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DWP blamed by second coroner for incapacity benefit claimant suicide

The late Julia Kelly

The late Julia Kelly

So you thought Mary Hassall was the only British coroner to have blamed a benefit claimant’s death on the DWP? Think again.

To This Writer’s shame, the case of Julia Kelly was reported in This Blog, earlier this year – but I did not recall that Northamptonshire County Coroner Anne Pember’s report had conferred responsibility for her death on the Department for Work and Pensions after the case of Michael O’Sullivan was reported last month.

Mr O’Sullivan committed suicide in late 2013. North London coroner Mary Hassall, at his inquest early the following year, recorded that his death occurred as a direct result of being declared “fit for work” in a DWP work capability assessment, made in response to his claim for Employment and Support Allowance.

Julia Kelly took her life in November 2014. At her inquest in March this year, according to the Northampton Chronicle, “Coroner Anne Pember, recording her verdict of suicide, said she also believed that the ‘upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life’.”

Ms Kelly had been forced to give up work in 2010 due to pain caused by a car crash (which was not her fault) five years previously. In 2013, she was involved in a second crash and had to undergo a six-hour operation on her spine as a result.

Together with her father, David Kelly, she formed a charity – Away With Pain – to help fellow sufferers of chronic back pain.

But then the Department for Work and Pensions told her she had to repay £4,000 in Employment and Support Allowance payments, saying she had failed to declare capital funds.

It seems the government department was referring to money held by the charity, rather than funds owned by Ms Kelly herself.

Ms Kelly, who had fought for every penny of her benefit at three tribunal hearings, was bombarded with a series of repayment demands. According to her father, it was this relentless stream of brown-envelope letters that pushed her to suicide.

He told Channel 4 News about it. Take a look at the report:

A few months later, the DWP started stridently claiming that no causal link had been shown between claims for incapacity benefits and the suicide of claimants, in response to demands from almost 250,000 petitioners – and more than 90 MPs including the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – to publish the number of claimants who have died on benefits.

We all know the DWP was lying, thanks to Ms Hassall’s report on Michael O’Sullivan.

The facts about Julia Kelly mean we must now question the magnitude of the lie.

We know the DWP examined the cases of around 60 people who committed suicide after their benefits were withdrawn or reduced – that fact was most recently mentioned in Prime Minister’s Questions, in the House of Commons on Wednesday (October 21) – but the Department has refused to publish its findings.

All Cameron would offer was that he would “look … at” the question asked about publication. He can look at it all day without doing anything about it, of course.

Meanwhile, serious questions are arising as we learn more about these deaths and the extent of the DWP cover-up.

How many people have died due to the reduction or withdrawal of incapacity benefits?

How many of these deaths happened long enough after their benefits were withdrawn that the DWP never bother to record them – on the grounds that it was none of the Department’s business (this is what happened with Mr O’Sullivan)?

How many more coroners’ verdicts have implicated the DWP in the deaths, but have been quietly swept under the carpet?

And – as the United Nations investigates possible grave and systematic violations of incapacity benefit claimants’ human rights – what can be done to secure the release of the facts?

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Vox Political on LBC radio to discuss DWP lies

LBC

Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (that’s me) will be appearing on LBC radio at around 1pm to talk about the revelation that a coroner ruled that a man died as a direct result of being involved in a work capability assessment organised by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Thanks to the Daily Mail, we now know that the deceased was 60-year-old Michael O’Sullivan, of Highgate, north London, who took his own life six months after being found fit for work. The Atos assessor never asked him about suicidal thoughts and the DWP decision maker never considered relevant evidence from his doctors.

The DWP said this was because its policy on further evidence was “regrettably not followed in this case” and that it would circulate a reminder. We have no evidence that this was done or that further deaths did not follow because of similar omissions – and any claims by the DWP must be treated as suspicious.

This is because the DWP, knowing that a causal link between the work capability assessment and the death of claimants had been proved by north London coroner Mary Hassall in January 2014, spent the whole summer denying any such link to campaigners and MPs who were demanding publication of up-to-date claimant death statistics.

