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Someone did a good job of hushing up this abomination.
If John Pring hadn’t reported the inquest on Disability News Service, we might never have learned how the Department for Work and Pensions ignored its own safeguarding advice to deprive Errol Graham of his benefits.
Left with no income, Mr Graham starved to death.
He had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental distress that had led to him being sectioned.
The DWP stopped Mr Graham’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on August 31, 2017.
He had not been asked to fill in an ESA50 questionnaire, though. Why not?
The government department managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on October 17, the same day it made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.
Its own rules state that it should have made both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.
Not only that, but the DWP had needed – but failed – to seek further medical evidence from Mr Graham’s GP, in order to make an informed decision about him.
In fact, it seems this would not have made much difference as Mr Graham’s GP had not seen him since 2013, or recalled him for vital blood tests or issued prescriptions since 2015, despite medical conditions including significant, long-term mental distress and hypothyroidism.
Because he had lost his entitlement to ESA, Mr Graham’s housing benefit was also stopped.
When bailiffs knocked down his front door to evict him on June 20, 2018, they found a dead body that weighed just four and a half stone. The only food in the flat was a couple of out-of-date tins of fish.
Mr Graham was 57 years old.
On an ESA form years before, he had told the DWP he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, adding: “Upsets my life completely. Feel under threat and upset…”
He said: “Cannot deal with social situations. Keep myself to myself. Do not engage with strangers. Have no social life. Feel anxiety and panic in new situations.”
So without warning, the DWP flung him into exactly the kind of new – and harrowing – situation that he would be unable to handle.
Assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock said a consultant psychiatrist told the inquest “that Errol was vulnerable to life stressors” and that it was “likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health”.
Who knows what torment Mr Graham underwent in the weeks and months after the DWP cut off his financial lifelines, unable to turn to anybody for help as his funds – and food – slowly dwindled to nothing?
The DNS report states that the DWP “refused to confirm that Errol Graham also had a PIP claim refused; refused to provide an update on the safeguarding review; refused to offer a justification for the department’s safeguarding failures; refused to comment on the similarities between his death and that of other disabled benefit claimants; refused to say which senior civil servants and ministers would take responsibility for his death; refused to say if DWP agreed with the senior civil servant who told the inquest the department had acted “appropriately”; refused to justify sending a highly-paid barrister to the inquest; and refused to explain how DWP was able to stop the ESA payment so quickly after the final safeguarding visit. He also refused to explain why DWP had not apologised to the family of Errol Graham”.
But the Assistant Coroner decided not to write a “Regulation 28” report demanding changes to DWP’s safeguarding procedures to “prevent future deaths” because the DWP claimed it was already completing a review of its safeguarding, which was supposed to finish last autumn.
Where is it?
Worse still is the cover-up; the only reason the story has come out is that DNS was contacted by Alison Turner, the partner of Mr Graham’s son, who questioned the DWP at the inquest and has fought for justice for him since the discovery of his death.
It was in the public interest for the facts of Mr Graham’s death to be known as they exposed the failure of the DWP to follow its own safeguarding rules, and also his GP’s failure to provide medical help.
As the Assistant Coroner stated, the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.
It seems clear that those holes have been punched in the net by our Conservative government, that has deliberately remoulded the DWP into a system designed to punish people for being sick, or disabled, for having poor-paying jobs or no job at all; and that has worked hard to break down the NHS, making it ripe for privatisation.
But nobody reported the inquest and hardly anybody ever heard of Errol Graham – until now.
He’s only the latest in a long line of DWP-related fatalities.
And with a Conservative government installed for at least another five years, how will any of them ever get justice?
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