A young disabled mother who took her own life had been left with stress and “debilitating anxiety” by the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its contractor Capita, an inquiry has found.
A safeguarding adults review into the death of Philippa Day (pictured) in October 2019 describes today (Thursday) how the actions of DWP and Capita had a “profound impact” on the 27-year-old, from Nottingham.
She received a high level of support from her family, and from local agencies, but the “stress” she experienced over her finances became “magnified” when she voluntarily applied for personal independence payment (PIP), the disability benefit introduced in 2013 to gradually replace working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
The review builds on evidence heard at an inquest into Philippa’s death, which found in January 2021 that flaws in the disability benefits system were “the predominant factor and the only acute factor” that led to her taking her own life, and highlighted 28 separate “problems” with the administration of the PIP system.
Philippa (pictured) was described by her family as a “vibrant, bubbly person who once met, would not be forgotten”, and someone who was caring and had a “deep love” for her child.
She had a diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder, as well as type one diabetes, had a long history of self-harm and suicidal behaviours, and used substances and alcohol as an unsuccessful coping mechanism.
She had high levels of anxiety and agoraphobia, and could become quickly overwhelmed by day-to-day stresses of life.
The safeguarding review, commissioned by Nottingham City Safeguarding Adults Board, says that the interactions that Philippa – referred to as “Valentina” in the report – had with DWP and Capita as she tried to move from DLA to PIP had had a “profound impact” on her.
It highlights the stress caused by the high interest loans she had to take out when DWP stopped her DLA claim because the completed PIP form she posted went missing, and says it “significantly increased her episodes of self-harm and the risk of suicide”.
After her DLA award was eventually reinstated and backdated, Capita then insisted that Philippa had to attend a face-to-face appointment at one of its PIP assessment centres, even though it had access to substantial evidence of her mental distress and her need to be assessed at her home in Nottingham.
The review points to Philippa’s “sense of impotency that she could not affect change and that her mental distress was not recognised” and the “debilitating anxiety at the prospect of leaving her house to be assessed by unfamiliar professionals but untenable consequences if she declined”.
DWP recognised that it “may not have considered the impact of [Philippa’s] disability on her ability to engage with the assessment process”, says the review, which was delayed by legal action and the pandemic.
Her family told the review that some DWP staff “were flexible and compassionate in their responses, trying to work round systems and find ways to help”, but that “this was the exception”.
Philippa had “experienced a DWP system that felt rigid and dismissive of her” and “felt powerless and had no way of proving that she had returned her claim forms and the supporting medical evidence”, the review says.
There is praise in the review for Philippa’s community psychiatric nurse (CPN), who tried to convey to DWP and Capita staff a “wealth of knowledge” about Philippa’s “needs and risks”, and who was “tenacious” in her attempts to advocate for her.
The CPN told the review that navigating through the DWP benefits system had been “a daunting and exhausting process”.
The review also describes how Philippa had been subjected to “unrelenting” abuse at the hands of her former partner, referred to as “Dave”, and how she felt let down by the criminal justice system for its failure to stop the stalking, harassment and threats he inflicted on her.
This continuing abuse and harassment – which also included physical and sexual assaults in her home – had a significant impact on Philippa’s mental health, says the review.
The review details the “significant missed opportunity” for different agencies to build a picture of all the known incidents of abuse, which might have led to Dave facing more serious criminal offences and longer prison sentences.
It is the second time in a fortnight that DWP has been criticised by a Nottingham safeguarding adults review following the death of a disabled person linked to DWP’s actions.
Last week, DWP was accused by a relative of “absolutely disgraceful” behaviour after confirmation that it hid vital evidence from a safeguarding review published earlier this month into the death of Errol Graham, who starved to death in 2018 after his benefits were wrongly stopped.
Today’s review – written by the same consultant, Sylvia Manson – repeats a key recommendation from the Errol Graham review, calling on DWP to work with the national network of safeguarding adults boards to produce a “protocol” that would ensure they alert each other to relevant cases.
The recommendations also include calls for local and national action on domestic abuse, including a plea to improve the effectiveness of multi-agency protection.
The review claims that DWP has made “many improvements” since Philippa’s death, including to staff mental health training.
DWP claims it has worked to build “a culture of care and compassion”, through strengthening its “vulnerable customer champions” role and introducing “advanced customer support senior leaders” to “provide escalation routes for cases involving customers requiring advanced support”.
DWP also told the review it has improved the way its staff gather evidence for PIP claims, has ensured that its records are now permanently “watermarked” for claimants who need additional support with their claim, and now takes extra steps if a claimant fails to respond during a PIP application.
But the review also repeats DWP’s insistence that it “does not have a statutory safeguarding duty or legal duty of care”, although Manson makes no comment or recommendation on this statement.
Capita told the review that it has improved its PIP processes, including making it easier to review the assessment location.
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