Ministers appear close to defeat in their six-year battle to prevent the release of secret reports into the suicides and other deaths of benefit claimants, after the release of findings from a second Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) investigation.
The family of Errol Graham, who starved to death in June 2018 after his employment and support allowance (ESA) and other benefits were wrongly removed, have been shown a summary of the DWP internal process review (IPR) that examined the circumstances surrounding his death.
The document was released to Leigh Day, the solicitors representing his family, as part of their high court judicial review claim that the decision to halt Errol’s ESA in 2017, and DWP’s ESA safeguarding policy on terminating benefits, were both unlawful.
It follows the release of an IPR into the death of Philippa Day, which was obtained by solicitors for her family – also Leigh Day – and later released to Disability News Service (DNS) by the coroner holding her inquest (see separate story).
The two IPRs appear to be the first to be released to families since DWP admitted in autumn 2014 that such documents existed.
Alison Turner, the fiancée of Errol Graham’s son, said she hoped the release of the two documents would now mean that all families with a relative whose death has been investigated by DWP would be able to obtain a copy of that IPR.
She said: “I think they are going to struggle to refuse that now.
“The additional suffering families go through is because DWP is not treating those who have died as a person, they are treating them as if they are just a number.
“They don’t acknowledge that a family is hurting and needs answers in order to start moving on with their life and have the comfort that things have changed as a result.
“It is causing unnecessary hurt and stress.
“There is nothing worse for a family than to think their loved one is dead, and no-one is learning anything from it.”
She added: “It helps to know that Errol has not just died and DWP have just gone into work the next day like nothing’s happened, because that’s how it felt to me [before she saw the IPR].”
But she said she was also frustrated that DWP had only released a summary of the IPR, rather than the full document.
She said: “They are picking and choosing what they think we have a right to see.
“As far as I am concerned, that IPR belongs to my family [because it looks at] how they have learned from my family member’s death.
“We should not be entitled to part of it, we should be entitled to the whole of it.”
Turner also said the document showed that the review had downplayed the conclusions of the coroner who heard the inquest into his death.
She said the IPR failed to mention that Errol starved to death, even though the coroner found he died from “starvation” at his flat in Nottingham and that his benefits were removed eight months before his body was found by bailiffs who had come to evict him.
She said: “They are treating the death as it is just a mistake and it is not their policy that is at fault.”
Turner said the IPR also failed to mention the coroner’s conclusion that Errol had “needed the DWP to obtain more evidence at the time his ESA was stopped” and her conclusion that the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.
Although the IPR raises some concerns about safeguarding under the heading “minor findings”, under the heading “major findings” it states simply: “None.”
A DWP spokesperson had not commented on the new IPR by noon today (Thursday) but has previously said it would currently be inappropriate to comment on the judicial review case. Judgement on the case has been reserved until a future date.
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