“What kind of 'policy' cannot recognise that somebody is seriously ill & dying? As a doctor, I say this is barbaric.”
Campaigners have expressed outrage at the outcome of an internal Department for Work and Pensions review which found that policy was “followed” in the case of Stephen Smith, a man who was denied benefits while on his deathbed.
Smith, 64, had a number of serious illnesses including obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis, an enlarged prostate, and he relied on a colostomy bag.
In the months leading up to his death, he weighed just 38 kg and could not walk for more than 20 metres without becoming short of breath and feeling pain – and yet he was deemed fit for work and his employment support allowance was stopped.
The government overturned the decision in February, but two months later in April, Smith died and the £4,000 that was returned to him was used to pay for his funeral.
Following his death, DWP Secretary Amber Rudd ordered an internal review into his case. In a statement, the DWP explained that “policy guidance was followed”, but admitted that “there were crucial safeguarding opportunities which were missed by the department.”
“The review has identified areas where we need to change our policy and we will be implementing these changes to ensure our most vulnerable claimants are protected,” the DWP said in a statement.
“The department will be working at pace to ensure that these are embedded and that vulnerable claimants are receiving the best possible support from the department. I am adamant that we will learn important lessons from this tragic case and make changes to protect people like Mr Smith in future.”
The outcome has been met with disdain by both campaigners and MPs who claim an internal review is not good enough.
Frank Field, the MP for Birkenhead, Smith’s constituency, said that the review did not do enough to address the loss of a life.
“What kind of policy guidance is it that fails to recognise that somebody is seriously ill and dying? This letter heavily disguises the fact that we’re talking about a man who lost his life, not a package that got lost within the DWP.
“It sums up much of what’s wrong with the DWP, which is apparently very short on human sympathy,” he said.
Angela Rayner, the Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, Droylsden and Failsworth, added: “If this doesn’t make you want to see the back of this Tory Government then I don’t know what will.”
Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke said: “What kind of ‘policy’ cannot recognise that somebody is seriously ill & dying? As a doctor, I say this is barbaric.”
Meka Beresford is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.
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