Philippa Day believed her benefit claim would be mishandled before she made it – and she was right. A coroner found 28 “mistakes” were made before she took the insulin overdose that ended her life.
But were they mistakes or was Gordon Clow, the coroner who reported on the case, simply unable to attribute “malign” intent?
Ms Day, who suffered from mental ill-health, certainly believed that the Department for Work and Pensions had no intention of treating her fairly, as evidenced by Mr Clow’s report.
He said she
was predisposed by her mental health problems to wrongly imagine malign motives on the part of those administering her claim
– but was she wrong?
The coroner stated [boldings mine]:
The administration of Philippa Day’s benefits claim was characterised by multiple errors, some of which occurred repeatedly throughout the period of her claim.
As a result of errors made, Philippa Day’s income from benefits more than halved for a period of several months, causing her severe financial hardship.
To try to cope with the cash shortfall, Ms Day took out high interest loans, creating a financial problem that she did not have the means to solve – and attacking her mental health.
DWP officers – and private PIP assessors – must have known that this was likely but it seems that either they did not care or they wanted it to happen. It seems to This Writer that there is a question not put by the coroner, possibly because it does not fall within his scope. It does fall within mine:
Why would a government officer deliberately push a benefit claimant into severe financial pressure, mental ill-health, and self-harm*?
That is what we see here. There was nothing accidental about it. The officials involved knew what they were doing because they had all the relevant information. The coroner stated as much in his report:
[The] risk was implicit in the information held in connection with the benefits claim and explicit in advice given to those processing her claim by Philippa Day’s community psychiatric nurse shortly prior to Philippa’s overdose.
This information was ignored.
The coroner described the result in his report:
A decision was made in June 2019 to require Philippa Day to attend an assessment at an assessment centre.
No assessment was in fact required in order to determine her claim and there was clear and abundant medical evidence that an assessment outside of the home would exacerbate her mental health against a background of two recent overdoses. The requirement for her to attend this appointment created a risk of a mental health crisis resulting in
Although the error in decision making was drawn to the attention of those administering the claim on more than one occasion, it was not rectified as it should have been.
The DWP made a deliberate decision to ignore the risk of a suicide attempt. And the coroner clearly argued that it was this decision that led to Ms Day’s overdose:
The failure to administer the claim in such a way as to avoid exacerbating Philippa Day’s pre-existing mental health problems was the predominant factor, save for her severe mental illness, affecting a decision taken by Philippa Day to take an overdose of her prescribed insulin on the 7th or 8th August 2019.
The distress caused by the administration of Philippa Day’s welfare benefits claim led to Philippa Day suffering acute distress and exacerbated many of her other chronic stressors.
Were it not for these problems, it is unlikely that Philippa Day would have taken an overdose of her prescribed insulin on 7th or 8th August 2019.
The coroner stated – accurately – that “it is not possible to determine on the available evidence whether or not it was her intention to thereby end her life”.
But attempts to revive her failed and she passed away on October 16, 2019.
Mr Clow’s report went on to raise “matters of concern” that give him reason to believe that further deaths will happen due to deliberate, intentional behaviour by DWP officers.
Call handlers [at] the DWP had not received, in their preparatory course prior to commencing work taking calls from claimants, specific training as to how best to interact with persons suffering from mental ill health in such a way as to avoid inadvertently exacerbating the difficulties experienced in progressing claims for benefits by such persons.
If true, this is a deliberate choice by the DWP’s bosses – to withhold training that could prevent deaths.
Records of calls handled were very brief and, at times, inaccurate. The records did not facilitate accurate decision making or enable queries to be dealt with efficiently and without inadvertently exacerbating the difficulties experienced by Philippa Day in progressing her benefits claims .
The word that sticks out like a sore thumb here is “inadvertently”. It seems Mr Clows included it because he had no evidence that the decisions “exacerbating the difficulties experienced by Philippa Day” were deliberate. But there must have been deliberate decisions to make inaccurate reports of calls handled – leading to the consequent failures that pushed Ms Day to her overdose?
(As a reporter, I have to make choices about what information I include in stories and what I leave out. Those choices are dictated by my judgement regarding what is relevant to the article. In this article, for example, I have omitted details of Ms Day’s mental health problems; it is known that she had a mental illness so there is no need to go into the details on this occasion. As benefit assessment officers, it seems to me, those responsible for handling her claim at the DWP had a similar responsibility – to include all relevant information – but they did not. That is a deliberate choice.)
The change of assessment process did not allow for a decision, which was incorrect, to be rectified without evidence of a subsequent change of circumstances.
That must have been a deliberate decision by whoever drafted the regulations controlling this process.
In addition, when a change of review process was appropriate, there was no means by which upcoming appointments could be cancelled without causing prejudice to Philippa Day.
Again, the regulations are drafted by people who know the consequences of the actions they require – and the consequences of the actions they forbid. The government has been providing state benefits for nearly a century and it is unrealistic to believe that cases similar to Philippa Day’s have not been handled before. In fact, the evidence of other deaths suggests that hundreds take place every year.
A misleading letter was sent which led Philippa Day to consider that her benefits would be stopped if she did not attend the upcoming appointment.
This is really vile. Knowing that an assessment outside her home would harm her mental health, DWP officers deliberately put her in fear of losing her benefits if she did not attend one. That is deliberate psychological torture.
Add it all up and we see deliberate decisions that mounted up into a force that pushed Philippa Day towards the overdose that ended her life.
But not one person involved in those decisions will face any penalty for having caused the death of another human being. Not one.
Information from previous reports shows that the identities of those responsible are known, but no action is being taken against them.
Analysis carried out by the Disability News Service suggests that there could have been as many as 750 benefit claimants of working age who took their lives in 2018.
I stated at the time that “the total number since the Tories introduced PIP – let alone the harsher benefit qualification laws brought in after they came into office in 2010 – is likely to be in the tens of thousands, if not, indeed, hundreds of thousands.”
It is worse than Aktion T4 – the cull of people with disabilities in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s.
So I repeat my comments at the end of a previous report:
How many benefit assessors from Capita (and fellow private contractor Atos) have contributed to those deaths?
How many officials from the Department for Work and Pensions?
How many Conservative ministers, who imposed the legislation, and backbenchers, who supported it?
And I ask:
When will they be brought to account for the deaths they have caused?
*Not suicide – the coroner’s report showed that Ms Day’s motives cannot be deduced from the evidence available; her overdose could have been a classic “cry for help”.
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