Downing Street’s adviser on modern work has described the death of diabetic DPD delivery driver Don Lane as “shocking” as Marks & Spencer said it would be seeking answers from the parcel company over his treatment.
Matthew Taylor said the government must urgently address poor quality work in Britain after the Guardian revealed how the 53-year-old father of one collapsed and died from diabetes after being fined £150 by the courier company for attending a hospital appointment to treat his disease. Lane also missed three other hospital appointments to treat kidney damage, partly because he was afraid of being fined. He collapsed at the wheel of his van while on deliveries a few months before dying in January.
After the Guardian revealed the story there were signs of a consumer backlash, with shoppers telling DPD and M&S that they would consider stopping using them because of Lane’s treatment.
One DPD customer wrote on the firm’s online feedback form: “How about giving them some sick leave. Shocked by reports in the paper. Would think twice about using DPD if that’s how you treat people”.
An M&S customer posted on Twitter: “In future when I order online, especially with M&S, if the delivery company is DPD I shall cancel the order and order with a company which doesn’t use DPD”
A spokesman for M&S, one of the courier firm’s biggest clients, said it was “very sad” about Lane’s death and promised: “The circumstances will be raised as part of our ongoing discussions with courier providers.”
Lane worked as a self-employed courier for DPD delivering parcels in Dorset on behalf of M&S, John Lewis and Amazon. The company made over £100m in profit last year, the equivalent of £20,000 per courier, but does not provide sick pay or paid holiday. After the Guardian revealed the circumstances of his death, it apologised for fining Lane in July, but denied that when he first collapsed seven months earlier that he was threatened with £150 charges.
His death has increased the political pressure for reform of work practices at the bottom of the UK’s labour market. Downing Street is on Wednesday expected to finally announce its response to employment reforms proposed by Taylor last July but the backdrop is now a chorus of anger from gig economy workers, consumers, trade unions and MPs united in opposition at how Lane was treated.
Labour’s shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, described his case as “heartbreaking”.
“Bad conditions, bogus self-employment and the non-enforcement of rights have become all too common in Tory Britain and this case shows just how broken the system is,” said Long-Bailey. “The government must now publish its long overdue response to the Taylor review and finally take action to tackle the Dickensian conditions too often faced by delivery drivers.”
Frances O’Grady, the secretary general of the TUC, said it was “a tragedy”. She that May’s response would be “an acid test” of the government’s commitment to ”creating a Britain that works for all”.
“This demonstrates in the starkest terms how many self-employed people don’t have access to basic entitlements like sickness pay,” said Taylor, who was recruited by May to propose reforms to modern working practices shortly after she entered Downing Street.
“It is so important that the government and the courts ensure self-employment is not bogus. Genuine self-employment provides benefits which compensate for the fact that you don’t have sick pay or consultation rights. The problem with the model that Don Lane was working under is that it looks as though you get very little of those upsides. His experience shows we urgently need to address poor quality work, particularly at the bottom of the labour market.”
In Scotland, more than 100 couriers for DPD have joined the GMB trade union and in December withdrew their labour for a day in protest at unilateral changes to their contracts and against the £150 fines.
“It is a shocking story,” said Cal Waterson, a regional GMB organiser. “There has been a strong backlash. We have a member in Scotland who had his licence removed by the DVLA because he didn’t attend his appointments to control his diabetes. He missed the appointments because he couldn’t get time off work.”
There was also widespread solidarity with Lane and his widow Ruth from other DPD depots.
“£150 is a lot of money for most people so people put their health second in order to provide for their family,” said a DPD courier in Peterborough who asked not to be named for fear of losing his round. “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it and Theresa May could do something about this but she seems to have no interest in looking after us. Society is getting more and more selfish.”
When first contacted for comment over Lane’s death DPD said it was shocked and saddened by his death and added that the firm did not know he had previously fallen into a diabetic coma or that he had vomited blood before his death. The firm said Lane had a quiet rural route that was convenient for his hospital appointments.
DPD did not reply for further request for comment.