Ministers have secretly launched a new panel that will examine deaths linked to serious failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), apparently without informing MPs and peers.
Its launch only emerged when DWP admitted that the circumstances surrounding the death of Errol Graham (see separate stories) had been referred to the panel.
Graham starved to death after DWP wrongly removed his out-of-work benefits, leaving him without any income.
He weighed just four-and-a-half stone when he was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him.
DWP civil servants had failed to seek further medical evidence from his GP, just as in many other notorious cases that have sparked repeated calls for an independent inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and DWP failings.
But when Disability News Service (DNS) asked DWP about his death this week, a spokesperson said only: “This is a tragic, complex case and our sympathies are with Mr Graham’s family.
“We take this very seriously and have referred this to our Serious Case Panel, which includes independent members to help scrutinise and establish any lessons.”
When asked for further information about the panel, including its purpose, aims and membership, and why MPs and peers do not appear to have been told about its launch, the spokesperson said DWP had “nothing further to add”.
There appears to have been no mention of the panel by ministers since last September’s spending round document stated that DWP had been given £36 million to ensure that its decision-making was accurate, its application processes “straightforward and accessible”, and to improve safeguarding “by creating a new independent Serious Case Panel”.
DWP refused to provide any further information about the panel in September and Justin Tomlinson (pictured), the minister for disabled people, refused the following month to discuss the plans when questioned by Marsha de Cordova, his Labour shadow.
Now DWP has refused for the third time to offer any details about why the panel was set up, what its terms of reference are, and who its members are.
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