Well done to the mainstream media for finally reporting on the case of Errol Graham, nearly five years after he starved to death, having lost his benefits due to a Department for Work and Pensions decision.
And no – that comment is not meant well.
With a little more media attention, it seems likely that the DWP would not have been able to hide information from the Nottingham City Adult Safeguarding Board, whose review of the case, published this week, may now have to be revised.
Disability News Service, which broke the story in 2020, has provided documents that seem to have been withheld by the DWP, and says the Safeguarding Board is now reviewing them alongside its own actions.
Let’s just remind you of the circumstances of the case:
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 The only food in the flat was a couple of out-of-date tins of fish.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.
Now it seems that
An independent safeguarding review into the “shocking and disturbing” events leading to Graham’s tragic and lonely death concluded that multiple failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), his GP practice, and social landlord meant that chances to save him were missed.
Describing Graham as a “man in acute mental distress who had shut himself away from the world”, Nottingham City Adult Safeguarding Board said decisions taken by all three agencies had exacerbated his problems towards the end of his life rather than supporting him.
Strange, that. How many years has it been since the DWP and the Tory government in general started insisting that their decisions always support benefit claimants?
That clearly seems to have been untrue. Agreed?
The review said DWP and Nottingham City Homes had failed to understand why Graham did not respond to their letters, texts and home visits, and so did not grasp the extent of his vulnerability when they left him without money, food and on the verge of homelessness.
Although both agencies had followed their own procedures correctly when they took critical decisions to deny Graham of vital services, the review makes clear such procedures were based on “partial information and misconceptions” about why Graham had refused to engage with them.
How did they follow their own procedures correctly? My understanding is that the failed to follow their own safeguarding advice. It was known that he was a vulnerable claimant so, after he failed to attend an appointment, why did the DWP stop his benefit – and backdate the stoppage – before it had carried out the two safeguarding visits it was required to do?
Why hadn’t the DWP sought further medical evidence about him, as required?
It was known that he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, as he had made it clear in an ESA form years before.
Oh… but the DWP never provided that information to the Safeguarding Board. Isn’t that outright dishonesty?
The Safeguarding Board said
A key lesson from Graham’s death was that his refusal to engage with support services did not negate his vulnerability and was not an excuse for inaction on the part of service providers. “Indeed, non-engagement may be a sign of increased vulnerability,” it concluded.
But that wasn’t the problem – in fact, it was the opposite of it. The problem was the refusal of the DWP – and others – to engage with Errol Graham.
In response to the report’s publication earlier this week, the DWP said it acknowledged that the government department had improved its processes since Mr Graham’s death.
But that was based on false information, because the DWP had not been honest with the Safeguarding Board. In fact, one might say it had refused to engage properly.
I wonder how the DWP will respond if the report is changed and a much more negative verdict is returned.
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