Benefit Safeguards - policy issues
I’ve picked out a few sections from this debate - Debbie Abrahams’ reaction to the NAO report and some of the more interesting sections from Justin Tomlinson
Debbie Abrahams -
More recently, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) mentioned, on 7 February 2020, following a request from the former Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the NAO published a briefing report setting out the findings of its inquiries with the Department on the information it holds on benefit claimants who ended their life by suicide.
The NAO found:
“The Department has received nine contacts from coroners via its official coroner focal point relating to suicide since March 2016…received four Prevention of Future Death (PFD) reports from coroners since 2013, of which two were related to suicide…investigated 69 suicides of benefit claimants since 2014-15… It is highly unlikely that the 69 cases the Department has investigated represents the number of cases it could have investigated in the past six years”.
In other words, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We do not even know the actual number of people who have taken their own life as a result of what they went through.
The report continues:
“The Department does not have a robust record of all contact from coroners.”
How can that be? This is a Government Department, for heaven’s sake.
“The Department accepts that not all its staff are aware of the IPR guidance.”
What is the point of doing them if they are not aware?
“We also found that the Department’s guidance does not necessarily reflect the full scope of issues that could trigger an IPR.”
That just beggars belief. The report continues:
“the Department told us that there is no tracking or monitoring of the status of these recommendations. As a result, the Department does not know whether the suggested improvements are implemented.”
Do Ministers not feel ashamed? The report also said that
“the Department does not categorise IPR outputs to identify larger trends or themes from within the outputs, and so systemic issues which might be brought to light through these reviews could be missed.”
The NAO report found similar conclusions to those found by the Select Committee five years earlier: that lessons have not been learned. This is absolutely damning.
Justin Tomlinson -
I am conscious that reference has been made in interventions and speeches to the very important work of the NAO. It has produced a note relating to the DWP and the information held on deaths by suicide of benefit claimants. The Department rightly fully co-operated with the NAO during the creation of this new note, also providing a summary of how we were already working to improve processes in a number of areas. For instance, in 2016 the Department set up the coroners focal point, and is now working to improve it by developing better communication between DWP and the coroner’s office. That includes informing the coroner of the circumstances in which they should report a death to the Department.
The Department is also carrying out a review focusing on strengthening the internal process review processes and the Department’s response to serious cases and suicides. We are clarifying the circumstances in which the DWP should carry out an IPR and improving our internal guidance and communication to ensure that all colleagues are aware of and understand the processes for reporting a suicide. It is important to note that the IPRs look in detail at specific claimant cases that often contain information that is very sensitive and should thus be treated with care. Via the coroner, the families of deceased claimants are able to access information from IPRs; if they then choose to release that information, that is their choice, but as a Department it would be inappropriate to comment on the findings of individual case reviews as it is their private information. We are strengthening the analysis of IPR reports and recommendations to ensure that the Department is aware of any systematic themes and issues and is able to act and put in place effective corresponding improvements.
We are also developing a centralised customer experienced team to co-ordinate all improvement activity, including monitoring the occurrence of issues and delivery of improvements to reduce the risk of issues occurring again. The team will provide a centralised point to support local and regional customer case reviews to identify and act on systematic issues.
We have developed the serious case panel, which will consider the most serious systematic issues that have been identified. That will enable the Department to learn from the issues experienced by ensuring that there is a forum to make recommendations for improvements across the Department as necessary. I know that the Secretary of State personally takes that very seriously. Going forward, the serious case panel will meet quarterly and any recommendations from it will be taken forward by senior members of the Department to ensure that when an issue has been identified, we will learn and take appropriate action.
[ Edited: 25 Feb 2020 at 10:49 am by Owen_Stevens ]Justin Tomlinson -
We are doing everything that we possibly can. There is still more to learn and later this year we will have an opportunity through the Green Paper, which will look at claimant experiece, assessment and trust in the system. The national disability strategy, which is personally supported by the Prime Minister, will also help.
Shawn has posted here: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/8346/P60/#74121
shawn mach - 27 February 2020 03:44 PM
From the Guardian:
Errol Graham, a desperately ill man who died of starvation when his benefits were cut off, wrote a moving letter pleading with welfare officials to “judge me fairly” because he was overwhelmed by depression.
The handwritten letter, seen by the Guardian, was released by Graham’s family as they launched a legal attempt to prove that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) acted unlawfully and put him at risk by failing to put in place effective safeguards to protect vulnerable benefit claimants.
From Leigh Day:
Alison Turner, partner of Errol’s son, has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the DWP arguing that their systems and procedures regarding the termination of benefits for someone in Errol’s circumstances, and the decisions in his particular case, were unlawful. She also argues that the secretive investigations and reviews being conducted by the DWP into benefit-related deaths are unlawful and must be reformed.
Information about the benefit safeguards review following the death of Errol Graham
- IR2020_07676_Reply.pdf (File Size: 207KB - Downloads: 41)
Secretary of State has responded to Stephen Timms’ letter regarding the recent NAO report
- Correspondence_with_Secretary_of_State_about_NAOs_report_on_information_held_by_DWP_on_deaths_by_suicide_of_benefit_claimants.pdf (File Size: 343KB - Downloads: 9)