Leading charities and mental health organisations, including Disability Rights UK, Mind, Liberty and the Trussell Trust are backing a campaign by Rethink Mental Illness calling for an independent inquiry into the deaths of vulnerable people who rely on support from the welfare system.
Rethink Mental Illness has also written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions expressing deep concern about the welfare of vulnerable benefits claimants, following the emergence of evidence that people are being pushed to breaking point from their experience in the welfare system.
In many of the cases which have emerged mental health appears to be a significant factor, including in the widely reported death of Errol Graham, who starved after his benefits were stopped.
A recent report by the National Audit Office showed that the Department for Work and Pensions investigated 69 instances where people receiving benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15, but suggested it is very likely that there are more cases that could have been investigated.
The statement, co-signed by a wide range of charities and mental health organisations, is accompanied by the launch of a public petition.
The joint statement reads:
“As organisations that work with people who need support from the benefit system, we are deeply concerned that some of the policies and processes of the Department for Work and Pensions appear linked to avoidable deaths.
“The National Audit Office reports that the Department has internally investigated 69 cases where people claiming benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15.
It was also clear that is ‘highly unlikely’ that these represent the total number of cases that could have investigated in the past six years, and that there is ‘no tracking or monitoring’ of the status of the recommendations that have been made following the investigations that have taken place.
“We are therefore calling on the Government to establish an independent inquiry into those deaths where it appears that the welfare benefits system may have been a significant factor, with a remit to recommend changes to policy as well as internal DWP processes where needed.
“The clock is ticking. In November, the Government plans to begin a ‘managed migration’ of people from the current sickness benefit—Employment and Support Allowance—to Universal Credit. It is vital that we properly understand the circumstances of these deaths before embarking on this change.”
The joint statement is signed by:
- Centre for Mental Health
- Child Poverty Action Group
- Disability Rights UK
- Mental Health Foundation
- MS Society
- National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society
- New Savoy Partnership
- Rethink Mental Illness
- Royal College of Psychiatrists
- Support in Mind Scotland
- The Trussell Trust
- Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust)
You can sign the Stop Benefit Deaths petition at campaigns.rethink.org.