DWP had previously stated, in a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act response, that it did not hold any records on deaths linked to, or partially caused by, the withdrawal or non-payment of disability benefits.
Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for disabled people, later told Disability News Service (DNS) that he did not “accept the premise” that DWP should collect and analyse reports of such deaths.
The Liberal Democrat DWP minister Steve Webb then appeared to contradict Harper when he said the following week that when the department becomes aware of worrying cases “they do get looked at”.
Now DWP appears to have contradicted its own FoI response.
A DWP spokesman told DNS this week: “We take the death of any claimant seriously.
“Where it is appropriate, we undertake reviews into individual cases but we do not accept the argument of those who seek to politicise people’s deaths by linking them inaccurately to welfare policy.
“We keep guidance on dealing with vulnerable claimants under constant review.”
But he refused to explain how DWP could deny holding any records on such deaths, but at the same time admit to carrying out reviews.
He said: “We don’t throw things out but we don’t hold details of things related to that. If you want to apply under the FoI Act for any records and stuff then by all means do, but that is all we can say at the moment. Sorry.”
Linda Burnip, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “They’ve tried very hard to avoid actually answering any questions and the responses made are totally unsatisfactory.
“Failure to collate this information is yet another example of the government’s failure to meet their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
Article 31 states that countries signed up to the UN convention must “undertake to collect appropriate information, including statistical and research data, to enable them to formulate and implement policies to give effect to the present Convention”.
Pat Onions, founder of Pat’s Petition, which campaigns for an end to cuts to benefits and services falling disproportionately on disabled people and their families, said: “We are very disappointed that the DWP would suggest that such a query ‘politicises people’s deaths’, especially for those cases where those people have left clear notes or evidence that imply that welfare reform itself is specifically a root cause of their ongoing worries and mental health problems.
“While acknowledging that any death is caused by multiple factors and it is impossible to ascribe any purely to changes in welfare reform, this government must face up to the impact of its policies.
“It is time they held a full and proper cumulative impact assessment [of the overall effect of the cuts and reforms on disabled people] to include any possible increase in fatalities as well as increased use of health and social care services.”
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 WCA process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”.
16 October 2014