A bullying lawyer acting for the Tory government at the inquest of Errol Graham tried to claim that the man, who starved to death after the DWP cut off his benefits, had takeaway menus and cartons near him when he was found.
And why was the Tory minister for disabled people caught smirking when this case – and others – was discussed by MPs?
This is a man who starved to death after the Tory-run DWP cut off his benefits.
But the DWP’s lawyer, instead of admitting the government’s culpability in pushing a man to starvation, shouted at family members and at a police officer during the inquest into his death.
MPs in the House of Commons heard Debbie Abrahams say: “Errol’s daughter-in-law, Alison, has been scathing, telling me of the anger she and her husband Lee feel.
“She said that it was particularly shocking that the QC acting on behalf of the Government in the inquest tried to intimidate not just the family but others, shouting at the police officer who found Errol’s body about what else he had seen.
“In particular, they were deeply offended that the police officer was asked whether he had found any takeaway menus or cartons. It was clear at that inquest that the Government were far from being in listening mode or trying to learn from this.
“Rather, they were seeking to blame, which is absolutely unforgivable.”
Labour MP Lilian Greenwood said it was hard to believe Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey’s claim that the DWP took this death “very seriously”.
She said the inquest took place eight months ago, when the coroner asked for robust policy and guidance for DWP staff to prevent future deaths, “yet the Department’s serious case panel is not even expected to consider the systemic issue identified in Errol’s case until next month”.
Ms Abrahams responded that “this has been going on for years now, and … nobody has responded. Systematic errors are coming out in repeated coroners’ reports and other reports, yet there is still no action”.
She recounted the cases of other people whose names will be familiar to readers of This Site – Jodey Whiting, Stephen Smith, Jimmy Ballentine, Mark Scholfield, David Clapson, Amy Nice, Kevin Dooley, Brian Bailey, Elaine Morrall, Daniella Obeng, Brian Sycamore, Chris Gold, Lawrence Bond, Julia Kelly, Ben McDonald, Chris Smith, Michael Connolly, Robert Barlow, David Barr, Shaun Pilkington and Terry McGarvey.
She made it clear that this was not an exhaustive list – and that many of those she had named had taken their own lives after receiving the DWP’s decision that their benefits were to be withdrawn.
And she said the Commons select committee on Work and Pensions had conducted an inquiry on sanctions policy which recommended: “DWP should seek to establish a body modelled on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to conduct reviews, at the request of relatives, or automatically where no living relative remains, in all instances where an individual on an out-of-work working-age benefit dies whilst in receipt of that benefit.
“Such a model, operated within the purview of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, should ensure that the role of all publicly-funded agencies involved in the provision of services or benefits to the individual is scrutinised, so that a learning document can be produced setting out how policy, and the service delivery pathway, can be improved at every stage.”
It’s not a perfect recommendation as the point is that people were dying after receipt of their benefits was cut off.
Is this what made Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, smirk?
He denied finding any amusement in the recommendation – which had been rejected out-of-hand by the government. But what do you think?
Ms Abrahams pointed out that further information – made public by Freedom of Information requests – showed that ministers have been repeatedly warned by their own civil servants that their policies to assess people for out-of-work disability benefits were putting the lives of vulnerable claimants at risk.
But the National Audit Office found last month that the DWP does not have a robust record of all contact from coroners, meaning the actual number of people who have taken their lives as a result of government persecution is not known, and the 69 investigations of benefit-related suicides since 2015 represent only the “tip of the iceberg”.
Not only that, but DWP staff are not aware of guidance produced on these matters following safeguarding reviews – nor does this guidance reflect the full scope of issues that could trigger a review.
And system-wide issues that could have been identified by safeguarding reviews have been missed – because the DWP simply doesn’t bother to identify larger trends.
Mr Tomlinson, responding, said that in most cases “we get it right”.
This is not what the evidence shows. The vast majority of appeals against benefit denial are won by the claimant.
And he came out with a lot of flannel about reviews of processes being undertaken by the DWP.
Nothing is being done to change the system now.
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