15 April 2019
What: Stephen Smith dies, following an 18-month battle with DWP, which had insisted he was fit for work, despite weighing just six stone. In January, he was forced to secure a pass to leave hospital so he could attend a tribunal that was hearing his appeal against an ESA decision. He spent 12 months on jobseeker’s allowance before winning his appeal. DWP had continued to insist he was fit for work despite being sent two letters from doctors describing the seriousness of his health conditions. The Liverpool Echo reported how readers were horrified when they saw photographs of his emaciated condition in hospital. He had a number of serious long-term health conditions and had told the Echo: “I could only make it to the kitchen to make food once a day. I had no muscles in the back of my leg which meant I couldn’t stand up at all – and had to lean or sit down all the time – but they were telling me I was fit for work.” He eventually secured support from a welfare rights officer at a local community centre. His death came just three months after he won his appeal hearing. Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd later told Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, that they had reviewed his case (probably through an internal process review). She told him: “This review has now concluded and shows that whilst the policy guidance was followed in Mr Smith’s case, 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.”
Why significant: Stephen Smith’s death highlights the continuing flaws in DWP’s safeguarding system and the cruelty of its flawed assessment processes.