DWP under investigation by equalities regulator over treatment of disabled people

EHRC 'extremely worried’ about the treatment of disabled benefits claimants by the government department


An investigation has been launched into whether the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) broke equality law over its treatment of disabled benefits claimants. 

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is investigating a suspicion that the department failed to make reasonable adjustments for people with learning disabilities or long-term mental health conditions when carrying out benefit health assessments. 

A further probe will be carried out into whether the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions’ was compliant with equality commitments when developing, implementing and monitoring policy guidance into health assessments. 

The regulator first started looking into the department after a group of MPs recommended in 2021 an investigation into the deaths of vulnerable claimants, including by suicide, between 2008 and 2020. 

Following this, the EHRC found further action was required and has now decided to pursue a formal investigation, the first of its kind into a government department. 

Chairwoman of the EHRC, Baroness Kishwer Falkner said the regulator was “extremely worried” about the treatment of some disabled benefit claimants by the DWP.

Baroness Falkner said: “The DWP is responsible for vital support which many disabled people rely on, including Personal Independence Payments, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit. Access to that support must be fair and must meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.

“Our investigation, alongside the PSED assessment we are also undertaking, will find out whether the DWP and the Secretary of State have breached equality law. If they have, we will use our unique legal powers to hold them to account.”

She warned that if the DWP is found to have broken equality laws then the watchdog will use its “unique legal powers to hold them to account.”

Possible sanctions could include an unlimited fine.

David Linden MP, the SNP’s Social Justice Spokesperson, commented on the investigation, “the DWP has been failing disabled people for decades now”, and that “full transparency and accountably is imperative”.

Disability equality charity Scope said the government’s “full-on assault on disabled people has been going on for far too long”.

Scope’s Executive Director of Strategy James Taylor said: “At Scope we know just how many disabled people have a poor and degrading experience when trying to make use of our benefit system.

“Our welfare system should be a safety net, built on kindness and trust where disabled people can access support. Instead, many disabled people have to fight for even basic support.

“For too long disabled people have told us they feel treated like second-class citizens in our society.”

A DWP spokesperson has said: “The DWP is committed to providing a compassionate service to all our customers. Benefits assessments are carried out by qualified health professionals with reasonable adjustments available to protect vulnerable claimants.

“We take our obligations under the Equality Act incredibly seriously, including the Public Sector Equality Duty, and will continue to cooperate with the Commission.”

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward

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