Leading charities and mental health organisations, including AdvoCard, Mind, Liberty and the Trussell Trust are backing a campaign by Rethink Mental Illness calling for an independent inquiry into the deaths of vulnerable people who rely on support from the welfare system.
The charity has also written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions expressing deep concern about the welfare of vulnerable benefits claimants, following the emergence of evidence that people are being pushed to breaking point from their experience in the welfare system.
In many of the cases which have emerged mental health appears to be a significant factor. A recent report by the National Audit Office showed that the Department for Work and Pensions investigated 69 instances where people receiving benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15, but suggested it is very likely that there are more cases that could have been investigated.
The statement, co-signed by a wide range of charities and mental health organisations, is accompanied by the launch of a public petition which will be launched online on Wednesday 11th March.
The joint statement reads:
“As organisations that work with people who need support from the benefit system, we are deeply concerned that some of the policies and processes of the Department for Work and Pensions appear linked to avoidable deaths.
“The National Audit Office reports that the Department has internally investigated 69 cases where people claiming benefits have taken their own lives since 2014-15. It was also clear that is ‘highly unlikely’ that these represent the total number of cases that could have investigated in the past six years, and that there is ‘no tracking or monitoring’ of the status of the recommendations that have been made following the investigations that have taken place.
“We are therefore calling on the Government to establish an independent inquiry into those deaths where it appears that the welfare benefits system may have been a significant factor, with a remit to recommend changes to policy as well as internal DWP processes where needed.
“The clock is ticking. In November, the Government plans to begin a ‘managed migration’ of people from the current sickness benefit—Employment and Support Allowance—to Universal Credit. It is vital that we properly understand the circumstances of these deaths before embarking on this change.”
Centre for Mental Health
Child Poverty Action Group
Mental Health Foundation
National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society
Rethink Mental Illness
Royal College of Psychiatrists
Support in Mind Scotland
The Trussell Trust
Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust)