Disabled activists have been left sickened, shocked and enraged after hearing how a disabled man starved to death when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) wrongly removed his out-of-work benefits for missing an assessment.
One campaigner said the level of cruelty shown in the treatment of Errol Graham (see separate stories) was “outside of anything that would happen in a civilised society” and showed that DWP “continues to treat the lives of people who live with mental distress as disposable”.
Others – including Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, a former shadow work and pensions secretary – said the death provided further evidence of the need for an inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants.
Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the network was “absolutely devastated and saddened beyond words to hear of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Graham”.
She said: “We are enraged that the DWP continues to treat the lives of people who live with mental distress as disposable.
“This level of cruelty is outside of anything that would happen in a civilised society.
“The fact that Mr Graham had not responded to attempts to contact him following his failure to attend the work capability assessment (WCA) should have raised alarm bells over his safety, but instead the DWP took the opportunity to stop his social security entitlements.”
She said it was not surprising that Graham had stopped engaging with his GP, as specialist mental health services had been “decimated and most people with severe and enduring mental health problems have been left with virtually no support.
“There is now virtually no attempt to help anyone with a serious mental health problem, indeed there is wilful denial of its very existence.”
McKenna said MHRN would do all it could to bring the “sad and needless” death of Errol Graham to the public’s attention.
She said: “The government is well aware that the social security system is causing deaths.
“There should be a criminal investigation into Mr Graham’s death. We can no longer say that such deaths are accidental or due to some error.
“This is deliberate and therefore goes beyond manslaughter.”
Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said it was “another pointless, needless death of someone whose only mistake was to ask for help from a cruel and heartless government.
“Another death, another name of someone I never had the chance to meet etched on my memory. Will this drumbeat of desperation, fear, humiliation and death ever end?”
Linda Burnip, another member of the DPAC steering group, pointed to the loss of vital community mental health support that might have halted DWP’s “cruel and incompetent” actions.
She said: “Particularly in view of this safety net disappearing, we must renew our campaigning to force DWP to exercise due care before they effectively sentence more disabled people to death by wrongly removing their social security payments… there is no safety net anymore due to cuts.”
Paula Peters, a fellow steering group member, said the cuts to support for people in mental distress in the benefit and healthcare system were “ideological and targeted”.
She said: “It’s tragic, it’s bloody outrageous. The safety net in the welfare state – and this includes the NHS – is being totally ripped away and people in mental distress are paying with their lives.
“Where the hell is the outcry?”
Members of WOWcampaign were also shocked and horrified by the details of Errol Graham’s death.
WOW’s Michelle Maher said: “How many more people have to die being terrorised and abandoned by this government? How many more families destroyed?
“DWP consistently claims lessons have been learnt but the deaths keep happening.
“They can find the money to fund a top barrister [to defend DWP’s failings at the inquest into his death last June] but not the money to care for disabled people.
“Lessons have not been learned in the last 10 years.
“They keep claiming they change practices, and nothing changes. If anything, it is getting worse. When did lives mean so little?”
Carole Ford, also from WOW, said it was “shocking” that “alarm bells” failed to go off in the heads of DWP civil servants dealing with Errol Graham’s case when he failed to respond to their safeguarding checks.
She said: “Instead of alerting the emergency services when visits were unanswered (a common sense action that anyone would do), the department stopped his benefit, resulting in bailiffs being called in.
“Result: a client found dead from starvation by said bailiffs.”
Her fellow WOW campaigner Ian Jones said: “I find it very difficult to comment on yet another death caused by DWP indifference to the needs of sick and disabled people, because nothing I can say would be original – everything I could say I’ve said about countless other DWP deaths.
“The regular deaths connected to DWP decisions cannot do anything other than suggest these decisions are a causal factor.
“How many more people have to die before this heartless government calls a public inquiry into this scandal?”
Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said the death of Errol Graham was “appalling and tragic”.
She said: “Once again the DWP has failed in its safeguarding responsibilities towards people with significant health issues.
“To leave someone with no income whatsoever and for that decision to result in a man slowly starving to death simply should not happen.
“This is not the first time that the DWP has promised to review its procedures following a person’s death and nothing has improved.
“This is why I have met with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and have requested that they investigate the deaths of social security claimants who have died after being found fit for work, or had a personal independence payment claim refused and reduced.
“I’m pleased that they have agreed to look at this as part of their future work plan and hope they will launch such an investigation.
“Any government’s first duty is to protect their citizens, and once again the DWP has disastrously failed.”