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Cross Party MPs call for public inquiry into benefit related deaths

14 October 2022

The Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have backed the calls of bereaved families, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, Child Poverty Action Group, and DR UK and other organisations for an urgent public inquiry into deaths and serious harm linked to failings of the benefits system.

A cross party group of MPs, who represent their parties on Work and Pensions, have written to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Chloe Smith MP, warning “problems with the design and operation of the system can hurt those who it is supposed to help”, such as disabled people including those living with mental illness.

The MPs also highlight that, amid a cost of living crisis placing huge financial strain on households, it is now more important than ever that the benefits system is “safe and supportive”.

In their joint letter, the MPs say: “It is vital that when people are seriously harmed - or tragically lose their lives - lessons are learnt in a transparent, timely and accountable way.

“Yet, despite an almost three-fold increase in the number of Internal Process Reviews being conducted by the department into death or serious harm in recent years (to 179 in the last three years), we believe that many cases are being missed.

“Far more people experience mental health crisis, self-harm or suicide attempts than die by suicide, so it is concerning that there just 21% of the cases investigated over the last three years related to serious harm, rather than deaths.  We find it hard to believe that only one serious harm case per month merits investigation.

“A public inquiry is vital to learn the lessons from death and serious harm linked to the social security system and stop further harm. The need for a public inquiry has been repeatedly raised in parliament and has the backing of bereaved families, alongside a range of charities and campaigners.

“There is also an urgent need to reform how cases of death and serious harm are investigated. Ultimately, we believe there should be an independent process but in the interim, we urge you to take on the recommendations made by Rethink Mental Illness for changes such as publishing annual reports on the number of internal process reviews conducted and lessons learned, establishing a simple process by which incidents can be reported and providing a clearer definition ofwhat constitutes ‘serious harm”.

Families coping with the loss of a loved one asked for a meeting with the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey in July 2021, but requests were consistently met with silence. The MPs call in their letter for the new Secretary of State to meet the bereaved families.

Labour too has recognised the devastating impact of DWP failures, with the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Jonathan Ashworth expected to meet soon with the bereaved families who have been campaigning for change.

Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP and former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, has also led parliamentary calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP, including by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The DWP has been implicated in a series of deaths and cases where people have been seriously harmed. This includes Kevin Dooley, who took his own life after he was deemed ‘fit to work’ despite his significant physical health problems, depression and anxiety.

Kevin’s daughter Leanne said: “I tried to convince my Dad that his benefits wouldn’t be stopped and everything would be okay, because I thought there was no chance a man that ill would be forced to work. But then the DWP did the unthinkable, and my Dad couldn’t cope.

“The benefits system deals with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, yet they can be so harsh and uncaring to the point of being cruel. Despite all this, DWP ministers don’t have the decency to meet families like mine face-to-face.

“Their continued refusal to learn lessons is an insult. A public inquiry won’t bring Dad back, but it will help make sure other disabled people and their families don’t have to suffer such painful hardship and loss.”

The full letter from MPs calling for a public inquiry into death and serious harm linked to the benefits system is available from rethink.org.

Source: Opposition parties join growing call for public inquiry into harms of benefits system available from rethink.org.

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