Sarah Newton, minister for disabled people.
Government ministers have said that the controversial Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments ensure that those people “most in need” receive support. Last month I wrote about a disclosure from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) concerning the mortality rates of people awaiting PIP assessments.
Official DWP data reveals that 7,990 people died within six months of having a claim for PIP rejected by cruel DWP ‘decision makers’. This indicates that contrary to Conservative minister’s claims, those most in need of support are being catastrophically failed by the assessment regime.
Of these, 3,680 died within just three months of having their PIP applications rejected by the DWP. The figures also show that 17,070 people have died waiting for their PIP claims to be assessed by DWP decision makers.
It has also been revealed that 5,290 of those who had applied under the Special Rules for terminally ill people (SRTI), (those with a terminal disease with less than 6 months to live), died before the DWP made a decision on their claim.
Further disclosure indicated 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.
A separate set of DWP figures show that 72% of PIP claimants who take their cases to a social security tribunal go on to win their appeals.
Labour MP Madeleine Moon said: “These shameful figures reveal how potentially gravely ill people who should be eligible for benefits, have tragically fallen through the cracks of a system that should be there to support them as they approach the end of life.”
They haven’t fallen through the cracks. These people were forced through them.
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.”
A DWP spokesperson shamefully insisted there was “no evidence” to suggest people died for the same reason they were trying to claim PIP. And those affected were “only a small fraction of the millions of PIP claims since 2013.”
But there is also no evidence that people did not die for the same reasons they were turned down for support, either.
The government are not monitoring the impacts of the policy, and so have persistently failed to collect evidence either way. Furthermore, dismissing thousands of people so atrociously left in hardship – by a system designed specifically to cut support – indicates the hardened and callous attitude of the state and fundamental lack of compassion towards ill and disabled people, most of whom have paid social insurance contributions for social security provision, only to find in their time of need that welfare support and public services are increasingly inaccessible.
In 2017, two tribunals had ruled the DWP should expand the reach of PIP – which helps disabled people fund their additional living costs. Yet the DWP warned that this would cost £3.7bn extra by 2022 – so unveiled emergency legislation to stop the change happening. At the time, then Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt said her move would “make sure we are giving support to those who need it most” – and insisted no one who had already been claiming PIP would see payments drop.
However, there is clear evidence that PIP is not being awarded to many thousands of people “who need it most”.
Sarah Newton, now the Minister of State for Disabled People, published one lot of figures on 11 January following a question raised in parliament by Madeleine Moon in December: “How many people have died while waiting for their personal independence payment assessment to be completed; and what were the conditions those people died from?”
Newton responded: “All benefit claims can be made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill which will mean that they are fast tracked. These are currently being cleared within 6 working days for new claimants to PIP. The Department would encourage all claimants with a terminal illness to let the department know and to apply using the special rules.”
Newton is actually implying that payments are being delayed because people aren’t informing the DWP of their terminal condition. That’s highly unlikely.
She said: “The cause of death of PIP claimants is not collated centrally by the Department.”
Over 3.6 million applications to PIP were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these:
- 4,760 claimants died between their case being referred to, and returned from, an assessment provider;
- 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered; and
- 17,070 claimants died after registering but prior to the DWP making a decision on their claim. Details of the claimant’s primary medical condition, where recorded, are in the accompanying spreadsheet.”
The total number of PIP claimants who died was 95,000. But Newton’s response does not indicate at what stage of their claim the 73,800 people, who died within six months of it being registered, were at. Nor does it indicate what those people who did not have terminal or degenerative illnesses died of – including those with mental illness. For example, 270 of those mortalities are listed as having had anxiety and/or depressive disorders as their primary disorder.
Of those who did have terminal illnesses, we need to ask why these people were cruelly left waiting so long for their assessment, if, as Newton claims, they are ‘fast tracked’ through the claim and assessment process. There is clearly a gap between what we are being told and what is actually happening.
