A young disabled mother killed herself after hearing she would have to attend a face-to-face interview at a benefits assessment centre, following repeated warnings that she could not cope with such a meeting, an inquest has heard.
Philippa Day left an apparent suicide note blaming the way the government had dealt with her benefits, and had previously told her sister that she believed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was trying to kill her.
Her unconscious body was found by her sister and father on 8 August 2019, just days after she had been told she would need to attend an assessment centre for a face-to-face appointment to decide her new personal independence payment (PIP) claim.
They found her lying on her bed at her home in Nottingham. On the pillow next to her was the letter from outsourcing giant Capita telling her that she would have to attend the appointment at the assessment centre in Nottingham.
On previous occasions, she had always told family or friends that she was intending to take such an action, which allowed them to call an ambulance. This time, she had not told anyone what she planned to do.
She was taken to hospital but later died after more than two months in a coma.
Philippa’s father later found notes on a laptop he had lent his daughter and which was also found on the bed, including one which appeared to be a suicide note.
It said: “I have been trapped for so long and then along comes a 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 affected my identity.”
The inquest heard how Philippa had experienced months of distress due to DWP’s decisions to remove her disability benefits when it appears to have lost her claim form, and then to confirm that decision, as well as the length of time it took to reinstate her benefits, and deal with a new claim.
It also heard how multiple errors were made by those working in the system (see separate story).
Both DWP and Capita had been told of her history of significant mental distress and mental health inpatient admissions, that she was agoraphobic, and that she would be unable to cope with attending the assessment centre.
The inquest heard that the decision to force her to attend the centre had caused her “immense distress” and that she was “terrified” of having to attend the assessment centre.
Philippa’s trusted community psychiatric nurse, Tessa Rand, had spoken with her on 7 August about the assessment, which was going to take place 12 days later.
Rand told the inquest: “She was very, very distressed that it wasn’t an appointment at home. She was distressed about having an appointment in general.
“She felt she would not be able to cope. She would not be able to communicate what she needed to communicate.
“She said: ‘I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.’”
Despite Rand informing Capita of the distress the imminent assessment was causing Philippa, the company refused to offer a home assessment.
Her sister Imogen had spoken to Philippa and exchanged texts with her on the evening and night of 7 August and had attempted to persuade her that they would be able to secure a home assessment for her.
Her sister had denied that she had any thoughts of self-harm at that time, and “gave no indication” that she planned to take her own life.
When Imogen was asked by DWP’s barrister, Simon Hilton, if she thought that the difficulties she had with DWP and Capita in 2019 was “a big reason why she took her own life”, she said: “Yes.”
When Hilton asked if there were other reasons, she said: “No, I feel [it] was directly related.”
He had suggested earlier in the inquest that there could have been other reasons for her distress and actions, including her “complicated” relationship with her family, and not being able to be a full-time mother for her young son.
But Imogen said she agreed with Tessa Rand that the PIP assessment situation was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
Philippa had been diagnosed with type one diabetes when she was 18 months old, and had also been diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), anxiety, depression and agoraphobia.
She lived a “chaotic” life characterised by repeated self-harm, suicidal ideation and drug and alcohol misuse, as well as repeated inpatient admissions to mental health units, but the inquest heard she received constant, dedicated and close support from her family and mental health professionals, particularly Rand.
The inquest heard that she had also been concerned about the impact of her mental health and frequent admissions to hospital on her son, who was being cared for by her parents.
Philippa, who was 27, had been claiming disability living allowance (DLA) for her diabetes since she was 16 but had started a new claim for PIP in November 2018, hoping to secure further support for needs related to her mental health.
Her PIP application form appears to have been lost by DWP, the inquest heard, after she posted it in January 2019, and her DLA was stopped that month because she had failed to return it.
Because of the challenges she faced in managing her life, linked to the EUPD, she only realised her DLA had been stopped – and that her weekly benefits had plunged from £294 a week to £138 – in March, and then had to start a second new PIP claim, the inquest heard.
Although she was supported financially by her parents, she was unable to prepare food herself and so often had to rely on takeaways.
She also appeared to be spending a significant amount on cannabis, alcohol and cocaine, habits she was ashamed of but were at least partly used to self-medicate to deal with her mental distress, the inquest heard.
Rand had made 11 calls to DWP in early June to try to sort out her PIP claim, after Philippa had made a call to DWP that had left her “very distressed” (see separate story).
She eventually received a back-payment of about £2,000 from DWP in June, but is believed to have used it all almost immediately to pay off some of the debts she had built up, including to payday lenders.
Imogen told the inquest that Philippa (known to her family as Pip) had asked her in April, during one of her frequent stays in a mental health inpatient unit, “to advocate for her in the event of her death if her claim killed her”.
She added: “It was specifically in relation to the PIP claim.
“She said: ‘They are trying to fucking kill me.’ She explained that they were aware of her recent inpatient admissions, that Tessa [her community psychiatric nurse] had told them about her severe mental health problems.”
Imogen said her sister had believed DWP’s negligence was “an intentional effort to kill her because it was cheaper than paying her”.
She said: “I would say to Pip: ‘Nobody is sitting behind a desk cackling evilly… these claims are very difficult, very long, very drawn out.’
“I would try to assure her it was not personal. Pip felt it was personal.”
She said it was “completely impossible” for her sister to attend an interview in an assessment centre.
“She would have sobbed, she would have screamed, she would have experienced immense distress and frustration and would have been unable to communicate.
“I would have been very concerned about an overdose directly after the assessment. I think that’s quite likely.”
Their father, Charles, who was very close to Philippa, said she had been “highly distressed” at the idea of attending the assessment centre.
He said the idea of “meeting people she didn’t know to be interrogated by them would have frightened the hell out of her”.
Their mother, Jane, said Philippa had been “loved immeasurably since birth” and was “very kind” and “very thoughtful” and would “always offer help to someone in need”.
She spent 66 of the 69 days Philippa spent in a coma before she died at her hospital bedside.
Giving evidence to the inquest, she sent a message to her deceased daughter, saying that she hoped “lessons can be learned from your very tragic and untimely death”.
The inquest is expected to end next week.
Picture: Philippa (left) with her son and her sister Imogen