The information commissioner has ordered the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release the results of a review of its safeguarding procedures, which it has been trying to keep secret for the last two years.
The existence of the review was first revealed by Disability News Service (DNS) in February 2020, in a report on the death of Errol Graham (pictured), who starved to death after DWP wrongly stopped his out-of-work disability benefits, leaving him without any income.
It emerged that the coroner at Graham’s inquest had decided that she did not need to demand urgent improvements to DWP’s safeguarding procedures – through a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report – because the department had told her it was already carrying out a review of its safeguarding policy, which would be completed in the autumn of 2019.
But DWP later downplayed the importance of the review, insisted it was simply part of ongoing work, and denied that it would be producing a report, even though its chief psychologist David Carew had told the inquest that DWP was “looking to report by the autumn on this”.
Owen Stevens, from the Child Poverty Action Group charity, has been trying to obtain a copy of the review’s findings since January 2020.
Now the information commissioner has ordered DWP to release those findings.
The commissioner said DWP had claimed that the review was “not a formal review” and was only a “series of very broad conversations focussing on the subject”, and that it was a review only “in the very broadest sense”.
DWP also claimed that, because the review related to the “formulation or development of government policy”, it was exempt from being released under the Freedom of Information Act.
But the decision notice issued to Stevens by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last week said the commissioner was “not persuaded” by this argument and ordered DWP to release the review findings.
In a previous decision notice, released in March 2021, ICO had been critical of DWP’s actions in relation to Stevens’ attempt to secure the information and for taking “a defensive position in which it attempted to explain why the information was not held despite having clearly identified that not only was it held but DWP considered it to be exempt from disclosure”.
Alison Burton, Errol Graham’s daughter-in law, told DNS that DWP now needed to hand over the review findings.
She said it would be crucial to read those findings to check whether they did address the systemic failings that had led to his death.
Burton said the review findings were important because DWP’s claim at the inquest that the department was already carrying out a review of its safeguarding was the reason the coroner did not order it to carry out improvements herself through a PFD report.
She said: “There was no PFD at the inquest because of the commitments DWP made.
“This review is something I believe I should have seen a long time ago.”
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