Newton also warns on her data release: “This is unpublished data… It should be used with caution and it may be subject to future revision.”
There is, however, an Excel spreadsheet that indicates some of the primary conditions of those people who have died. But we cannot assume that those mortalities have arisen as a consequence of the recorded condition. That’s because the DWP isn’t carrying out any detailed monitoring.
The DWP are experts at reluctantly providing data that lacks both context and details, which, they often say, they simply don’t collate. And 9,020 people’s main condition was not recorded at all by the DWP. There is no means of useful comparison between mortality rates year by year, or a reference point to start from. A similar statistical analysis of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimant mortalities, for example, would help establish an average or baseline.
Moon followed up on her questions. On January 17, she asked “the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to the Answer on 11 January 2019 to Question 203813, how many claimants of personal independence payments who died within six months of their claim being registered had their application rejected.” (See: Personal Independence Payment: Written question – 209778).
Sarah Newton answered on the 01 February as follows:
“Over 3.6 million applications to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these, 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered.
“Prior to any Mandatory Reconsideration or Appeal action, 56,770 and 7,990 of these claimants had their claims awarded and disallowed respectively.
If a claimant dies before a decision is made on an outstanding claim, the Department establishes whether the claimant’s representative or next of kin wishes to proceed with the claim. If not, the claim is withdrawn so around 7,700 of the 73,800 claims were withdrawn rather than awarded or disallowed.
“56,920 of the 73,800 claims have been credited with a payment.
“Claims made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill are fast tracked and are currently being cleared at a median average of 6 working days for new claimants. This has reduced from a median average of 11 working days between April 2013 and March 2014.
- These figures include claims made under both Normal Rules and Special Rules for Terminal Illness (SRTI) and include new claims and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to PIP reassessment claims.
- The point of application is taken as the day the claimant registered a claim to PIP as recorded on the PIP computer system.
- The outcome is the first DWP decision recorded on the PIP Computer system. This does not take into account any mandatory reconsideration or Appeal action so some of these claimants may have subsequently been awarded PIP. Some cases do not have a decision recorded.
- This is unpublished data from the PIP computer system’s (PIP CS) management information. It should be used with caution and it may be subject to future revision.
- Figures are rounded to the nearest 10.
- Figures cover claims made up to and including 30th April 2018 and clearances up to and including 31st October 2018.
- GB only.
“Under the Social Security (Notification of Deaths) Regulations 2012 and s125 of Social Security Administration Act 1992 date of death is provided to the Department for all registered deaths. Additionally next of kin also provide information on the date of death of an individual and this information is used appropriately in the administration of Departmental benefits.”
Grouped Questions: 209776.
In December last year, Amber Rudd admitted she has ‘concerns’ that disability benefit tests could be failing the most vulnerable citizens.
The Work and Pensions Secretary made the comment days after we told how 72% of tribunal appeals overturn the original test.
Previously the DWP has said the number of successful appeals is low overall. But Rudd told MPs: “I do have concerns about the number of appeals that get through, i.e. a lot.
“Which does indicate that maybe those earlier decisions could be better made.”
20,133 people appealed a decision to change or deny their PIP in the three months before Christmas, of which 14,581 won their case. All those people had already gone through an internal appeal known as a Mandatory Reconsideration – which several MPs have described as a “rubber stamp”.
The figures released by Sarah Newton reveal that more than 130 working-age disabled people a month on average have been found ineligible for PIP following an initial assessment by government contractors Atos and Capita but were nonetheless so unwell that they died soon afterwards. 3,680 disabled people – or more than 60 a month – died within three months of their initial PIP applications being rejected by DWP.
PIP is very clearly unfit for purpose. The government urgently need to change this, instead of continuing with their neoliberal project of disassembling public services, including social security. Imposing conscious cruelty on marginalised social groups in the UK has become a standardised policy practice of the Conservatives.