Equalities watchdog investigating DWP over treatment of disabled people on benefits

Equalities watchdog investigating DWP over treatment of disabled people on benefits

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is investigating the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over suspicions it broke the law in its treatment of disabled benefits claimants.

Announcing the probe as “the strongest possible action” it could take, the EHRC said it was looking into whether the department breached equalities law by failing to make reasonable adjustments for people with learning disabilities or long-term mental health conditions when carrying out assessments.

The watchdog is also examining whether the DWP failed to prevent discrimination and consider its equality commitments during its daily operations – something required under public sector rules.

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The EHRC began looking at the department after a report by MPs in 2021 recommended a probe into the deaths of vulnerable claimants over the previous decade, including by suicide.

And while the organisation’s initial plan had been for the DWP to sign a legally binding agreement to address its concerns, it has now upped the stakes to a formal investigation.

EHRC chairwoman Baroness Kishwer Falkner said her organisation was “extremely worried about the treatment of some disabled benefits claimants by the DWP”, adding: “We suspect the secretary of state’s department may have broken equality law.

“We have decided we need to take the strongest possible action and that’s why we’ve launched this investigation.”

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The peer said the DWP was responsible for “vital support which many disabled people rely on”, so access to it “must be fair and must meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010”.

And she warned that if the department had breached the law, the watchdog would “use our unique legal powers to hold them to account”.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “The government is committed to improving the lives of disabled people and our recent Disability Action Plan sets out 32 actions we are taking to make the UK the most accessible country in the world for disabled people to live, work and thrive.

“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.”