Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ministers change story yet again on benefit-related deaths

Ministers have admitted releasing yet more inaccurate information about their secret inquiries into the deaths of benefit claimants.

Last year, the Department for Work and Pensions stated, in a Freedom of Information Act (FoI) response, that it did not hold any records on deaths linked to, or partially caused by, the withdrawal or non-payment of disability benefits.

Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for disabled people, later told Disability News Service (DNS) that he did not “accept the premise” that DWP should collect and analyse reports of such deaths.

But the Liberal Democrat DWP minister Steve Webb appeared to contradict Harper when he said the following week that when the department becomes aware of worrying cases “they do get looked at”.

A DWP spokesman finally told DNS last October that it does carry out reviews into individual cases, where it is “appropriate”.

It then admitted, in another FoI response, that it had in fact carried out 60 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths since February 2012.

But in a response last week to a question from the veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher, Esther McVey, the Conservative employment minister, said the department had in fact carried out 49 “peer reviews relating to the death of a claimant”.

She refused to say how many of these reviews involved the sanctioning of claimants, and in how many cases DWP’s actions were found to be “inappropriate or incorrect”...