The minister for disabled people has refused to apologise for his “heartless” response to the deaths of two disabled people that have been closely linked to the failings of his own department.
Justin Tomlinson was asked in the House of Commons on Monday whether he would consider an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled claimants that have been linked to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
She told fellow MPs how Whiting took her own life in 2017 after her out-of-work benefits were stopped following a missed work capability assessment (WCA) she did not know about, while Graham starved to death in 2018 after he missed a WCA and had his benefits removed (see separate story).
But Tomlinson (pictured) failed to express any sympathy for the families or regret over the two deaths when he replied to Abrahams.
Instead, he said the WCA was first introduced by Labour in 2008, and that DWP had implemented more than 100 recommendations made by independent reviews of the WCA*, and was working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to ensure frontline staff were “fully trained to be in the best place to identify people at risk of suicide”.
Alison Turner, the partner of Errol Graham’s son, branded Tomlinson “heartless” for his response and said he had “showed no sympathy”.
She said ministers could not deny the links between the actions of their predecessors and the deaths of claimants such as Errol Graham.
She said: “Everybody has tried to tell them. They can’t honestly sit there with a straight face and tell me that that is not their fault. They ignored advice, advice given by experts.”
She said the government had failed to listen to two coroners, who warned DWP in 2010 and then in 2014 of flaws in the WCA that would lead to further deaths if not corrected.
The government refused to make those changes to the WCA process, and as a result other disabled people continued to lose their lives.
She said: “We need them to say, ‘We didn’t listen to the coroners, we messed up and it ended up with Errol dying.’”
A DWP spokesperson refused to comment when asked why Tomlinson failed to express any regret or sympathy for the families of Errol Graham and Jodey Whiting.
Meanwhile, Errol Graham’s MP, Labour backbencher Lilian Greenwood, this week expressed shock at the case and said she would be demanding answers from the government.
She said: “This is a tragic and deeply shocking case. The DWP may have followed their own guidelines, but the system clearly failed Errol Graham and sadly his case is not unique.
“The DWP’s safeguarding procedures must be reviewed. They must ensure that vulnerable claimants are properly protected.
“I will be raising this issue with my colleagues in parliament and calling on ministers to act now to ensure lessons are learned.”
*DNS revealed last May that DWP had finally admitted that two letters written by coroners to warn that the WCA had been linked to suicides, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants who had gone through the WCA process, were not passed to the second expert WCA reviewer, Dr Paul Litchfield, in 2013 and 2014.
Ministers also failed to pass the first coroner’s letter and peer reviews to the first expert WCA reviewer, Professor Malcolm Harrington, in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…