DWP puts reporter on blacklist over the way he reports the impact of welfare reforms

Disabled journalist John Pring, who uncovered the first suicide case directly linked to the UK Government’s welfare cuts this week, has been blacklisted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over his in-depth investigations.

The editor of Disability News Service (DNS), launched in April 2009 to probe issues that affect the lives of disabled people, says the DWP has stopped answering any of his questions.

The news service focuses on issues such as discrimination, equality, independent living, benefits, poverty and human rights, but also covers arts, culture and sport.

The DWP is refusing to answer any questions from journalist John Pring or his news organisation
The DWP is refusing to answer any questions from journalist John Pring or his news organisation

Pring worked for months gathering evidence to back up his story that, for the first time, a coroner had blamed the death of mentally disabled Michael O’Sullivan on his recent work capability assessments.

He managed to get hands on coroner Mary Hassell’s determination into his suicide, her Prevention of Future Deaths report sent to the DWP calling for action to be taken, as well as the DWP’s response.

Hassell found that the “trigger” for the suicide was “his recent assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work”.

The coroner’s verdict stated: “The anxiety and depression were long-term problems, but the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the DWP as being fit for work, and his view of the likely consequences of that.”

Scottish disability rights campaigners at the Black Triangle, who hope Pring’s revelations will be a turning point in the fight against the welfare cuts, said numerous disability groups rely on the Disability News Service to keep them informed and by refusing to communicate with Pring, the DWP was refusing to communicate with millions of disabled people.

Campaign manager John McArdle said: “John Pring has done more than any other journalist to expose the scandal of these deaths and hold the DWP to account.

“The actions of the DWP are counter to transparent government and freedom of the press, upon which a functioning democracy rely. We consider the actions of the DWP to be highly offensive and discriminatory.”

The DWP’s press office ceased to deal with DNS and says it will no longer respond to it as a bona fide news organisation.

When Pring asked for a comment on the news that the Information Commissioner in England was to probe the DWP’s refusal to publish details of internal reviews of benefit-related deaths, a civil servant told him he would not get one.

photo credit: Knox O (Wasi Daniju) via photopin ccphoto credit: Knox O (Wasi Daniju) via photopin cc

Their refusal to communicate with him appears to have been triggered by stories published by DNS that left out comments from the Government. Pring says this is because press officers missed deadlines, the DWP says he should publish corrections.

Pring has relentlessly highlighted problems with Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit programme and revealed that the DWP had secretly investigated more than 60 deaths of benefit claimants since 2012, without publishing the findings or the more than 30 resulting recommendations for change.

The DNS has also embarrassed disability minister Mark Harper, running stories about the lack of wheelchair access at some disability assessment centres, as well as at his own constituency office, as Harper was presenting awards for accessibility.

A DWP spokesman said: “The DWP Press Office always sought to provide full answers to all enquiries from the Disability News Service within a timely fashion. Unfortunately, earlier this year there were a number of instances when, having asked the department for information, DNS has refused to reflect in its articles the answers provided.

385294_195107567306966_1850351962_n“In light of this, the editor of DNS has been advised that, if his organisation wishes to be treated as a bona fide news organisation by the DWP, then there is an expectation upon it that it acts in the manner of one.

“The DWP is the Government’s largest public service department, with more than 22 million claimants and customers. The DWP’s Press Office is one of the Government’s busiest, handling hundreds of enquiries every week from local, regional, national and international press, broadcast and online media.”

Originally published: Janice Burns (The National)

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