Coroner calls for urgent government action following suicide of young mother told to attend PIP assessment

By Dr Leon Tressell

Philippa Day took her own life after her Disability Living Allowance was wrongly stopped and she was invited to a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment despite the large body of medical evidence that she was experiencing severe mental health issues including two recent overdose attempts.

Her father found a suicide note on her bed that laid the blame clearly on those processing her benefits claim:

“I have been trapped for so long and then along comes a government who people would assume are there to help. Since January the 11th 2019 my benefits have been severely cut, this has caused me to get payday loans to simply live and that has escalated into a hole I can never get out of. Not just that, having nothing has isolated me from the world, has affected my identity.”

At the inquest into her death the coroner, Mr Gordon Clow HM, Assistant Coroner for Nottingham, noted 28 separate failings by the Department for Work and Pensions and Capita.

He has now published his Regulation 28 Report To Prevent Future Deaths. In his report that has been sent to the DWP/Capita for action, Mr Clow makes several pertinent points regarding the multiple mistakes made by the DWP/Capita.

He notes that: “The administration of Philippa Day’s benefits claim was characterised by multiple errors, some of which occurred repeatedly throughout the period of her claim. As a result of errors made, Philippa Day’s income from benefits more than halved for a period of several months, causing her severe financial hardship. This then resulted in Philippa Day taking out high interest loans creating a financial problem that Philippa Day did not have the means to solve.”

In June 2019 a decision was made to call Philippa Day in for a PIP assessment at an assessment centre, even though there was abundant medical evidence that an assessment outside her home would exacerbate her unstable mental health illustrated by two recent overdose attempts.

The coroner makes it clear that: “The requirement for her to attend this appointment created a risk of a mental health crisis resulting in an overdose.”

Philippa’s Community Psychiatric Nurse had warned of this risk shortly before her overdose in advice that had been given to those processing her claim.

In his report the coroner draws a damning conclusion: “The distress caused by the administration of Philippa Day’s welfare benefits claim led to Philippa Day suffering acute distress and exacerbated many of her other chronic stressors. Were it not for these problems, it is unlikely that Philippa Day would have taken an overdose of her prescribed insulin on 7th or 8th August 2019.”

In his report, the coroner expresses his concerns and makes several recommendations for urgent action to be taken to prevent any more deaths of benefit claimants with serious mental health issues:  “During the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concern. In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken. In the circumstances, it is my statutory duty to report to you. The MATTERS OF CONCERN are as follows:

1. Call handlers at the DWP had not received, in their preparatory course prior to commencing work taking calls from claimants, specific training as to how best to interact with persons suffering from mental ill health in such a way as to avoid inadvertently exacerbating the difficulties experienced in progressing claims for benefits by such persons;

2. Records of calls handled were very brief and, at times, inaccurate. The records did not facilitate accurate decision making or enable queries to be dealt with efficiently and without inadvertently exacerbating the difficulties experienced by Philippa Day in progressing her benefits claims; and

3. The change of assessment process did not allow for a decision, which was incorrect, to be rectified without evidence of a subsequent change of circumstances. In addition, when a change of review process was appropriate, there was no means by which upcoming appointments could be cancelled without causing prejudice to Philippa Day. A misleading letter was sent which led Philippa Day to consider that her benefits would be stopped if she did not attend the upcoming appointment.”

The coroner makes it very clear that the DWP and Capita need to make changes to prevent any more needless deaths: “In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe your organisations have the power to take such action.”

The coroner concludes by stating that the DWP/Capita have an obligation to respond to his recommendations: ” You are under a duty to respond to this report within 56 days of the date of this report, namely by 12 April 2021. I, the coroner, may extend the period. Your response must contain details of action taken or proposed to be taken, setting out the timetable for action. Otherwise you must explain why no action is proposed.”

Several families are fighting in the courts over the way that the callous actions of the DWP contributed to the deaths of loved ones. The families of Jodey Whiting and Errol Graham are waiting on High Court decisions which they hope will force the government to makes changes to safeguard vulnerable claimants.

Urgent action by the government needs to be taken to prevent any more people with serious mental health issues from taking their lives due to pressures from and mistakes made by the DWP/Capita.

The Labour Party leadership must significantly step up its efforts to defend vulnerable benefit claimants from the callous actions and many mistakes of the DWP which has waged an unrelenting war on disabled claimants over the last decade.

Leon Tressell is a geo-political historian who has written extensively about the new Cold War between the US and Russia/China as well as the persecution of whistle blowers such as Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.

Image: Payday Loans. Attribution: Alpha Stock Images – Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – Original Image: License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

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