The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not have stopped the benefits of a disabled man who later starved to death, an updated safeguarding review has found after being shown information DWP hid from its original inquiry.
It is the first time that any official inquiry has made it clear that DWP was wrong to stop the benefits of Errol Graham (pictured) after he failed to turn up to a work capability assessment (WCA).
His employment and support allowance (ESA) was stopped in October 2017 when he failed to respond to attempts to contact him about his claim, which led to his housing benefit being stopped and his rent no longer being paid.
The following June, his body was found by bailiffs sent to evict him for non-payment of rent.
He was 57 years old and weighed just four-and-a-half stone.
A coroner subsequently found he had starved to death.
But only three years before his 2017 WCA, another DWP assessment had reported his “active suicidal thoughts”, “very low mood” and how he was “hearing voices all the time”.
He had explained that he could not cope with “unexpected changes” which left him feeling “under threat and upset”, and he told DWP that he felt “anxiety and panic in new situations”.
But when a safeguarding review into the circumstances surrounding his death was launched by Nottingham City Safeguarding Adults Board, DWP failed to share the documents from his 2014 assessment, despite sharing earlier reports and being asked for “information of relevance” to his death.
This led the review’s author to be only mildly critical of DWP’s failures and to conclude that the department was “unaware of [Errol’s] significant risk factors when acutely unwell”.
But after Disability News Service (DNS) shared the 2014 documents with the Nottingham safeguarding team – with the family’s permission – the author reviewed her original conclusions.
The report’s author, Sylvia Manson, has now produced a new – much more critical – “addendum”, which is due to be published today (Thursday).
Manson now says, of the 2014 report: “This information should have raised sufficient flags about whether there may have been ‘good cause’ for why [Errol] had not responded to requests for a review and triggered making further enquiries with other agencies.”
She adds: “There was historic information that [Errol’s] depression may impact on his ability to engage in a DWP assessment.
“There were missed opportunities to use this knowledge and exercise discretionary criteria to gather further information from other agencies.”
Errol Graham’s daughter-in-law, Alison Burton, who has fought for justice for her father-in-law since his death, welcomed the addendum to the report.
She told DNS that the documents from his 2014 assessment should have led the DWP civil servant who decided to stop his benefits to grant him “good cause” for missing the assessment, which would have meant his money was not stopped.
She said the 2014 information “throws the DWP story out of the window”.
Burton said she was not surprised by DWP’s “deceitful” behaviour, because it had done the same thing at the inquest and only provided the 2014 documents to the high court a few days before a judicial review hearing in January 2021, which was too late for them to be taken properly into account.
She said: “If it is committed to improving its services and protecting its claimants, as it claims every time, why be deceitful?
“All it says to me is they have no interest in improving their services.”
It is just the latest example of DWP misleading public bodies and those investigating its activities – including coroners, judges, the National Audit Office and its own independent reviewers – about links between its policies and failings and the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits, as detailed on the Deaths by Welfare timeline.
DWP refused this week to say if it agreed with the additions to the safeguarding review; refused to apologise for withholding the 2014 report from the review; and refused to apologise for the actions it took that led Errol Graham to starve to death.
Instead, a DWP spokesperson said: “This was an incredibly tragic case and our condolences remain with this family.”
Nottingham City Safeguarding Adults Board refused to comment on DWP’s attempted cover-up.
It also tried to argue that the “original findings and recommendations” of the review “remain unchanged”.
It was only when DNS pointed out that Manson had changed the findings of the report to make it clear that DWP should not have stopped Errol Graham’s benefits that it amended its statement.
Lesley Hutchinson, the board’s chair, said in the amended statement: “Earlier in the year, the Nottingham City Safeguarding Adults Board published a safeguarding adults review which looked at the shocking circumstances of a man’s death where the intervention of agencies exacerbated his problems rather than providing support.
“Since publication, the board has received additional information.
“Following a robust process, the review independent author presented an addendum to the report which takes account of this information and the board has approved this and is now publishing it.
“The original recommendations remain unchanged, and we will continue to focus on taking these forward.
“I would like to again offer my heartfelt condolences to [Errol’s] family and all who knew him.”
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