A disabled woman, who apparently took her own life in despair at the way her benefits claim was being dealt with, left a note that “directly implicated” the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in her death.
Philippa Day, who had agoraphobia, appears to have killed herself after hearing hours earlier that her repeated pleas for her personal independence payment (PIP) assessment to be held in her own home had been rejected.
Her death is the latest in a long line of tragedies linked to the failings of DWP and its private sector contractors, and follows years of repeated promises by the department to learn from the deaths of other disabled benefit claimants (see separate story).
Months before she died, Philippa’s benefits had been slashed when she tried to move from disability living allowance (DLA) to personal independence payment (PIP), and she began to experience significant financial problems as her life spiralled out of control.
Mental health professionals who worked with her had told both DWP and its private sector assessment contractors Capita of the risk to her life caused by the problems with her PIP claim.
She had requested a home assessment in two PIP claim forms – one of which was lost by DWP – and in a phone call to Capita, with her community psychiatric nurse also twice calling Capita to say that she needed to be assessed at home because of her significant mental distress.
She appears to have taken her own life after receiving a letter telling her that she would not be allowed a home assessment and would instead have to visit a Capita assessment centre to test if she was eligible for PIP.
Her body was found the next day, 8 August 2019, by her sister and father at her home in Nottingham, with a copy of the letter lying on the pillow next to her body.
Her sister, Imogen, told Disability News Service: “The letter was placed deliberately on her pillow. She wanted us to know very clearly that it wasn’t our fault.”
Philippa spent the next two months in a coma, and died in October 2019, aged just 27.
Even while she was lying in hospital, Capita – which had been told she was in a coma – told the family that if she failed to attend the face-to-face assessment, her benefit claim would be cancelled and she would have to start again from scratch.
A few days later, about £4,000 in PIP arrears was deposited by DWP in Philippa’s bank account without warning.
Imogen said: “What’s so frustrating is that my sister knew she was going to die because of this. We had multiple conversations prior to her death.
“She told me that if this killed her, I had to advocate for her, I had to fight for her and fight for justice.
“She knew before she died that this was going to kill her.”
Philippa was the oldest of three siblings, and had been diagnosed with diabetes when she was very young, and later, after years of experience of significant mental distress, with emotionally unstable personality disorder.
Imogen said that her sister “had such a kind heart” and was “the most fantastic mother” to her young son, who is now five.
She said: “She would do absolutely anything for anyone. She was so passionate about helping and supporting other people.”
Her problems had started when she was advised to move from DLA – she is believed to have been on the lower rate of the care component – onto the new PIP, which has repeatedly been linked since its launch in 2013 with dishonest assessors and claimants wrongly deprived of their support.
Before her decision to start a PIP claim, Philippa and her family had been optimistic about the future, and she was hopeful of becoming a mental health support worker.
But the problems with her PIP claim – which led to her DLA being removed completely after her first PIP claim form went missing – saw her financial situation and mental health rapidly deteriorate, leading to a suicide attempt and two spells in psychiatric hospitals.
Imogen said that her sister, who is also believed to have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance, had had to fight for her “most basic rights” and had taken out payday loans, self-harmed and increasingly resorted to illegal drugs.
She struggled to collect all the written evidence she needed for her claim, and spoke to Imogen almost every day about her PIP application.
Although she received some DLA arrears from DWP in June 2019, the money went almost immediately to paying off debts, and she was told she would have to attend a face-to-face assessment in an assessment centre.
Her family knew she would not be capable of attending the centre because of her agoraphobia.
Philippa, known to her sister as Pip, became more angry and more depressed and considered cancelling her PIP claim.
Imogen said: “Pip felt that she was dehumanised, that her disabilities were ignored.
“She felt that they were pressuring her to kill herself, she felt that she didn’t matter because she was disabled.”
The day after receiving a letter telling her that her request for a home assessment had been rejected, her sister and father found her unconscious in her bedroom. Next to her body was the letter telling her she could not have a home assessment.
Imogen later found a note, titled “12.02.92 – 08.08.19” (the dates of her birth and her apparent attempt to take her own life), which said: “I’ve been so trapped for so long and then along comes the government who people would assume are there to help.
“Since January the 11th 2019 my benefits have been severely cut, this has caused me to get payday loans to simply live and that has escalated into a hole I can never get out of.
“Not just that having nothing has isolated me from the world, has effected my identity.”
A three-day inquest into her death is set to take place early next month, following a pre-inquest hearing last week.
Merry Varney, the family’s solicitor and a partner at Leigh Day, said: “We shall be supporting Pip’s family through the inquest process and seeking on their behalf a full and fearless investigation into whether the acts and omissions of Capita and the DWP caused or contributed to Pip’s death.”
She said the family’s concerns about the “devastating and foreseeable impact on Pip of the decisions made by the DWP and Capita” echoed those made by other bereaved families about the “serious and substantial consequences of failures in decision-making by the DWP and its agents”.
She said the coroner had heard evidence on why Philippa’s family were seeking an inquest that would look at the wider circumstances of her death and would allow the coroner to make “judgmental findings”.
Varney added: “The DWP and Capita, both with legal representation, argued against this and we await a decision from the coroner.”
Imogen said DWP had made serious errors with dealing with her sister’s PIP claim at every stage of the process.
Now she and the rest of the family are determined to fight for an end to the outsourcing of benefit assessments, for a complete overhaul of DWP policies and practices, and for those responsible for Philippa’s death to be held accountable for their actions.
Imogen said: “We need her son to know that we fought for his mother.”
Capita said it could not answer questions about Philippa Day’s death because of the ongoing inquest, but a spokesperson said: “We extend our deepest condolences to Philippa Day’s family over her tragic death.
“We are one of several parties assisting the coroner in relation to the inquest into these sad circumstances and we will continue to cooperate fully with this inquiry.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our condolences are with Miss Day’s family. As the inquest process is ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”
*The following organisations are among those that could be able to offer support if you have been affected by the issues raised in this article: Samaritans, Papyrus, Mind and Rethink
Picture: Philippa Day (left), her son, and her sister, Imogen