Some 5,000 ill and disabled benefit claimants have died before being repaid thousands of pounds owed to them due to a government error.
Had they received the money, it could have helped them to live more independent and less stressful lives.
The error in payment of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) goes back nearly a decade. Thousands of claimants were awarded too little ESA after being moved onto the benefit from older benefits.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials had failed to properly check what claimants were entitled to.
The DWP has spent years looking into 600,000 cases where people may have lost out. It originally estimated that around 70,000 claimants had been underpaid around £340 million between 2011 and 2014.
So far, around 122,000 people have been repaid £5,000 on average because of the error. But they had to wait years for what they were owed. And the figure includes the 5,000 who have died, who have lost out on an average of £3,000 each.
The statistics could get worse.
As part of the investigation, the DWP is looking into 50,000 cases where claimants have died. As of 12 January, it had completed reassessment of 44,000.
Disability Rights UK researcher Evan Odell said the news was “scandalous”.
“To make matters worse, the problems with the system are still present,” he added. “ESA is not fit for purpose.”
Meanwhile, an estimated 2,000 terminally ill people have died without getting any financial support due to the chaos of Universal Credit (UC). That’s according to the Marie Curie and Motor Neurone Disease Association charities.
A rule classes terminal illness as when someone’s death is “reasonably expected within six months”. Those expected to live beyond half a year can’t get their benefit applications fast tracked. And they’ve been forced to attend assessments to see if they are “fit for work”.
Fury at the rule forced the DWP to pledge a review of its policies on terminally ill people and benefits six months ago. The review is still ongoing.
Jo Lynton is one of those who spent months trying to help her husband Mark, who died from motor neurone disease, claim benefits.
She told Birmingham Live, “Claiming benefits was horrendous. We were entitled to claim income support of £50 a week and council tax benefits. I couldn’t get either of those because I couldn’t get anybody from Universal Credit to answer the phone.
“We were on hold for 50-60 minutes and I couldn’t be on hold for 50 or 60 minutes because my husband could choke on his own saliva. What was I supposed to do? Tell him to choke quietly?”
She added, “I would just sit and cry because there was nothing I could do. We needed the support and we just couldn’t get it. It was very frustrating, very upsetting.”
Tory attacks on benefits are snatching scraps of money from the most vulnerable people and making their lives more miserable. They are one more reason to build resistance to Boris Johnson and his barbaric regime.