Labour Minister calls for probe into DWP claimant deaths

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Labour Minister calls for probe into DWP claimant deaths

Postby highlyflammable » Wed May 18, 2016 10:51 am

Labour minister calls for independent probe into benefit claimant deaths after DWP publishes reviews

A Labour minister has called for an independent body to be set up after the government was ordered to publish secret internal inquiries into the deaths of social security claimants.

The call comes after the Department for Work and Pensions was forced to publish the heavily redacted files of internal inquiries – referred to as “peer reviews” by the DWP – into the deaths of 49 people claiming benefits. They were published after a two-year Freedom of Information battle between the DWP and Disability News Service.

The reports are undertaken by the government when a benefit claimant’s death appears to be “associated with DWP activity”. There is no suggestion that the DWP is responsible for the deaths.

DWP 'repeatedly warned of failures to protect vulnerable people'

However, the redacted files highlight a number of concerns that vulnerable people – including those with mental health issues – were not being sufficiently supported by the department or adequately protected from sudden benefit cuts.

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow Disabilities Minister, told The Independent that an independent body should be set up to investigate the deaths of vulnerable benefit claimants. She said: “It’s shocking that the Tories had to be compelled in to publishing the peer reviews of social security claimants who have died and that it took so long in coming.

"Although these peer reviews are heavily redacted so that individuals can’t be identified, our initial analysis suggests that the most vulnerable claimants weren’t given appropriate care and support, reflecting an over-stretched workforce driven by a top-down culture focused on targets. The Government’s priority has been to get claimants ‘off-flow’ with too little regard of the consequences.

She added: "We need to know from Stephen Crabb what action has been taken following these peer review recommendations. It has been reported that 10 deaths were associated with sanctions and 40 were suicides, and these details must be confirmed by the government.

“It is clear why the government refused to accept the recommendations from the Select Committee report for an independent inquiry into sanctions and to establish an independent body to review the deaths of social security claimants. They were too worried about the facts it would uncover.”

An independent body to investigate the deaths of claimants was originally called for by the Work and Pensions Select Committee in March 2015. It recommended that the body – similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission – would investigate instances where failures of the DWP may have contributed to the death of a claimant.

Reviews could be conducted at the request of a relative, or automatically where no living relative remains. The independent body recommendation, however, was rejected by the coalition government.

Ms Abrahams claimed that a further 9 deaths have been ‘peer reviewed’ since 2014 – beyond the remit of the Freedom of Information request.

A report into one of the deaths outlined in the redacted files states: “We need to ask whether or not in the context of fast-moving environment of high [claimant re-assessment] volumes and anticipated levels of performance, the current process requires, encourages and supports… colleagues to independently and systematically consider claimant vulnerability.”

Another says: “This case may highlight a dislocation between policy intent and what actually happens to claimants who are vulnerable.”

In response to concerns highlighted in the ‘peer review’ reports, a spokesperson for the DWP told The Independent: ‪"Peer reviews help staff to continually improve how they deal with some of the most complex and challenging cases, and represent a very small percentage of the benefit claims DWP handles.

“We provide guidance to staff on how best to support vulnerable claimants. Any suicide is a tragedy and the reasons for them are complex, however it would be inaccurate and misleading to link it solely to a person’s benefit claim.

“We spend around £80bn a year on working age benefits to provide a safety net for some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
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