Call for inquiry into benefits-related deaths

By agency reporter
March 13, 2020

A group of 21 leading charities and mental health organisations, including Mind, Liberty and the Trussell Trust are backing a campaign by Rethink Mental Illness calling for an independent inquiry into the deaths of vulnerable people who rely on support from the social security system.

The charity has also written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions expressing deep concern about the welfare of vulnerable benefits claimants, following the emergence of evidence that people are being pushed to breaking point from their experience in the welfare system.

In many of the cases which have emerged, mental health appears to be a significant factor, including the widely reported death of Errol Graham, who starved after his benefits were stopped.

A recent report by the National Audit Office showed that the Department for Work and Pensions investigated 69 instances where people receiving benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15, but suggested it is very likely that there are more cases which could have been investigated.

Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said: “The tragic cases that have come to light recently point to a system that is desperately failing the most vulnerable. In a system that is supposed to support people, something is going badly wrong if people feel pushed to breaking point. 

“The reason so many organisations are backing this campaign is that we have seen first-hand the damage that can be done when welfare policies and processes don’t treat people with the care and compassion they deserve. It is clear we need an independent inquiry to urgently learn the lessons of these avoidable deaths.”

Kelly Mustoe experienced suicidal thoughts following her experience with Universal Credit: “My claim for universal credit caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety. I was made to feel so small and humiliated. It exacerbated my Borderline Personality Disorder and caused me to have severe mood swings. There have been times during the whole process where it’s been so bad that I had suicidal thoughts. I firmly believe that the system needs to change so that no one else goes through what I experienced.”

The joint statement reads:

As organisations that work with people who need support from the benefit system, we are deeply concerned that some of the policies and processes of the Department for Work and Pensions appear linked to avoidable deaths. 

The National Audit Office reports that the Department has internally investigated 69 cases where people claiming benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15. It was also clear that is ‘highly unlikely’ that these represent the total number of cases that could have investigated in the past six years, and that there is ‘no tracking or monitoring’ of the status of the recommendations that have been made following the investigations that have taken place.

We are therefore calling on the Government to establish an independent inquiry into those deaths where it appears that the welfare benefits system may have been a significant factor, with a remit to recommend changes to policy as well as internal DWP processes where needed.

The clock is ticking. In November, the Government plans to begin a ‘managed migration’ of people from the current sickness benefit – Employment and Support Allowance – to Universal Credit.  It is vital that we properly understand the circumstances of these deaths before embarking on this change.

Signatories:

AdviceUK , AvdoCard, Centre for Mental Health, Child Poverty Action Group, Disability Rights UK, Hafal, INQUEST, Liberty, Mental Health Foundation, Macmillan, Mind, MS Society, National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society, New Savoy Partnership, Rethink Mental Illness, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Support in Mind Scotland, The Trussell Trust, UCKP, Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust) 

* The statement is accompanied by the launch of a public petition which can be signed here

* Rethink Mental Illness https://www.rethink.org/

[Ekk/6]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.