I will try to be as brief as possible, so that others can contribute. Before I come to the general topic, I want to make one specific point to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) said.

I am a champion for Action for ME, the myalgic encephalomyelitis campaign. The organisation has written to a number of us to emphasise its concerns about how narrow PIP assessments are. ME sufferers are losing the ability to access the relevant benefits themselves as a result. They are simply asking the Minister to commit to what the previous Minister committed to, which was to meet them so that they can work to co-produce a system that enables them to have full access. I dealt with my first ME case about 25 years ago, when ME was not recognised and there was a lot of stigma attached to it. These people have suffered on the quiet. It behoves the Government to sit down with that group and work through the process.

I want to take the debate up where my hon. Friend left off: on the impact of the system on individuals. Those who were at the Select Committee might recall the evidence that was provided with regard to Michael O’Sullivan. I dealt with his case 10 years ago; I met his family, the lovely Anne-Marie and Declan. He had suffered mental health difficulties and had attempted suicide already. He was then assessed; he was declared fit for work, and he could not cope with it. He committed suicide. That was 10 years ago.

Some Members will know John Pring from the Disability News Service, who performs an excellent role monitoring cases and providing information to many of us. He has particularly monitored recent cases that relate to people coming under pressure when seeking to apply for universal credit. He gave three examples from the past couple of years. I will give brief details; I will not use any names.

A disabled woman who was left traumatised by the daily demands of universal credit took her own life. Days earlier, she had been told that she would need to attend a face-to-face meeting with a work coach. She would shake and cry every time she had to log on to her universal credit journal, which she had to do every weekday to check whether she had received instructions and to avoid a sanction. She had already had a six-month sick note from her doctor explaining that she was not fit to work, but she was expected to go through the whole process, and she could not cope with it. The DWP was told about her mental distress, her suicidal thoughts and her fear of the Department. She took her own life.

There was another suicide months later. Someone had a long history of depression and anxiety and had been engaging with mental health services. He had been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983; he was then discharged. A psychiatrist who saw him two days before he took his own life told the inquest that he believed that the anxiety had been exacerbated by the whole process of the universal credit application.

Another person died a month after taking an overdose that caused irreversible damage to her liver. The coroner did not believe that she intended to take her own life, but nevertheless the coroner wrote a prevention of future deaths report to the DWP highlighting how the DWP had failed in its duty to maintain protection.

I raise those cases because John Pring and others had to put in a freedom-of-information request to get a report that was produced by the Prime Minister’s implementation unit on the harm caused by the process and the suicides that were taking place. It was four years before that report was produced. It had been covered up in the PMIU, and publication was prevented. Some of us have been calling for that report on the Floor of the House of Commons, but we have been denied access. We were calling for it because there were recommendations in it about the duty of care that the Department owed to people identified as vulnerable, and specific actions needed to be put in place. There is a further report that should be produced with full openness and transparency. I commend Disabled People Against Cuts, which has run a campaign year in, year out about the issue.

When it comes to disability benefits for PIP, the work capability assessment, the application process for universal credit and the pressures that people are put under, the system is putting lives at risk. What Anne-Marie called for, which I think is right, is a statutory duty of care to be placed upon the Department, with particular regard to vulnerable people. I also agree with Anne-Marie and others that there should be an independent public inquiry into the harm the Department has done over the last 14 years through the brutal way benefits have been administered, particularly for those who are vulnerable with mental health problems.


Link to Instagram Link to Twitter Link to YouTube Link to Facebook Link to LinkedIn Link to Snapchat Close Fax Website Location Phone Email Calendar Building Search