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EHRC has failed families over benefit deaths say bereaved relatives

03 May 2022

Three Disabled women who lost relatives because of the actions of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have accused the equality watchdog of failing them and countless other families.

They spoke out after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) refused to follow through on plans for an inquiry into multiple deaths linked to the DWP’s failings.

The Commission has instead announced plans for a voluntary agreement with the DWP that will commit the department to follow an action plan aimed at “resolving issues for DWP customers”.

The details of the so-called section 23 agreement are not likely to be released until the summer but will require the DWP to “improve its treatment of disabled benefit claimants” and not breach its duties under the Equality Act.

Alison Burton is the daughter-in-law of Errol Graham, who starved to death after the DWP wrongly stopped his employment and support allowance (ESA), leaving him without any income.

She said the section 23 agreement was another bit of pressure on the DWP but was “nowhere near enough”.

She said it showed the continuing issues around trusting both the DWP and EHRC, after it backed out of its promise to hold an inquiry.

She said: “They will never be able to restore public trust without that inquiry. That’s the only way [the] DWP are going to be able to wipe the slate clear and build for a better future. There will always be questions and mistrust with that department until they clear the skeletons out of the closet. The public inquiry is the only thing that will even go an inch towards restoring the damage that has been caused.”

An inquest in January 2021 uncovered 28 separate problems with the personal independence payment system that helped cause the death of Philippa Day in October 2019.

Her sister Imogen Day said that the EHRC had failed those who have been left bereaved by the DWP’s actions: “An independent inquiry is necessary to prevent further deaths and acts of serious harm. Without an inquiry it is clear that more failings will continue to be made.”

Jodey Whiting took her own life in February 2017, 15 days after she had her ESA wrongly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

Her mother Joy Dove said that EHRC’s failure to carry out an inquiry was “not good enough”.

She said: “We need an inquiry to get to the truth about the failings. Having an inquiry is the right thing to do so all the families can get some peace.”

The EHRC had originally promised to carry out an inquiry after being approached in April 2019 by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, a former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

Ms. Abrahams said that although the section 23 agreement was “a step forward” it was “just not good enough” and there needed to be “a full independent transparent inquiry looking at the scale of the deaths, the responsibility round the culture of the organisation, and the policies that contributed to it”.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer said: "It’s welcome that the EHRC is now taking action on this issue as are any positive DWP reforms that result. However, what’s still needed is a full public inquiry to fully learn from the DWP’s past failures and a new, independent process to investigate future cases of death and serious harm."

Source and for more information: Trio of disabled women say EHRC has failed them and other families over benefit deaths available from disabilitynewsservice.com.

See also our related news story EHRC imposes legally binding action plan on the DWP to improve its treatment of disabled benefit claimants.