Stephen Smith, the man the Conservative government condemned to death by starvation when it denied him the sickness benefit ESA, has passed away.
It has been revealed that Mr Smith died on April 15.
Despite conditions including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, excruciating Osteoarthritis, an enlarged prostate and a need to use a colostomy bag to go to the toilet, the Department for Work and Pensions claimed that he was entirely fit for work and refused his claim for Employment and Support Allowance in 2017.
Terry Craven, a former city council welfare officer who works at the CASA community centre on Hope Street, Birkenhead, advising people on benefit claims, explained what happened on his Facebook page.
He wrote, on Christmas Eve last year: “My client was thrown off ESA by ATOS 18 months ago. Since then, he has been expected to sign on. Obviously, he’s been sanctioned and forced to go hungry. so much so he weighs 6 stone.
“On Friday [December 21], not surprisingly he was at death’s door with pneumonia. Fortunately, I was able to get him into hospital. Evidently, his left lung was full of fluid with his right not much better.
“He has been unable to heat or look after his home properly because his health has deteriorated… He lives in one room of his 3 bedroom house he rents from a private landlord. It is rat infested, he cannot use the toilet nor is he strong enough to put water in a kettle. He relies on bottled water.”
According to the Liverpool Echo, a friend confirmed that “he never recovered from the pneumonia”.
If that is true, then the Department for Work and Pensions is directly responsible for his death.
Mr Smith would not have contracted pneumonia had he received the benefit to which he had always been entitled – as the DWP admitted when he won his appeal to have the department’s decision on his ESA claim reversed.
He had been put on full ESA support, with back-payments to be paid shortly.
Now that he has passed away, it seems unlikely the DWP will hand over any more money. Conservative ministers call that a “positive benefit outcome”.
The DWP has a duty to have proper regard for the safety of benefit claimants – meaning that it should not make any decisions that may put them in danger. Clearly benefit advisors ignored this duty in the case of Stephen Smith – as they did in that of Jodey Whiting and probably many, many more vulnerable people who are now no longer among the living.
The Department destroyed a report on safety failings at Job Centres in London after it received a Freedom of Information request for it to be published.
And it has refused to accept demands for an independent inquiry into deaths caused by the DWP’s failure to follow its own safeguarding rules, despite having received a petition signed by nearly 35,000 people (at the time of writing).
Ms Whiting’s mother has condemned the response as a “joke”, and has said she would like to take legal action against the DWP.
It occurs to me that Mr Craven should link up with her, to present a combined – and stronger – case. Would any other relatives of the DWP’s victims like to join in?
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