Campaigners will tomorrow (Friday) take part in a vigil in Nottingham to highlight how the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) led to a disabled man starving to death after his out-of-work benefits were withdrawn.
Disabled activists and allies will join the vigil and protest in Nottingham city centre* – organised by Nottingham People’s Assembly Against Austerity – to remember Errol Graham (pictured) and try to ensure that his death leads to change, an independent inquiry, and justice.
The event will include a minute’s silence in memory of Graham and other victims of austerity, and speeches by local councillors and Disabled People Against Cuts.
It came as Graham’s MP, Labour’s Lilian Greenwood, confronted Boris Johnson about the case at yesterday’s prime minister’s questions, asking how many more disabled benefits claimants would have to die “before this government start to value their lives”.
In his reply, Johnson said she was right to raise the “tragic case” but he claimed the government had set up an “independent serious case panel” to look at such deaths, even though DWP previously admitted that the panel’s members would all be DWP civil servants so it would not be independent at all.
A DWP spokesperson said today (Thursday) that the panel would now include “members who are independent of the department”, although he declined to provide any further information.
Alison Turner, the partner of Errol Graham’s son, who has led the fight to secure justice and has called for a criminal investigation into the former DWP ministers and senior civil servants she believes are responsible for this and other deaths, plans to attend tomorrow’s vigil in Nottingham if her health allows her to.
She said the support the family had received from across the country and in Nottingham since DNS first reported on his death last month had been “absolutely outstanding”.
She said the vigil would highlight how supportive local people have been and how angry they were that Errol Graham was abandoned without any money by DWP.
She added: “I am ever so grateful [to the vigil’s organisers]. It does mean a lot. It says to me that we are not going to tolerate this happening to people living locally.
“People are saying it is not acceptable and that they are willing to fight for that.”
She added: “It has helped me in a huge way to see the level of support that he has had in his own city.
“I can’t bring Errol back, but what I can do is see that no other family suffers in the way that we did.
“I would never want to see somebody going through what we have gone through. It’s torturous.
“You sit there and question yourself: ‘What else could I have done?’ The reality was there was nothing we could have done.”
She said she hoped the vigil would show DWP “how many people will take time out of their own life to support the change that needs to happen”.
And she said that the ministers and civil servants at DWP who were responsible for his death “have got to take some responsibility” and understand the damage and the “ripple effect” a death like that causes to the family and friends of the person who has died.
A spokesperson for Nottingham People’s Assembly Against Austerity said: “Errol’s family are calling for justice.
“They want the DWP to be held to account for his death, to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
“Errol’s death should shock Britain into awareness of the damage that austerity is doing. Errol was one of us, a citizen of our city.
“If we don’t mark his passing, there will be more Errol Grahams, and austerity will become a permanent feature of British life.”
Last month, Disability News Service revealed how Errol Graham starved to death two years ago after DWP removed his employment and support allowance, leaving him without any income.
A civil servant told an inquest into his death last summer that DWP staff followed departmental guidance and had acted “appropriately” by leaving him with no income.
They had stopped his benefits when they were unable to contact him to discuss why he had not turned up to a work capability assessment.
Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, he slowly starved to death. He was 57.
*The vigil will be held between 5.30pm and 6.30pm tomorrow (Friday) near the Brian Clough statue in King Street, Nottingham NG1 2DT
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