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Sister Calls For Publication Of Tim Salter Case Review

January 12, 2015

The sister of a partially sighted man who killed himself after his benefits were cut is calling on the UK government to publish details of its secret review into his case, one of 60 internal investigations of suicides linked to benefit changes it has carried out since 2012.

Linda Cookson, 60, found the body of her brother, Tim Salter, 53, who was agoraphobic and suffered mental health problems, in his home in Stourbridge in September 2013. There was no food in his house, no money in his bank account, and in the dustbin she found a letter from a housing association threatening him with eviction.

A few months after his suicide, Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh ruled that a major factor in Salter’s death was that his state benefits had been “greatly reduced, leaving him almost destitute”.

Cookson, a grandmother of six, and her family are devastated by his death. He lived close by, just 50 yards from her home, and she passes his house every day.

“He was a lovely, lovely man” she said. “When he was younger he was very generous, very kind. He would always say, ‘Don’t worry about me, you’ve got your own family to worry about.’”

Two years on, Cookson believes her brother should never have been assessed as fit for work and has written a number of letters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), seeking an independent investigation into its decisions. She maintains that “red flags” – including a previous suicide attempt by her brother in 1989 that left him partially sighted – that should have triggered a duty of care towards him were ignored by those assessing him as fit for work and in the subsequent decision to cut his incapacity benefit.

But the replies she received in return had left her frustrated and angry, she said.

The latest, on 8 December 2014, from an independent case examiner (ICE) at the DWP, said: “Having looked at the facts of it, I have not upheld your complaint.”

Cookson said: “I feel let down by the system. Every time I get a letter, I hope I’m going to get closure. But every one I’ve opened has made me more angry. No one is admitting their mistakes.”

Cookson, who wrote to the Guardian after reading that the DWP had conducted 60 unpublished investigations, said: “I was really shocked to find out that 60 people have killed themselves after benefit decisions. It’s the vulnerable people who are going to be affected the worst. The DWP need to publish these reviews.”

Cookson believes that her brother should never have been assessed as fit for work. “The chap who assessed my brother was a physiotherapist,” she said. “He didn’t know anything about mental health. They should have taken notice of the first paragraph of his statement, that he had attempted suicide, that he had low moods. You’d think they would say, ‘We better tread carefully here.’ The system does not cater for mental health problems.”

There is growing concern over the way benefits are administered in relation to vulnerable individuals and although mental health groups caution against making crude links between any one factor and suicides, there are calls for those with mental health problems to be assessed by people with experience in those issues.

The ICE examination ruled that, although Salter had “told Atos Healthcare professionals that he sometimes felt suicidal”, this was “not a declaration of an intention to attempt suicide (for which the DWP has detailed guidance for staff)”. However, it admitted that “it is an indication of mental health issues”.

It concluded: “Mr Salter was without doubt vulnerable but JCP [Jobcentre Plus] were clearly unaware to the extent of that vulnerability. Had Mr Salter provided further information during the decision-making process, the extent of those issues may have come to light.”

Salter was told, by letter, that he could appeal against the decision, but never did, nor did he offer more information about his mental health issues. This, said Cookson, was “part of his condition. He didn’t want to ask for anything.”

The letter revealed that a peer review of Salter’s death had been carried out in February 2013, but there were “no grounds to say that the medical report completed by the healthcare professional was medically unreasonable or that the work capability assessment was not completed in accordance with professional standards”.

While there has been a recognition, by a judicial review in May 2013, that those with mental health issues are “substantially disadvantaged” by the fitness for work assessment, the courts have not yet ruled on what the DWP should do to remedy this.

A final judgment by a three-judge panel, which ruled that the DWP had failed to make reasonable adjustments to ensure those with mental health issues were treated fairly, is currently being awaited by mental health groups, which will determine what the panel think the DWP should do about it.

Anita Bellows, of Disabled People Against the Cuts, said Slater’s case showed “serious errors by the DWP and Atos and their completely inhumane impacts”.

Bellows has said she believes 60 to be an underestimate of the number of suicides linked to benefit decisions and called for a public inquiry.

“At DPAC we receive emails where suicide attempts are completely dismissed and reports by assessors produce inaccurate and false accounts – the problems in the system are endemic and inexcusable,” she said.

Tom Pollard, the policy and campaigns manager of Mind, said: “The DWP say that the work capability assessment is not a medical test. But people with mental health issues can have conditions which impact social interaction. There is not a clear divide between the medical impact of their condition and social interaction. It’s not like a bad back.”

Many of those with mental health issues find it difficult to explain their condition to a stranger, for instance.

Pollard said that he feels the 60 peer reviews investigated by the DWP since February 2012 should be examined together and the results of any lessons learned or key issues that may emerge published.

He said: “If they looked at a number of reviews, in the name of transparency and in order to help us help them they should be able to say, ‘These are they key issues that have arisen from the reviews.’”

Publishing the information might help people slipping through the net, he said.

When contacted by the Guardian, the DWP said it had no plans to publish the 60 peer reviews into suicides linked to benefit changes. All were carried out separately and none led to further reviews. One recommended updating staff guidance, it said.

A DWP spokesman said: “Since its introduction in 2008 there have been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment and we have made significant improvements to make it better, fairer and more accurate. We carry out peer reviews in certain cases to establish whether anything should have been done differently but a peer review in itself does not necessarily mean that mistakes were made.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2015 10:05 pm

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating.

  2. jeanette traynor permalink
    January 13, 2015 3:34 pm

    The system needs changing to recognise the fact that many people with mental health problems cannot or find it difficult to articulate their symptoms on the forms or in person. That is part of the problem – they need advocates to help them or do it for them. A person with crippling depression can barely function let alone navigate the deliberately complicated system which is geared towards getting them off benefits. This in itself needs looking at and the DWP should seek further information from GP’s and other people in the claimant’s life – at their cost, not the claimants. There is very little chance of a person with mental health problems being able to get through the procedure without help and local Advocacy schemes need to be established specifically for this purpose. I don’t believe the system cannot be improved or that massive mistakes have not been made with the 60 people who have ended their lives. A lack of information from the claimant should be the first flag that Atos and the DWP identify. Instead, they use it to evade liability for their decisions. Cruel and inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable.


  1. Tim Salter’s Could Be Fourth Confirmed Death Caused By The DWP | Same Difference

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