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So you thought Mary Hassall was the only British coroner to have blamed a benefit claimant’s death on the DWP? Think again.
To This Writer’s shame, the case of Julia Kelly was reported in This Blog, earlier this year – but I did not recall that Northamptonshire County Coroner Anne Pember’s report had conferred responsibility for her death on the Department for Work and Pensions after the case of Michael O’Sullivan was reported last month.
Mr O’Sullivan committed suicide in late 2013. North London coroner Mary Hassall, at his inquest early the following year, recorded that his death occurred as a direct result of being declared “fit for work” in a DWP work capability assessment, made in response to his claim for Employment and Support Allowance.
Julia Kelly took her life in November 2014. At her inquest in March this year, according to the Northampton Chronicle, “Coroner Anne Pember, recording her verdict of suicide, said she also believed that the ‘upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life’.”
Ms Kelly had been forced to give up work in 2010 due to pain caused by a car crash (which was not her fault) five years previously. In 2013, she was involved in a second crash and had to undergo a six-hour operation on her spine as a result.
Together with her father, David Kelly, she formed a charity – Away With Pain – to help fellow sufferers of chronic back pain.
But then the Department for Work and Pensions told her she had to repay £4,000 in Employment and Support Allowance payments, saying she had failed to declare capital funds.
It seems the government department was referring to money held by the charity, rather than funds owned by Ms Kelly herself.
Ms Kelly, who had fought for every penny of her benefit at three tribunal hearings, was bombarded with a series of repayment demands. According to her father, it was this relentless stream of brown-envelope letters that pushed her to suicide.
He told Channel 4 News about it. Take a look at the report:
A few months later, the DWP started stridently claiming that no causal link had been shown between claims for incapacity benefits and the suicide of claimants, in response to demands from almost 250,000 petitioners – and more than 90 MPs including the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – to publish the number of claimants who have died on benefits.
We all know the DWP was lying, thanks to Ms Hassall’s report on Michael O’Sullivan.
The facts about Julia Kelly mean we must now question the magnitude of the lie.
We know the DWP examined the cases of around 60 people who committed suicide after their benefits were withdrawn or reduced – that fact was most recently mentioned in Prime Minister’s Questions, in the House of Commons on Wednesday (October 21) – but the Department has refused to publish its findings.
All Cameron would offer was that he would “look … at” the question asked about publication. He can look at it all day without doing anything about it, of course.
Meanwhile, serious questions are arising as we learn more about these deaths and the extent of the DWP cover-up.
How many people have died due to the reduction or withdrawal of incapacity benefits?
How many of these deaths happened long enough after their benefits were withdrawn that the DWP never bother to record them – on the grounds that it was none of the Department’s business (this is what happened with Mr O’Sullivan)?
How many more coroners’ verdicts have implicated the DWP in the deaths, but have been quietly swept under the carpet?
And – as the United Nations investigates possible grave and systematic violations of incapacity benefit claimants’ human rights – what can be done to secure the release of the facts?
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