An open letter to
Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP
Dear Secretary of State,
We are the bereaved families of people who have died because of the catastrophic failings of the benefits system.
We have all been devastated to lose our loved ones because of the impact that their encounters with the Department for Work and Pensions had on their mental health and continue to live with the pain. And we do not doubt that many others have had experiences much like ours. The benefits system – which is meant to be a safety net and lifeline – is harming some people who most need its support. It is not fit to meet the needs of the disabled people it supports and it feels inhumane and unaccountable. It has failed us all.
Together, we refuse to stand by and watch the same thing happen to other families.
Your department says that cases like ours are not part of a wider problem. But your own figures show that the DWP has internally investigated 97 deaths since summer 2019 as well as 27 cases of serious harm.
How can these figures be acceptable? What will it take to overhaul the way that the system works, when so much harm has been done over so many years? It is hard to imagine a more serious concern for a department that exists to support people, yet the full scale of the problem is still not known because official records are inadequate and the system for investigating such serious cases is shrouded in secrecy. For as long as that remains the case, other families will continue to suffer as we have.
We have two urgent requests for the government. Firstly, we want a full public inquiry to learn the truth about what has happened so far. Secondly, we are calling for a new independent body to be established to investigate future cases of death or serious harm in the benefits system.
It is shocking that the government has not already launched a public inquiry. People are dying as a consequence of the systems within the DWP and have been for many years. Existing mistakes and structures need to looked at in depth by an inquiry to prevent other individuals and families being destroyed. Instead, families have had to seek answers individually through the courts and have been resisted at every turn by the DWP.
On behalf of those we have lost, we are doing all we can to find out how the State has failed to protect vulnerable people from death and serious harm. We are seeking answers about how these situations can be prevented from happening again and how the whole system can be made more humane and more transparent.
Our question is whether you are doing the same?
As the Secretary of State for a department which supports so many people who are at increased risk of self-harm or suicide, you have the power to save and improve so many lives by making real change. We ask to you to listen and to give those people the futures they deserve.
Imogen Day, sister of Philippa Day (Philippa died in 2019)
Leanne Dooley, daughter of Kevin Dooley (Kevin died in 2018)
Joy Dove, mother of Jodey Whiting (Jodey died in 2017)
Trudi Johnson, sister of Clive Johnson (Clive died in 2017)
Alison Turner, fiancée of Errol Graham’s son (Errol died in 2018)
Rethink Mental Illness is calling for a full public inquiry and investigation of future cases of deaths and serious harm in the benefits system. If this has impacted you or a loved one, please share your experiences with us confidentially.