Mark Harper said he did not accept that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be collecting this information or trying to learn lessons from such deaths.
He was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, days after a DNS story revealed that DWP refused to collect or analyse accounts of benefit-related deaths.
One disabled activist suggested last week that this failure could amount to criminal negligence, while Samuel Miller, a prominent disabled academic from Canada, said this week that DWP had “seriously breached its duty of care by ignoring benefit-related deaths”.
But Harper said he did not “accept the premise” that DWP should collect and analyse reports that suggest a disabled person’s death could have been linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of benefits.
He said: “If somebody in those sort of cases, if someone has [a] mental health [condition] and then something happens, trying to disaggregate what was the cause I don’t think is as simple as you are trying to suggest.”
When asked whether he accepted that any deaths had been caused, or even partly caused, by the loss or non-payment of benefits, he said: “Of the cases I have seen since I have been the minister where there have been allegations, when you look at the detail they are not as simple and straightforward as people are alleging.”
But Harper did promise to “go back and look back at what processes we have in place to track cases” and to look at the Freedom of Information Act response from DWP that led to the DNS story.
There have been numerous reports of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to the employment and support allowance claim process, or the refusal of 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 work capability assessment process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”.
2 October 2014