A disabled man starved to death after the DWP wrongly stopped his out-of-work benefits, leaving him without any income, the Disability News Service (DNS) has reported.
Errol Graham weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him. He had just a couple of out-of-date tins of fish left in his flat. DWP civil servants had failed to seek further medical evidence from his GP, just as in many other tragic cases that have sparked repeated calls for an independent inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions and failings of the DWP. Assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock, who heard the inquest, was told that the DWP stopped Graham’s ESA entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two
unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA) on 31 August 2017. The inquest heard that it was standard DWP procedure to go ahead with stopping the benefits of a claimant marked on the system as vulnerable after two failed safeguarding visits.
The DWP somehow managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on 17 October, the same day it made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit. Its own rules state that it should make both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant. Because Graham lost his ESA entitlement, his housing benefit was also stopped. His family says he had also been found ineligible for personal independence payment (PIP). Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, he slowly starved to death. He was 57. His body was discovered on 20 June 2018 when bailiffs arrived at his Nottingham council flat to evict him for non-payment of rent. His benefits had been stopped even though he had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental distress that had led to him being sectioned.
He had also told the DWP on an ESA form three years earlier that he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, adding: “Upsets my life completely. Feel under threat and upset…” He added: “Cannot deal with social situations. Keep myself to myself. Do not engage with strangers. Have no social life. Feel anxiety and panic in new situations.” The assistant coroner said: “There simply is not sufficient evidence as to how he was functioning, however, it is likely that his mental health was poor at this time – he does not appear to be having contact with other people, and he did not seek help from his GP or support agencies as he had done previously.” She concluded in the narrative verdict, delivered last June, that the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”. She said: “He needed the DWP to obtain more evidence [from his GP] at the time his ESA was stopped, to make a more informed decision about him, particularly following the failed safeguarding visits.”
She said that a consultant psychiatrist had told the inquest “that Errol was vulnerable to life stressors” and that it was “likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health”. But she decided not to write a regulation 28 report demanding changes to DWP’s safeguarding procedures to “prevent future deaths” because the department insisted that it was already completing a review of its safeguarding, which was supposed to finish last autumn.
The DWP had promised her it would “listen to clients and to those representing them, and… ensure that the DWP was focused on support and safety for vulnerable people”. Dr Didcock insisted that this commitment “must be converted into robust policy and guidance for DWP staff” and that the DWP must ensure that “all evidence that can reasonably be gathered is put together about a client, before a benefit is ceased”.
Disability News Service also highlights that the death of Errol Graham closely mirrors other tragedies caused by the DWP’s repeated refusal to make significant improvements to its safeguarding policies and practices.Ken Butler DRUK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “The tragic and unnecessary death of Errol Graham again shows that the DWP is failing in its safeguarding responsibilities towards vulnerable disabled people. “Its safeguarding policy is not publicly available which is a scandal. How many other disabled people have had their benefits wrongly stopped?
“The DWP promised the assistant coroner that it would “listen to clients and to those representing them, and… ensure that the DWP was focused on support and safety for vulnerable people”. “While this is to be welcomed, why has it taken a decade and the deaths of disabled people for it to commit to this? “As a minimum, the DWP needs to make public its current safeguarding policy so it can be better held to account for failings in the meantime. “But it should immediately halt all benefit sanctions against disabled people – as recommended by the all-party Work and Pensions Committee in 2018.”
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