A leading disability charity has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions urging her to instigate an independent inquiry into benefit related claimant deaths.
It follows a BBC investigation that revealed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out 150 internal reviews into harm caused to benefit claimants since 2012.
The investigation also revealed that 82 claimants have sadly died after some alleged DWP activity, such as termination of benefit payments, and that mental health vulnerabilities were a contributing factor in 35 of those people’s deaths.
Three families of Disabled people who have died – Philippa Day, Errol Graham and Jodey Whiting – are hoping to take the DWP to court in separate cases within weeks.
In a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary, Therese Coffey MP (pictured below), Disability Rights UK make the following calls:
The DWP should have a statutory duty of care
DRUK said in the letter: “In October 2020 we wrote to you (copy enclosed) to express concern at your expressed view that DWP has no statutory responsibility for safeguarding vulnerable claimants. We did not receive a reply to this letter.
“Your evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, that the statutory safeguarding responsibility to vulnerable claimants falls to councils, social services, doctors and others but not the DWP, was deeply shocking.
“We submitted to you that whether or not the DWP has a statutory responsibility, it is right that all public servants have a duty of care in relation to safeguarding vulnerable customers.
“We believe the DWP should have a statutory duty to safeguard vulnerable claimants and asked that you confirm if you will consider making this legal change.
“We would ask that you reply to us on this point now.”
Make public “internal process reviews” into benefit claimants deaths
DRUK said: “Since 2015, the DWP has held around 100 “internal process reviews” with respect to the deaths of benefit claimants and other serious incidents.
“However, these reviews are not routinely published and bereaved families are not routinely informed when they begin.
“We would ask that in the name of transparency that you agree in future that the findings of all such reviews are publicly published.”
Launch an independent inquiry
DRUK said: “At DWP meetings we have attended to discuss the awaited Health and Disability Green Paper the Department has acknowledged that there is a significant lack of trust by claimants in its role and activities.
“This is particularly true of Disabled claimants who suffer fear and anxiety due to the medical assessments for benefits.
“Given the deaths of Disabled claimants we have highlighted vulnerable over recent years there is genuine concern as to the DWP’s safeguarding policies and procedures.
“We submit that the Department should recognise the need for it to be open and transparent on this issue.
“In addition, we submit that you agree to instigate an independent inquiry investigating why these deaths are happening and ensure the Department make necessary changes so that they no longer occur.”