A government ministry responsible for disability benefits has just proved it really is unfit for purpose. This time, though, it is not the policymakers – this time it is the civil servants.
Unbelievably, seven months after being informed that a disabled person had died, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sent a doctor to assess her fitness to work. This was in relation to her pre-existing claim for Employment and Support Allowance.
News of the incident, including the reaction of the deceased’s daughter, was revealed in The Sun, a UK national newspaper. Journalist Andrew Parker wrote:
A FURIOUS daughter handed a benefits doctor proof her mum was not fit to work — her ashes.
Hatti Broxton, 28, told the Department for Work and Pensions last August her dinner lady mum Louise had died of lung cancer aged 47.
Hatti Broxton gave the Department for Work and Pensions concrete proof her mum Louise was unable to work – her ashes.
After initially saying the information had been placed on file they sent the doctor to assess if Louise was “fit to work”.
Fuming prison worker Hatti, of Wolverhampton, said last night: “His first words were ‘Hi, are you Louise?’
“I was stunned and said I wasn’t but invited him in and said: ‘Hang on a minute I’ll go and get her’.
“I walked over to the mantlepiece in the lounge where we keep mum’s remains in an urn decorated with a rose.”
The benefits doctor was forced to apologise after Hatti went to fetch her mum on his request and returned with an urn holding her ashes.
Ashes surprise for doc
“I handed it to him and said ‘This is the Louise Broxton you’ve come to see. She died in August like I told your office at the time.’
“The doctor’s face was a picture and he just said ‘Oh my God’ and apologised profusely. “I know it wasn’t his fault but I told him I had gone through all the correct channels to report my mother’s passing and his visit was very upsetting.
“He admitted he hadn’t even been through mum’s medical records which would have said quite clearly at the end – deceased.
“Ten minutes after the doctor left I got a frantic call from the DWP office to say they had made a mistake and they wanted to hold their hands up and sincerely apologise.”
She added ‘I’d love to live in the world that the DWP live in – the one where my mum’s still alive. “But she’s been gone for seven months and something like this doesn’t make our loss any easier.”
The DWP has apologised to Hatti and is investigating the blunder.
Of course, this sad tale won’t come as a surprise to anyone involved with the UK’s disability and welfare crisis.
We know that government policies are cruel, and fail people with disabilities. What this case emphasises is that there are more things wrong than just the policies. This may be a one-off mistake but it does point to inefficiency, insensitivity, and sheer carelessness.
We are all human, we all make mistakes, but this error was inexcusable.
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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.
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