The government is refusing to release information that would reveal which ministers and civil servants decided how to respond to the death of a man who killed himself as a direct result of being found “fit for work”.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last month that a coroner had demanded government action after an inquest into the death of Michael O’Sullivan, from north London.
The coroner, Mary Hassell, wrote what is known as a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report, and sent it to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), because she said there was “a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”.
O’Sullivan had severe mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, and expressed suicidal thoughts in his ESA application, but medical evidence from three mental health professionals was ignored in the benefits assessment process.
It is believed to be the first and only time a coroner has used a PFD report to draw attention to flaws in the discredited work capability assessment (WCA) system, and the only time a coroner has directly blamed that system for a death.
In its response to Hassell’s report, DWP said it planned to issue a reminder to staff about guidance on such cases, but appeared to make no further suggestions for how to prevent further deaths.
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