Stop benefit deaths
Our new report – tip of the iceberg.

Recent coverage of the tragic deaths of Errol Graham, Jodey Whiting and Philippa Day following failures by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has highlighted the need for transparency and systemic change. Alex Kennedy, our Head of Campaigns and Public Affairs discusses our new report which suggests that these cases could be the tip of the iceberg.

The benefits system is designed to be a safety net for people across the country who find themselves unable to work or in need of financial support. It is one of the cornerstones of our society and exists for all of us when we need it. But it is desperately failing people, including people living with severe mental illness.

Our research reveals that since 2012, the DWP has set up more than 268 internal reviews into the death or serious harm of people supported by the benefits system. We know that the DWP’s internal processes are inconsistent and unclear, so we fear there may be many more cases that haven’t been reported or investigated.  

 In the last two years alone, the rate of internal investigations by the DWP into deaths and serious harm almost tripled (a 176% rise) with 124 cases since summer 2019. Without further information from the DWP, we do not know how far this shows that the number of deaths or serious harm has grown in the last two years, or that the DWP was not investigating cases in the past. 

In our new report Tip of the Iceberg? Deaths and Serious Harm in the Benefits System we look at key areas of the benefits process that can cause severe distress for people – including applying for benefits, being assessed or reassessed, the threat of sanctions and the impact of administrative errors. The DWP has been found to negatively impact people’s wellbeing, causing severe anxiety and distress, creating financial hardship, worsening existing mental health conditions and in very tragic cases led to death.

As part of our campaign Stop Benefit Deaths we are working with bereaved families and people seriously harmed by the benefits system to better understand the scale of the problem and to demand a full public inquiry and a new body to investigate future cases.

Their stories are heart-breaking, and they deserve answers.

Let’s be clear, the evidence suggests that a government department has played a part in the deaths of over a hundred peopleIn any other public service, the tragic deaths of so many people would have triggered an urgent public investigation and outcry.

The current process is shrouded in secrecy, with little to no public accountability. For there to be confidence in the benefits system we need to see concrete evidence that the DWP is learning from these tragic cases and implementing change.

We are calling for the government to:

  • Establish a full public inquiry into benefit-related deaths and cases of serious harm
  • Set up an independent body to investigate future cases of death or serious harm in the benefits system.

To better understand the scale of the issue, Rethink Mental Illness is asking people to share their experiences where the DWP has been implicated in death or serious harm. If you or your family have been affected, please share your story.

Please get in touch at campaigns@rethink.org for further information, or if you would like to support the campaign.

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