Roy Curtis: Autistic man killed himself six days after latest ‘fitness for work’ demand

Mon,7 December 2020

An inquest has heard that a disabled man took his own life six days after being told to attend a “fitness for work” assessment, despite the DWP being repeatedly warned its actions had made him suicidal, Disability News Service (DNS) reports.

The death of 27-year-old Roy Curtis, who died on or about 18 November 2018, is just the latest over the last decade to expose DWP’s failure to protect disabled benefit claimants from harm.

The DWP actions that contributed to his suicide particularly mirror those that led to the death of Errol Graham, who starved to death earlier the same year after his benefits had been removed.

Just as with Errol Graham, the body of Roy Curtis – who was autistic and had significant experience of mental distress – was only discovered when a bailiff arrived to evict him from his flat, months after his benefits had been removed.

Mr. Curtis’s body was not discovered until seven months after his ESA and other linked benefits had been stopped and nine months after he died.

Both Roy Curtis and Errol Graham had their benefits stopped after failing to attend a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA), and without DWP speaking to them before ending their claim.

And both men had spent time as inpatients in mental health units, information which had been passed to DWP.

In another echo of Mr. Graham’s death, DWP stopped Mr. Curtis’s ESA in January 2019 after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face WCA.

On both occasions, the DWP officer noticed that letters alerting Mr Curtis to the visits were still in the mailbox along with other post, according to a safeguarding adults review into his death that was published by the Milton Keynes Together Partnership last week.

His housing association and the local social services department also attempted to contact Mr. Curtis but they and DWP did not communicate with each other.

The inquest heard that DWP and its contractors had been told repeatedly of the harm that the “fitness for work” process caused to Mr. Curtis’s mental health.

The coroner Tom Osborne also criticised Milton Keynes Council that waited more than two months to begin an “urgent” assessment of Mr. Curtis’s support needs who had taken his own life by the time the council eventually attempted to contact him.

He told the Council that it needed to make urgent changes to its social services department to ensure that no further lives were lost.

Mr Osbourne was also critical of other public bodies, and the failure of those organisations to work together to plan his care before he was discharged from an inpatient mental health unit in October 2018.

The inquest heard repeated evidence over two days of how several agencies had failed Mr. Curtis in the weeks and months leading to his suicide, including the council and the DWP.

Disability News Service reported in July how DWP had made changes that appear to have been influenced by the publicity in January and February this year surrounding Errol Graham’s death.

This appears to be confirmed by the safeguarding review, which says it was told:

“Where DWP is unable to make contact with an individual after two ineffective safeguarding visits, additional checks will be put in place.

The claim will not be automatically closed but escalated to a senior safeguarding lead who will liaise with the NHS, police and adult social care.

Under the new guidance, ending benefit entitlement will become the last resort.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

“The tragic suicide of Roy Curtis further highlights the need for radical reform of the work capability assessment and the need for the end of the benefit sanctions regime.

Disabled people should not fear destitution by refusing to enter work that they know they are not physically or mentally capable of undertaking.

The suicide of Mr. Curtis also bring to mind the shameful comments of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions who recently held that the DWP has no legal duty to safeguard the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants.

Even if that is correct, surely the best means of protecting vulnerable people is to adopt safeguarding measures on the basis that it does have such a legal duty.”

For more information on the background to the suicide of Mr Curtis and other benefit related deaths see the following DNS news stories: