Charities call for an independent inquiry into benefit related deaths

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.” 

Signatories:

AdviceUK

AdvoCard

Centre for Mental Health

Child Poverty Action Group

Disability Rights UK
Hafal

INQUEST

Liberty

Mental Health Foundation

Mind

MS Society

National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society

New Savoy Partnership
Rethink Mental Illness

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Support in Mind Scotland

The Trussell Trust

UCKP

Z2K (Zacchaeus 2000 Trust) 

Social Security (Scotland) Act to include right to access advocacy

THANKS FOR ALL YOUR HELP

Over the past year, AdvoCard, along with SIAA, DAS, The Health and Social Care Alliance (ALLIANCE) and the Scottish Council for Voluntary organisations (SCVO) have been engaging with people who use our services, other organisations in the Third Sector, MSPs and the Minister for Social Security to raise awareness of the need for access to advocacy services for everyone who will have cause to access the new system.

Although initially resistant, thanks to all our continued efforts, the Government are now aware of the role that advocacy can play and the need to have access to advocacy services included in the Bill.

At the Stage 1 debate the Social Security Committee recommended that the Scottish Government consider including access to independent advocacy as a principle of the Social Security Bill and as a right in the legislation. Unfortunately this was not acted upon. However, Stage 2 saw further developments as the minister tabled her own amendment to the bill providing a right to access to independent advocacy services for people with mental illness, personality disorder or a learning disability as defined under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act 2003. It was made clear at this point that this would be a starting point and that the aim was to widen access at Stage 3 after consultation with stakeholders.

This has now taken place and the Minister replaced the initial amendment with her new amendment at the stage 3 debate. This amendment states that every individual who, owing to a disability, requires an advocates help, will have the right to access independent advocacy services for support to engage with the new social security system.

This means that everyone who self identifies as having a disability due to a physical condition, long term health condition, mental health condition, learning disability or any other reason will have a right to access independent advocacy services if they need support to engage with the new Social Security system in Scotland.

While this is not the universal access we would have like to have seen this is a huge step forward for people who need help accessing social security and could not have been achieved without your support. Thank you to all who took the time to engage with our campaign over the past year and who emailed their MSP asking for support.

We will continue to engage with the Scottish Government around the provision of the advocacy services. Keep an eye on our facebook page for updates on this.