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"Sharp rise" in DWP benefit death reviews "deeply concerning"

14 July 2021

New figures show that the number of DWP internal reviews held when a person claiming benefits dies or comes to serious harm has sharply risen in the past two years.

The DWP holds reviews when it is alleged its actions had a negative impact, or when named at an inquest.

The DWP has begun 124 reviews since July 2019.

97 of those concerned people who have died.

It follows a BBC investigation into the scale of deaths earlier this year, which found at least 144 internal reviews were carried out between 2012 and 2019.

The latest figures were revealed in response to a Parliamentary question from Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Jonathan Reynolds MP.

Describing the "sharp rise" as "deeply concerning", he called for an independent investigation.:

"The investigation should examine the impact assessment process has on people's mental health and what must be done to prevent future deaths," he said.

Alex Kennedy, from the charity, Rethink Mental Illness, also called for change:

"In any other public service, the tragic deaths of 97 people in the last two years would have triggered an urgent public investigation to seek answers and prevent more people coming to avoidable harm," he said.

But the current process is shrouded in secrecy, with little to no public accountability.

For there to be confidence in the benefits system we need to see concrete evidence that the DWP is learning from these heart-breaking cases and implementing change."

Dr Thérèse Coffey MP, Secretary of State at the DWP ruled out an independent inquiry while being questioned at the Work and Pensions Committee on 7 July, saying:

"I don't feel the need that we need to undertake that."

Previous figures revealed by the BBC showed at least 144 internal reviews had been held over a period of more than seven years between February 2012 and July 2019.

The internal reviews were not routinely published and bereaved families were not routinely informed when they began.

So separately, the BBC Shared Data Unit compiled a dataset of press reports naming 82 individuals to have died, over the same time period as the internal reviews. Mental health vulnerabilities were a contributing factor in 35 of those people's deaths.

Since 2010, the DWP has been sent five reports by coroners to try to prevent future deaths.

The most recent report was sent to the DWP and private contractor Capita in February.

It followed the inquest for Philippa Day, who had been diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder and was found collapsed at her Nottingham home beside a letter rejecting her request for an at-home benefits assessment in August 2019.

Ms Day's family have since begun a legal claim against the DWP and Capita including a claim under the Human Rights Act for violation of the right to life over their handling of the case.

Weeks before the latest committee hearing, the DWP was also criticised by a judge for making a late request to join a High Court hearing to establish if Jodey Whiting, who took her own life after her benefits were stopped, should have a second inquest to consider the DWP's role in her 2017 death.

The court was told Ms Whiting's suicide was "a direct result" of having her benefits cut. The full judgement is expected to be delivered within weeks.

DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said: “These new figures are deeply shocking. The number of DWP internal reviews carried out over the last two years is nearly as high as that in the previous five. That the number of benefit claimant deaths over the last two years numbers 97 is a national scandal.

Even the DWP itself acknowledges the lack of trust claimants have in the Department. The need for an independent inquiry to stop further claimant deaths is ever more pressing.”

Source and for more information: DWP sees 'sharp rise' in benefit death reviews available from bbc.co.uk

See also our related news story DR UK urges Secretary of State to launch independent inquiry into benefit related claimant deaths.