Benefit claimants die as DWP staff keep failing to follow suicide guidelines

September 8th 2016 John Pring

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to consider an inquiry into its repeated failure to prevent the deaths of benefit claimants, despite the release of damning new information from nine secret reviews.

Key information from reviews into the deaths of nine benefit claimants had been requested by Disability News Service (DNS) in April – following the release of 49 earlier reviews – but DWP has only released it now after pressure from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Although most of the information from the reviews – previously known as peer reviews but now called internal process reviews – was redacted, DWP did release the authors’ recommendations for how procedures should be improved locally and nationally.

Those recommendations show that DWP staff repeatedly failed to follow strict guidelines on how to support benefit claimants who have expressed thoughts of self-harm or threatened to take their own lives, which were introduced in 2009.

That guidance – known as the six-point plan – “sets out the framework for managing suicide and self harm declarations from customers”.

The plan tells staff to “take the statement seriously”, “summon a colleague”, “gather information”, “provide referral advice – if the situation is non-urgent”, “summon emergency help”, and “review” the incident afterwards with their line manager.

DWP managers are supposed to use this framework to create their own local six point plans.

But the information released to DNS shows that with two of the nine deaths, which were all reviewed between August 2014 and January 2016, the author called for DWP to “remind staff about the Six Point Plan” and pointed out the need to “embed” the plan in DWP procedures because the failure to follow the guidance was “a recurring theme”.

Of the nine reviews, seven of them involved people who had taken their own lives, and five included recommendations for local or national improvements.

Other concerns raised by the reviews include the apparent use of out-of-date information to decide an employment and support allowance (ESA) claim, and benefits staff apparently failing to visit a claimant marked in their files as “vulnerable” who had failed to attend an assessment before their claim was rejected.

As in all nine cases, the claimant lost their life, although no other information is known about the circumstances of their deaths.

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Linthorpe mum was involved in benefits dispute before she took own life, inquest hears

Joanne Smith was involved in an ongoing dispute with the Department of Work and Pensions over sick pay before her death

A mum was embroiled in a row over benefits before she took her own life, an inquest heard.

Joanne Smith was involved in an ongoing dispute with the Department of Work and Pensions over sick pay before her death, Teesside Coroner’s Court was told.

The 46-year-old was found hanged at her Middlesbrough home on June 29.

Ms Smith had lived at her home on Wakefield Road, in Linthorpe , for 30 years.

She had two children to partner Lee Grace, who said he believed the dispute was the reason for her depressed state of mind.

In a statement read out to the inquest, he said: “I don’t know for sure but I think Joanne was depressed.

“She had a sick note but the DWP had stopped paying her and this did upset her.”

Ms Smith suffered from asthma and arthritis. Her knee was badly damaged in a car accident when she was just 11, the inquest heard.

She had no history of depression or suicide attempts in the past.

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If you are having suicidal thoughts please call the Samaritans on their free phone number 116 123


DWP repeatedly warned of failures to protect vulnerable benefit claimants, internal documents reveal

Inquiries into the deaths of benefit claimants have revealed the government was repeatedly warned that vulnerable people were struggling to cope with benefit cuts, it has been reported.

The inquiries highlight a number of concerns that vulnerable people, including those with mental illnesses or learning disabilities, were not being sufficiently supported by Department for Work and Pensions staff or adequately protected from sudden benefit cuts, The Guardian reports.

The internal ‘peer review’ reports have been released to campaigners following a two year legal battle with the Department. The reports are undertaken by the government when a benefit claimant’s death appears to be “associated with DWP activity”. There is no suggestion that the DWP is responsible for the deaths.

49 reports have been released from February 2012 and August 2014, of which 40 are understood to relate to a person who has died as a result of suicide. Findings include that Department staff did not always follow guidelines when dealing with vulnerable people and reportedly often had issues with poor communication or rigidly sticking to policies rather than showing flexibility or common sense approaches.

A report into one death states: “We need to ask whether or not in the context of fast-moving environment of high [claimant re-assessment] volumes and anticipated levels of performance, the current process requires, encourages and supports… colleagues to independently and systematically consider claimant vulnerability.”

Another says: “This case may highlight a dislocation between policy intent and what actually happens to claimants who are vulnerable.”

In two cases investigators reportedly state that their inquiries were impaired as DWP records had been destroyed or were missing.

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Daughter of man who committed suicide after being found fit to work takes human rights case to UN

THE grieving daughter of a disabled man who took his own life after being wrongly declared fit for work is getting help from Scottish disability rights campaigners to take his case to the United Nations over human rights violations and also make an official complaint to the General Medical Council (GMC).

Medical adviser Dr Stephen Carty, an Edinburgh GP and medical adviser for the Black Triangle campaign group, is helping Michael O’Sullivan’s daughter Anne-Marie compile a complaint against the GMC’s handling of her father’s assessment and their failure to act.

As part of the UN’s investigation into Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, they are putting together a dossier of information about the 60-year-old’s tragic case.

Details of a coroner’s report, which ruled that father-of-two O’Sullivan died as a direct result of being found fit for work by the UK Government’s disability assessors, was exposed by the Disability News Service investigative journalist John Pring last week and it’s the first time the UK Government’s ruthless welfare cuts have been blamed for the death of a claimant.

In the report to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the coroner for inner north London demanded it take action to prevent further deaths after concluding the “trigger” for O’Sullivan’s suicide was his fit-for-work assessment.
The north London man was moved from Employment Support on to Jobseeker’s Allowance after 10 years despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia and was unable to work. He killed himself at his home on September 24, 2013.

Anne-Marie insisted her father should never have been ruled fit to work and plans to explore very avenue in her fight for justice.

John McArdle, Black Triangle campaign manager, said: “We are helping Anne-Marie to compile a complaint against the GMC and their lack of action against the doctor, employed by Atos, who ignored all other medical advice and found her dad fit for work.

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Depressed mum drowned herself after being refused residential care for severely autistic daughter

An inquest heard how Carol Barnett, 51, took her own life by walking into a river just hours after a meeting with social services

A mum struggling to cope with her severely autistic daughter drowned herself the day after social services told her they would not give her child residential care.

An inquest heard how Carol Barnett, 51, took her own life by walking into a river just hours after a meeting with social services.

Just minutes earlier she phoned her husband Daniel Barnett, 51, and told him that she could not cope.

Read more: Headteacher sacked after school builds metal cage to house ‘unruly’ autistic boy

Her daughter Deborah, 10, who was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old, cannot talk, is incontinent, cannot wash or dress herself and requires 24 hour care.

The hearing was told that social services had continually refused to send her to a residential school which would provide the constant care she needs.

Speaking after the inquest Mr Barnett, 51, said he believed the meeting with social services the night before she took her own life pushed his wife over the edge.

He said: “Carol kept asking about residential options but the social worker kept saying no. The next morning she took her own life.

“I can’t believe for one second that what happened in that meeting did not have any effect on her.

“I’m not saying it’s all social services’ fault, because it’s not, but I feel it really was the last nail in her coffin.

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