Disabled campaigners are pushing the human rights watchdog to take legal action against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over its links to the avoidable deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.
The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (RoFA) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have told the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s chair, David Isaac, that the watchdog needs to act urgently to prevent further deaths.
The letter, sent yesterday (Wednesday), points to years of evidence of “discriminatory” DWP policies that have led to disabled people’s deaths, including a report by the National Audit Office that found DWP had carried out secret investigations into 69 suicides of benefit claimants since April 2014.
It also points to two reports written by coroners, in March 2010 and January 2014, which linked flaws in the work capability assessment process with the deaths of claimants.
They say this evidence shows that disabled people have continued to die as a result of ministers’ failure to ensure that the necessary medical information was secured when an employment and support allowance claimant had a mental health condition.
They say the commission needs to take legal action against DWP based on the “catalogue of deaths caused by changes to benefit rules instigated by the DWP in the last 10 years”.
The letter also highlights evidence from scores of secret DWP reviews into benefit-related deaths, as well as an investigation by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found that the government’s social security reforms had led to “grave and systematic” violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
RoFA and DPAC have also asked EHRC to join a legal action being taken by the family of Errol Graham (pictured), who are hoping to force DWP into making sweeping improvements to its safeguarding system.
Graham starved to death after his out-of-work disability benefits were wrongly removed by DWP.
His family believe that the decisions DWP took, as well as its systems, procedures and actions, and subsequent investigations and reviews, were unlawful.
RoFA and DPAC believe that safeguarding measures under the government’s new universal credit benefit system have been further weakened, which “means that disabled claimants are even more at risk now than before, making legal proceedings even more urgent”.
EHRC is already considering a request from Labour’s Debbie Abrahams for it to launch an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s failings.
An EHRC spokesperson said: “Everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living and it is vital that lessons are learned from Mr Graham’s case.
“We are still reviewing what potential work we might undertake to tackle discriminatory decision making in the social security system and we will consider and respond to this letter in due course.”
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