DWP may have ‘secretly’ investigated twice as many claimant deaths already this year

The DWP logo and Therese Coffey - a Universal Credit probe
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) may have ‘secretly‘ investigated around 50 claimant deaths this year. That’s according to a leading disability media site. So far, the DWP has refused to say why the figures are so high. This is concerning because it represents a huge increase on previous years.

The DWP: deaths on its watch

When a claimant dies in certain circumstances, the DWP looks at the case. As The Canary previously reported:

“IPRs” are Internal Process Reviews. The DWP does these at local, not central, level. It carries them out when someone takes their own life. They also happen when a vulnerable claimant makes a complaint.

IPRs were already controversial. Previously, the DWP admitted destroying some of these reports. It claimed it was due to data protection rules. Then, it set up the Serious Case Panel to look at how it handles serious incidents like claimant’s deaths. So far, it has not reported back on outcomes from the panel.

As The Canary recently reported, the DWP denied in court that it had “systemic” issues relating to claimant deaths. This is despite there being around 35,000 deaths on its watch in recent years where questions over the department’s conduct could arise.

Now, thanks to Disability News Service (DNS), we know that the number of cases the DWP is investigating over claimants taking their own lives has skyrocketed.

A worrying increase

As John Pring at DNS reported:

Read on...

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Figures released by the department in response to a parliamentary question showed it had started 97 internal process reviews (IPRs) into the deaths of claimants in the two years since July 2019.

But figures previously released to Disability News Service (DNS) by DWP have shown that it completed 40 IPRs in the 2019 calendar year and another 20 in 2020, as well as just 17 in 2016, 29 in 2017 and 18 in 2018.

Although these new figures do not allow for exact calculations, they do suggest that DWP probably started about 20 IPRs in the second half of 2019, 20 across the whole of 2020 and may have begun more than 50 so far in 2021.

In other words, the rate of IPRs has shot up. If the 50 figure is correct for 2021, that’s already more IPRs than the whole of 2019.

The DWP says…

Meanwhile, the DWP has not said a lot. DNS reported that a spokesperson “refused to offer any explanation” over the huge increase in IPRs. Pring wrote that the spokesperson:

also declined to comment on whether the increase could have been due to a change of policy on IPRs, an increase in the number of deaths of claimants linked to DWP’s actions, or DWP taking new steps to find out about more suicides and other deaths of claimants so that it could investigate them through IPRs.

So, it’s not possible to say why IPRs have increased. Recently in parliament, work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey refused to launch an inquiry into claimant deaths.

Nothing changes

As The Canary previously wrote over the case of Errol Graham, who starved to death after the DWP stopped his social security, the department told his inquest:

it had acted “appropriately”. This stock response is similar to its other ones when claimants have died. As DNS said, coroners have again and again criticised the DWP and its actions. Yet nothing changes.

A similar thing happened just weeks ago. During the second inquest into Jodey Whiting’s death the DWP said the mistakes it made in her case were not a “systemic” problem. So nothing has changed. Meanwhile, people are still dying on the DWP’s watch, and no one is being held accountable.

Featured image via the Oxford Union – YouTube and Wikimedia 

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