MPs are to launch an inquiry into safeguarding arrangements at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), following countless deaths of disabled benefit claimants linked to its actions and failings over more than a decade.
The Commons work and pensions committee will investigate if DWP has a duty to safeguard “vulnerable people”, and if it does not, whether it should, it will announce tomorrow (Friday).
It is set to take evidence from coroners who have heard inquests into the deaths of claimants, lawyers who have taken legal cases against DWP, and the families of claimants who have died.
Disabled campaigners and allies have been pushing for years for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions.
Although the committee’s investigation will be a more limited inquiry and will be led by MPs, with a Conservative majority on the committee, it is set to be the first serious public investigation into safeguarding at DWP since reports of deaths first began emerging in the early years of the 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission promised to carry out an inquiry into links between DWP’s work capability assessment and the deaths of claimants, but it was heavily criticised after it dropped those plans.
The work and pensions committee agreed to launch an inquiry after pressure from Labour’s Debbie Abrahams and her Conservative colleague Nigel Mills.
Abrahams told Disability News Service (DNS) this morning (Thursday): “After years of pushing the government for an independent inquiry into the deaths of social security claimants, the work and pensions select committee have agreed to an inquiry investigating safeguarding arrangements at the DWP.
“The committee will be inviting coroners and lawyers who have been involved in the inquests and court cases concerning the deaths of people who died while they were in receipt of benefits or shortly afterwards.
“But we will also be inviting families of loved ones who have died to provide us with evidence in writing and in person.
“So I would urge everyone who has a story which may not have been heard to get in touch.”
She added: “I’m very grateful to all members of the committee for agreeing to this inquiry including Nigel Mills MP for helping to draft the terms of reference for this.”
Grassroots groups of disabled people, such as Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, the Mental Health Resistance Network, and the Spartacus network, have spent years highlighting deaths linked to DWP’s actions.
Concerns have also been raised by relatives who have called for action after the deaths of their family members.
Some of them have spent years campaigning for justice.
Some of the evidence linking DWP with the deaths of benefit claimants has come through prevention of future deaths reports written by coroners, several of which only emerged years after they were written.
Other evidence of persistent DWP safeguarding flaws emerged through freedom of information requests to the department which have revealed how hundreds of recommendations for improvements have been made by the department’s own secret reviews into the deaths of claimants.
Some of these reviews showed DWP staff continuing to make the same fatal errors, year after year.
Evidence collected by DNS and others, stretching back more than a decade, has shown how DWP repeatedly ignored recommendations to improve the safety of its disability benefits assessment system, leading to countless avoidable deaths.
It also shows how DWP hid evidence from independent reviews, and how the department failed to keep track of the actions taken in response to recommendations made by its own secret reviews.
Evidence also demonstrates that the cultural problems within DWP extend far beyond the assessment system, touching all aspects of its dealings with disabled people in the social security system.
The evidence, compiled over the last decade by DNS and also by other journalists, academics and activists, shows systemic negligence by DWP, a culture of cover-up and denial, and a refusal to accept that the department has a duty of care to those disabled people claiming support through the social security system.
Much of that evidence has been brought together in a detailed timeline, as part of the Deaths by Welfare project headed by Dr China Mills and supported by Healing Justice London, which works with marginalised and oppressed communities.
Picture: Some of the benefit claimants whose deaths have been linked to DWP (clockwise from top left): Mark Wood, Faiza/Sophie Ahmed, James Oliver (right) with his brother Dave Smith, Stephen Carré, David Clapson, Errol Graham, Philippa Day, and Jodey Whiting
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