Secret reviews into DWP deaths have more than doubled in three years

Wed,20 July 2022
News Benefits

New figures show how the number of secret reviews into deaths of benefit claimants that have been linked to the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has more than doubled over the last three years, the Disability News Service (DNS) reports.

They show how the DWP started 43 internal process reviews (IPRs) into deaths between July 2019 and June 2020, 59 from July 2020 to June 2021, and 38 in the last year, a total of 140 in three years.

A previous freedom of information request by DNS shows this compares with 17 reviews carried out in 2016, 29 in 2017 and 18 in 2018, a total of only 64.

The DWP has suggested that the rise was because it had “broadened the range of circumstances where a review is carried out”, but it has so far declined to say when it made this change, or exactly what changes were made to its guidance.

The IPR figures were released following the publication of new research which shows how decades of welfare reform and DWP failings are linked to hundreds – and probably thousands – of suicides and other deaths of disabled people.

The draft version of the Deaths by Welfare timeline exposes how DWP was alerted more than 40 times over the past 30 years to life-threatening systemic flaws in its disability benefits systems, by academics, coroners and its own researchers.

IPRs are not released publicly, and grieving families are not even told that they are taking place.

The DWP had previously been forced by a tribunal to release the recommendations made by IPRs, but Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey is now preventing the release of even that limited information.

Previous redacted IPRs released under the Freedom of Information Act have shown how DWP staff had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants disclosed suicidal thoughts, following reviews into the suicides of as many as six claimants.

Dr China Mills, who is leading the Deaths by Welfare project, said: “Given that the recommendations suggested by IPRs could likely prevent future deaths, we need transparency and accountability, where instead the DWP maintains secrecy.”

She added: “Given mounting evidence of harm, evident in the Deaths by Welfare timeline, IPRs likely represent only a small proportion of the number of deaths linked to welfare reform, even though the number of reviews has risen so sharply in the last few years.

“And IPRs are just one part of a much longer history, documented in the Deaths by Welfare timeline, of the DWP ignoring evidence of harm and withholding evidence of deaths (for example failing to share evidence of deaths linked to the work capability assessment, during the independent reviews of the WCA), all the while demonising people who claim benefit.”

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