Lib Dem minister casts doubt on DWP response on benefits deaths


newslatestA Liberal Democrat minister has cast doubt on Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims that it does not collect or analyse accounts of disability benefit-related deaths.

The comments of pensions minister Steve Webb at his party’s annual conference in Glasgow raise new concerns about the accuracy of information provided by DWP on the most controversial aspect of its welfare reforms.

There have been numerous reports of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to the employment and support allowance (ESA) claim process, or the refusal of ESA and other benefits, including the writer Paul Reekie, who killed himself in 2010, and the deaths of Nick Barker, Jacqueline Harris, Ms DE, and Brian McArdle.

Many of the cases became widely-known through media reports of inquests, but in the case of Ms DE, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland concluded that the work capability assessment process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”.

But DWP has stated in a response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act request from Disability News Service (DNS) that it does not hold information on deaths that have been reported to be connected to the withdrawal or non-payment of disability benefits.

And the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Mark Harper, insisted that his department was right to ignore reports of such deaths and said he did not accept that DWP should be collecting this information or trying to learn lessons from such deaths.

But Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat pensions minister, and a departmental colleague of Harper, told DNS in Glasgow: “Everybody is concerned at a situation like this happening.”

He said there “may not be a systematic approach” within the department, because of the number of inquests that are held, but that “when cases come up, clearly when the department becomes aware of cases through the media, they do get looked at”.

Webb refused to comment further. DNS later contacted his Commons office to ask him to clarify and expand on his comments, but he has so far failed to respond.

Meanwhile, DWP has again failed to respond to requests for a comment on the FoI answer. DNS first asked DWP to explain and clarify its position on 24 September.

9 October 2014