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DR UK strongly condemns DWP refusal to publish its review relating to 69 claimant suicides

06 July 2020

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey has refused to publish the outcome of an internal review of investigation processes relating to the suicides of 69 benefit claimants.

A shocking National Audit Office (NAO) report, published in February 2020, concluded that it is highly unlikely that the 69 suicides the DWP had investigated represented the number of cases it could have investigated in the past six years as it does not have a robust record of all contact from coroners.

In correspondence published by the Work and Pensions Committee, Dr Coffey said that the review of the investigation processes mentioned in the NAO report was “internal improvement work” and so would not lead to the publication of a report:

“Progress updates will be shared with the Serious Case Panel as necessary, with the Secretary of State, and with Ministers as relevant to their portfolios. This is ongoing work and, due to COVID-19, we expect to conclude this before the end of the year.'

She also refused to commit to publish the terms of reference and recommendations from the Serious Case Panel - which was set up to consider the most serious systemic issues identified by internal process reviews and cases from the DWP's Independent Case Examiner:

“Recommendations that are made at the Panel may relate closely to development of government policy, and as the Panel is relatively new I would like to ensure the operation of the Panel is embedded in the Department before deciding on what may be published.”

Commenting on Dr Coffey's reluctance to publish the outcome of the DWP's internal review and the work of the Serious Case Panel, Work and Pensions Committee Chair Stephen Timms said:

“The welfare of people who rely on the social security system ought to be one of DWP’s highest priorities. But its failure to learn lessons from tragic cases in which people lose their lives, revealed so starkly by the National Audit Office earlier this year, suggested that the Department simply wasn’t taking this seriously enough.

He added that:

“ ...the Department seems still to be too wedded to secrecy, reluctant even to publish the terms of reference - let alone the recommendations - of a panel set up to look into its most serious failures. Without transparency, there can be little hope of the wider public - and, most importantly, the people DWP serves - having confidence that it has really learned the lessons of the past.”

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

“The DWP, by its policies and practices, has been the cause of deaths of disabled claimants. It cannot be its own judge and jury and able to police itself.

"DR UK strongly condemns the DWP’s refusal not only to publish its review of the suicide of benefit claimants but the makeup and terms of refence of its Serious Case Panel.

"Not only should full DWP documentation be published relating to benefit deaths, but disabled people should be consulted on the make-up and remit of its Serious Case Panel.

"This should be a precursor to an independent inquiry into the social security system that discriminates against disabled people and leads some to their deaths.”

For more information, see Minister questioned over safeguarding vulnerable people from parliament.uk