Bereaved relatives and leading mental health charity call on DWP Secretary of State to launch public inquiry into benefits deaths and serious harm

20 July 2021

Families who have lost loved ones in cases where the Department for Work and Pensions has been implicated in their death, have today written to the Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey to demand a public inquiry into deaths and serious harm related to the benefits system.

The letter is from the relatives of Errol Graham, Jodey Whiting, Philippa Day, Kevin Dooley, and Clive Johnson. It highlights how the benefits system is desperately failing people it is supposed to support, and the DWP’s continued lack of action in response to calls for greater transparency around their investigations to help prevent future deaths.

The letter has been sent as Rethink Mental Illness publishes a report showing that many parts of the benefits system have been linked to cases of death or serious harm, as part of its Stop Benefit Deaths campaign. It also shows how the current process for investigating cases is “not fit for purpose” and “shrouded in secrecy with little to no public accountability”.

The charity warns that the 268 cases of death and serious harm linked to the benefits system that have been investigated by the DWP since 2012 could represent the tip of the iceberg, with the true extent of tragic loss and harm yet to be revealed.

In the last two years alone, the number of internal investigations by the DWP into deaths and serious harm has soared by 124 cases – almost triple the rate of previous years - suggesting either the number of cases has significantly increased, or a failure of the DWP to record and investigate cases in the past.

The charity is working with bereaved relatives and people seriously harmed by the benefits system to demand a full public inquiry and a new body to investigate any future cases.

To help uncover the true scale of the problem, Rethink Mental Illness has also launched a call for evidence from members of the public who have been affected. Anyone who has been affected by a death or serious harm related to the benefit system – either directly or to a loved one – can share their story in confidence here.

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“The pain and loss these families feel is compounded by the lack of accountability from the DWP, and secrecy surrounding their investigations into these preventable deaths.

“The benefits system should treat people with the care and compassion they deserve. Anyone who has seen the system up close knows that too often that doesn’t happen. When the result it is causing is distress and suffering, we should see urgent action to address the causes. Bereaved families should not have to spend years campaigning for justice.

“We fear we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the number of people affected by this flawed system. If the DWP is going to restore faith in the system, it has urgent questions to answer. The government has both the responsibility and the opportunity to stop more families experiencing this trauma.”

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, either to themselves or loved ones. Information can be shared confidentially here.

To read the full report Tip of the Iceberg? Deaths and Serious Harm in the Benefits System please click here.

To read the open letter to Rt Hon Thérèse Coffey MP, Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, please click here.


Notes to editors

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