Even after its statistics – poor as they are – were published, the DWP kept up the pretence. Clearly, we cannot trust a word that comes out of that organisation.

… and that’s what I’ll be saying at around 1pm today.

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The DWP has lied; ministers know ‘fit for work’ decisions lead to death

Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have neglected to carry out their duties properly, and this has led to the deaths of claimants.

Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have neglected to carry out their duties properly, and this has led to the death of at least one claimant.

Let’s get this straight: In an inquest into the death of a disabled man, a coroner ruled in early 2014 that his suicide was a direct result of being declared ‘fit for work’ in a work capability assessment.

Bearing this in mind…

What has the DWP been saying about there being “no causal link” between its administration of the benefit system and the deaths of claimants, again?

Time and time again, we have been told that there is no link between the deaths of any benefit claimants and their treatment by the DWP, even though that government department had at least one report proving the opposite. We can say “at least one report” because we have no evidence to show that coroners have not submitted many, many more.

We do have evidence that the Department for Work and Pensions – and with the Conservative Government as a whole – has been lying to us.

The DWP’s response to the concerns raised by North London coroner Mary Hassall was that its policy on dealing with cases such as that of ‘Mr A’, the deceased, “regrettably was not followed in this case”. And in how many others?

The Atos-employed work capability assessor, responsible for collecting evidence to determine whether Mr A should receive Employment and Support Allowance, had recorded that Mr A was “at no significant risk by working” and failed to ask him if he had suicidal thoughts. Perhaps this is for the best, as we know from experience that the next question is “Why haven’t you killed yourself?” – the query that many of us suspect has ‘nudged’ many towards suicide.

According to Disability News Service, “The Atos healthcare professional had failed to take into account the views of any of Mr A’s doctors during a 90-minute assessment, telling him the DWP decision-maker would look at that evidence instead.

“But the DWP decision-maker did not request any reports or letters from Mr A’s GP (who had assessed him as not being well enough to work), his psychiatrist (who had diagnosed him with recurrent depression and panic disorder with agoraphobia), or his clinical psychologist (who had assessed him as “very anxious and showing signs of clinical depression”). Instead, Mr A was found fit for work. Six months later, he killed himself.”

Six months later? So Mr A would not have appeared in any of the statistics released by the DWP in August, then.

You see how the government has tried to spin its way out of responsibility?

The DNS report continues: “The coroner said in her report that she believed that action should be taken ‘to prevent future deaths’ and that DWP had the power to take such action.

“In its response, DWP said there was a ‘clear policy that further medical evidence [should be requested] in cases where claimants report suicidal ideation in their claim forms which regrettably was not followed in this instance’. It said it planned to issue a reminder to staff about this guidance, but appeared to make no further suggestions for how to prevent further such deaths.”

We have no evidence that any such reminder was issued to staff or that any of them acted upon it if it was.

These are circumstances that should lead to a major prosecution for corporate manslaughter.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.

It seems clear that, not only has the coroner accused the DWP of such a breach; the Department has admitted it – and failed to take steps to stop it happening again.

Let’s pause for a moment and note that we would not have evidence that the DWP has been lying about the “causal link” between its behaviour and the deaths of benefit claimants without my now-infamous Freedom of Information request – submitted in May 2014, after the inquest into the death of Mr A.

The request called for the number of deaths of anybody who had been found ‘fit for work’ between the end of November 2011 and May 28, 2014. This would, of course, have included the death of Mr A. The DWP failed to include his death in its statistical release of August 27 this year (which the government claims is a response to my request). Only people whose claim ended within two weeks of their death were included in the figures. I have asked the Information Commissioner to enforce publication of the full number of deaths, in line with both my request and his decision notice of April 30 this year.

It is only when the full number of deaths is known that we may be able to start assessing the full, devastating effect of Iain Duncan Smith’s policy of hate towards people with long-term illnesses and disabilities.

For those of us who are working to defend the most vulnerable people in society, important ground has been gained.

But the hardest battle is yet to come.

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