Thursday, January 22, 2015

New questions over safety of DWP’s benefit sanction rules

A minister is facing fresh questions over whether her department is failing to take suitable precautions when a “vulnerable” person is about to have their benefits sanctioned.

Esther McVey, the Conservative employment minister, caused alarm and confusion in November after she told her Labour shadow that it was not government policy to warn health or social services when vulnerable service-users were sanctioned.

Under current sanctioning rules, claimants lose at least a week’s benefit for missing a single appointment or session of work-related activity.

McVey told Stephen Timms in November in a written answer: “There is no formal policy to liaise with Health and Social Service agencies when a sanction is applied.”

Disabled activists told Disability News Service (DNS) at the time that her response was “appallingly callous”, and “makes a mockery of the government’s claim that sanctions policy is intended to move people into work for their own wellbeing”, while one campaigner said the failure “amounts to passive euthanasia”.

Earlier in November, DNS had revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had carried out 60 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths since February 2012.

Coalition ministers have consistently denied any connection between their welfare reforms and cuts and the deaths of benefit claimants.

But there have been numerous reports of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to the employment and support allowance (ESA) claim process, the refusal or removal of ESA and other benefits, and the DWP’s use of sanctions to temporarily remove benefits from a claimant. Many of these cases involved people with learning difficulties or mental health conditions...