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DWP’s PIP assessment “torture” helped cause my son’s suicide, says disabled Mum

06 July 2021

A young disabled man took his own life, just weeks after the DWP slashed his benefits, despite being warned he was severely depressed, malnourished, could not face leaving his flat, and had made several suicide attempts, the Disability News Service (DNS) reports.

In a January 2019 letter, the DWP were told by his parents that Ker Featherstone had barely left his flat in two years, that he would often pass out when he stood up because of malnutrition, and even that his teeth had started to crumble.

It was also told that his anxiety and depression were so severe that he could not cope with visits from his own brothers and sisters, and that he had not washed in nearly 18 months.

Despite this, and the evidence from his previous benefit assessments, the DWP forced Ker to undergo a PIP face-to-face assessment in April 2019, carried out by a healthcare professional from outsourcing company Atos.

The subsequent assessor’s report, which the family have never seen, led to DWP cutting his PIP payments by about £90 a week.

The decision to reduce his daily living PIP payment from enhanced to standard, and to remove his mobility payment completely – even though he had been found eligible to be in the support group for out-of-work disability benefits – had left him “distraught”, said his mother.

Ker agreed to ask DWP to carry out a mandatory reconsideration of its decision, but when he was told that he might have to appeal the decision to a tribunal, he said: “Mum, I can’t do it. I can’t face that.”

Just two weeks after the PIP decision, his parents discovered that Ker had been self-harming and had large, severely infected ulcers on his arms, chest and back.

With his mental health continuing to deteriorate, he agreed to be admitted voluntarily to a mental health ward at Salford Royal Hospital.

Nine days later, he was discharged and returned home. He took his own life the next day, on 29 June 2019. He was 21 years old.

His disabled mother Helen wrote to the DWP saying:

“How many more lives have to end before this government stops the torture of vulnerable individuals, punishing them for being unwell?

I have no doubt whatsoever that Ker’s mental health and wellbeing suffered as a direct result of that visit from the healthcare assessor and the subsequent DWP decision.

I have no doubt that this was a contributory factor in my son’s death.”

A DWP Complaints Resolution Manager replied and said “it is not open to me to comment on or interfere with decisions or the evidence that is used to make them.”

Just a few days later, DWP reversed its decision to cut Ker’s PIP payments, with an adviser telling his mother: “If we had known and realised how vulnerable he was, we would have been more careful.”

In January 2020, Helen’s statement to the inquest into her son’s death spoke of the impact of DWP’s actions on her son, but the coroner made no comment about those concerns, before ruling that Ker had taken his own life.

A DWP spokesperson has refused to tell the DNS:

  • if the department would apologise to the family;
  • if the department finally accepted that there were systemic problems with the disability benefits assessment system;
  • if DWP accepted it needed to do more to safeguard claimants who are seen as vulnerable;
  • if it accepted that the cases of people like Ker showed DWP was not fit for purpose.
  • what safeguarding measures were taken in Ker’s case; and
  • whether the department had carried out an internal process review into his death (as it should in all cases in which DWP is informed of the suicide of a benefit claimant).

Helen said this week that she believed there was a “systemic” problem within DWP – despite DWP’s claims to the contrary in the High Court – and that the Department and its assessment system needed dramatic reform.

She said she was inspired to speak out by the campaigning of Joy Dove, who she met through the Justice for Jodey Facebook page, and who recently was in the High Court   to seek a second inquest into her daughter’s death.

Helen said she had reached the conclusion that DWP “just don’t care about people” and treat claimants “like numbers”’.

She added:

“I want them to review how they assess people and to start treating people as human beings so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to other families in the future.”

Source and for further information see DWP’s ‘excruciating PIP assessment torture’ helped cause my son’s suicide, says disabled mum available from disabilitynewsservice.com.

See also our related news story 82 benefit claimants have died after some alleged DWP activity such as termination of benefits, BBC finds.