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Bereaved relatives call on DWP Secretary of State to launch public inquiry into benefits deaths

20 July 2021

Families who have lost loved ones in cases where the Department for Work and Pensions has been implicated in their death, have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey to demand a public inquiry into deaths and serious harm related to the benefits system.

The open letter is from the relatives of Errol Graham, Jodey Whiting, Philippa Day, Kevin Dooley, and Clive Johnson.

The bereaved relatives say:

“Your department says that cases like ours are not part of a wider problem. But your own figures show that the DWP has internally investigated 97 deaths since summer 2019 as well as 27 cases of serious harm.

How can these figures be acceptable? What will it take to overhaul the way that the system works, when so much harm has been done over so many years?

It is hard to imagine a more serious concern for a department that exists to support people, yet the full scale of the problem is still not known because official records are inadequate and the system for investigating such serious cases is shrouded in secrecy.

For as long as that remains the case, other families will continue to suffer as we have.  

We have two urgent requests for the Government. 

Firstly, we want a full public inquiry to learn the truth about what has happened so far.

Secondly, we are calling for a new independent body to be established to investigate future cases of death or serious harm in the benefits system.”

The letter has been sent as Rethink Mental Illness publishes a significant new report -Tip of the Iceberg? Deaths and Serious Harm in the Benefits System - showing that many parts of the benefits system have been linked to cases of death or serious harm, as part of its Stop Benefit Deaths campaign.

The Rethink report makes four key findings:

  • Recent data covering the last two years shows that the DWP conducted 124 Internal Process Reviews into death or serious harm. This represents an almost three-fold increase (176% rise) of IPRs compared to the period of February 2012 to July 2019.
  • There is a wide range of issues across the benefits system that have resulted in deaths, as well as causing self-harm and mental health crises.
  • Benefit deaths and serious harm reported in the media or investigated internally by the DWP may be the tip of the iceberg, with gaps in the way that cases are identified. There is also evidence linking DWP processes to widespread mental health harm including death by suicide.
  • The DWP’s current process for investigating cases of death or serious harm are not independent. They lack external oversight and it is unclear whether they have recommended, far less delivered, systemic policy or culture change within the DWP.

To help uncover the true scale of the problem, Rethink Mental Illness has also launched a call for evidence from members of the public who have been affected. 

Anyone who has been affected by a death or serious harm related to the benefit system – either directly or to a loved one – can share their story in confidence here.

Tip of the Iceberg? Deaths and Serious Harm in the Benefits System is available from rethink.org.

The open letter to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is also available from rethink.org.

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