Twenty-one charities and mental health organisations have thrown their weight behind a campaign calling for an independent inquiry into the deaths of people relying on the welfare system.
The charity Rethink Mental Illness has written to the secretary of state for Work and Pensions expressing ‘deep concern’ about the welfare of vulnerable benefits claimants and have launched a petition calling for an inquiry into welfare-related deaths.
A recent report by the National Audit Office showed that the Department for Work and Pensions investigated 69 instances where people receiving benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15. The report suggested it is likely that there are more cases that could have been investigated.
Signed by 21 different charities and mental health organisations, including Mind, Liberty and the Trussell Trust, the petition is accompanied by a statement which says the groups are ‘deeply concerned that some of the policies and processes of the Department for Work and Pensions appear linked to avoidable deaths.’
‘The National Audit Office reports that the Department has internally investigated 69 cases where people claiming benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15,’ it reads.
‘It was also clear that is ‘highly unlikely’ that these represent the total number of cases that could have investigated in the past six years, and that there is ‘no tracking or monitoring’ of the status of the recommendations that have been made following the investigations that have taken place.
‘We are therefore calling on the Government to establish an independent inquiry into those deaths where it appears that the welfare benefits system may have been a significant factor, with a remit to recommend changes to policy as well as internal DWP processes where needed.
‘The clock is ticking. In November, the Government plans to begin a ‘managed migration’ of people from the current sickness benefit - Employment and Support Allowance - to Universal Credit. It is vital that we properly understand the circumstances of these deaths before embarking on this change.’
Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness commented: ‘The tragic cases that have come to light recently point to a system that is desperately failing the most vulnerable. In a system that is supposed to support people, something is going badly wrong if people feel pushed to breaking point.
‘The reason so many organisations are backing this campaign is that we have seen first-hand the damage that can be done when welfare policies and processes don’t treat people with the care and compassion they deserve. It is clear we need an independent inquiry to urgently learn the lessons of these avoidable deaths.’
A DWP spokesperson said: 'These are complex and devastating matters that we take very seriously. We always seek to learn lessons where we can and we are urgently working to drive forward improvements in the system. We will carefully consider the NAO’s findings as part of our ongoing work.'