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Errol Graham’s Family Tells DWP To Act After He Starved To Death

January 30, 2020

The family of Errol Graham, the vulnerable 57-year old grandfather who died of starvation months after having his welfare benefits stopped, has demanded the government act urgently to minimise the chances of such tragedies happening again.

The case of Graham, who had a long history of mental illness and weighed just four and a half stone (28.8kg) when he was found dead at his home in Nottingham, has focused attention on how the social security system cares for vulnerable claimants.

A coroner subsequently concluded that the removal of his benefits for failing to attend a fit-for-work test was a “devastating stressor” that had significantly affected his mental health and may have contributed to his death.

After finding that Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and NHS staff had missed opportunities to save Graham in the months leading up to his death, the coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock concluded: “The safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it.”

Alison Turner, 31, Graham’s daughter-in-law, demanded the DWP overhaul its safeguarding system which she said was inadequate, outdated and could not guarantee the safety of the most vulnerable claimants.

Turner, who represented Graham’s family and was a formal witness under oath at the inquest into his death, revealed that the DWP had not apologised or been in contact with her to discuss the case since then, despite it having promised at the inquest to learn from families and their representatives.

“I’m not letting Errol die without answers and without the system changing. He was failed left, right and centre,” she told the Guardian.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood last night called for a fully independent inquiry into benefit-related deaths. “This is a tragic case. The government must now ensure that Errol Graham’s family receive answers about exactly what happened.”

She added: “This does not appear to be an isolated case and we now need a fully independent inquiry into deaths that may be linked to a social security decision. The government must do all in its power to prevent any further tragedies of this kind.”

Graham’s death, which came to light earlier this week, is the latest in a series of tragedies involving the deaths of highly vulnerable people who had their benefits stopped for failing to comply with DWP requests, often because they were ill at the time.

Turner said she wanted to understand why DWP officials had not done more to establish her father-in-law’s health and state of mind before cutting off his unemployment and housing benefits in October 2017, leaving him without income.

While the DWP carried out two visits to Graham’s home to establish why he had not responded to a DWP letter requesting him to come for an appointment, it seemed incomprehensible that it made no further checks given what they knew of his mental state, she said. “Warning signs should have been ringing off like alarm bells in their heads.”

She said it should be compulsory for social security officials to inform a vulnerable claimant’s next of kin or GP, or a police officer, when they were considering a drastic curse of action like stopping benefits. “They should not be able to stop the money until they have made that welfare check,” she said.

Ministers should consider banning all use of financial sanctions on individuals in receipt of incapacity benefits, and look at whether claimants with long-term conditions that are highly unlikely to improve should be exempted from being put through stressful and often unnecessary fit-for-work tests, Turner added.

The DWP’s chief psychologist David Carew told Graham’s inquest in June 2019 that the DWP were “currently undertaking a safeguarding review” and committed the department to “listen to clients and those representing them … to ensure that the DWP were focused on support and safety for vulnerable people.”

In her inquest report, Didcock insisted Carew’s commitment be turned into robust policy for DWP staff. “There must be guidance that ensures that all evidence that can reasonably be gathered is put together about a client before a benefit is ceased.”

The DWP last night refused to comment on whether it accepted the coroner’s recommendation, or whether or when the review mentioned by Carew might be published. It has set up a case review panel, comprised of DWP officials, to investigate the Graham case and others like it.

Turner said she had not been notified by the DWP of the existence of the Serious Case Panel, nor invited to contribute to its safeguarding review. “Errol’s family ought to be given the opportunity to speak and highlight where things went wrong. That I wasn’t even told about the panel tells you all to need to know about the DWP.”

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