DWP “safeguarding”.
The Treasury says it will provide funding of £36 million for 2020-21 to fund both the panel and ensure that decision-making on benefit claims is “accurate” and that benefit application processes are “straightforward and accessible”.
The funding for improving benefit applications processes is likely to refer to plans by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to introduce an “integrated” service for personal independence payment and work capability assessments from 2021, which will reduce the need to submit information multiple times for different benefit claims.
DWP yesterday (Wednesday) refused to explain why it was setting up the new serious case panel, or to provide any clarity on the other spending round announcements.
Instead, a DWP spokesperson said: “We will be announcing further detail on this in due course.”
But if the serious case panel is being set up to examine deaths linked to benefit claims, and other serious cases linked to DWP failings, it would be a significant victory for grassroots disabled activists who have spent years highlighting such tragedies.
It would also be a victory for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, backed by grassroots disabled activists and Whiting’s mother Joy Dove, which has spent nearly six months highlighting the need for an independent inquiry into deaths caused by DWP’s failings, and has secured nearly 55,000 signatures.
Disability News Service (DNS) has also spent more than five years highlighting DWP’s safeguarding failings.
In June, DNS reported how DWP had acted unlawfully by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres.
Also in June, the Liverpool Echo reported that Rudd had admitted that an internal review into the death of Stephen Smith, from Liverpool, had found that DWP missed “crucial safeguarding opportunities” and had “identified areas where we need to change our policy” to protect claimants in vulnerable situations.
And in February, DNS reported on the Independent Case Examiner report into the death of Jodey Whiting (pictured) in February 2017, which concluded that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide.
This led to the launch of the Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition, which was set up to press for a criminal investigation into misconduct by ministers and senior civil servants that may have contributed to the deaths of claimants.
The spending round document also announced another £23 million for DWP, to fund a range of measures including “support for vulnerable claimants and people with complex needs migrating to Universal Credit”, although again DWP refused to provide any further details.
The spending round, which Javid said signified an end to austerity, provided an extra £1 billion for adult and children’s social care in 2020-21, as well as the possibility of another £500 million for adult social care to be raised by councils through council tax, although this extra £0.5 billion funding will be subject to a consultation.
But in his speech, Javid became the latest government minister to ignore the social care needs of working-age disabled people, telling MPs instead that he was “committed to a clear plan to fix social care, and give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.
About half of local authority spending on social care is on working-age adults.
The government again failed to say when it would publish its long-delayed plans for reform of adult social care funding, other than that it would “bring forward proposals in due course”.
Respond to the extra funding for social care, Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Accepting that the government is facing a few difficulties just now, even so is this the best they can do?
“Thousands of disabled people’s lives and aspirations are being blighted by inadequate support and to make matters worse, disabled people are having to pay more for social care that is failing to meet their needs.”
The spending round also included an extra £700 million for next year – an increase of 11 per cent on 2018-19 – for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Only two months ago, disabled campaigners spoke outside the high court of the “shocking” and “shameful” impact of the government’s austerity policies on the education of disabled children.
They were supporting three families with disabled children who were asking the high court to declare that the government acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with SEND.
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