A Labour MP has written to the work and pensions secretary to call for an inquiry into deaths linked to government social security reforms, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.
Debbie Abrahams made the demands – key elements of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition – in a letter to Amber Rudd, in which she expressed “grave concerns” about the government’s failure to pass documents linking its reforms with the deaths of disabled people to its own independent reviewer.
Abrahams, a former shadow work and pensions secretary, had been told by Disability News Service (DNS) that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had finally admitted failing to send key letters and secret reviews to the team reviewing the work capability assessment (WCA).
In her letter, Abrahams demanded urgent answers to “these very serious questions”.
She told Rudd: “I am concerned that under your predecessors, two letters written by coroners, and a series of ‘peer reviews’ into the deaths of claimants, were not sent to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the Work Capability Assessment in 2013 and 2014.
“I would be grateful if you would confirm that these reports are correct and outline what steps you have taken to ensure such an omission could not recur.”
Abrahams also raised the issue during work and pensions questions in the House of Commons on Monday.
But the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, failed to answer her questions, insisting instead that the government had “accepted and implemented” more than 100 recommendations made by the WCA reviews and would “continue to do all that we can to improve the process for claimants”.
Abrahams told DNS afterwards: “His response, or lack of, speaks for itself.”
In her letter to Rudd, she said there needed to be an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms, with any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.
DNS revealed last week how ministers failed to send the review team two letters from coroners and a series of internal reviews, even though they knew the documents linked the WCA with the deaths of disabled people.
The admission came in DWP’s response to a complaint lodged by DNS with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the department’s failure to confirm if it passed the information to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the WCA in 2013 and 2014.
A senior ICO case officer told DNS: “Consultation with the ex-review team elicited statements that no such information was received from DWP nor were any physical files sent to stores.”
DWP has this week finally responded to DNS questions about the ICO evidence.
A spokesperson said: “DWP co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team.
“DWP was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to.
“The issues investigated and evidence sought is at the discretion of the independent reviewer, and according to the terms of reference of their review.”
But she has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.
The existence of the letters and the links between peer reviews and the WCA were not revealed by DNS until after the final Litchfield report was published.
She also refused to say if DWP believed the cover-up showed there needed to be an independent inquiry, and that any evidence suggesting criminal misconduct in public office should be passed to the police.
*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
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