SHA backs calls for benefit related death and harm publication

Accountability Austerity

Open Letter to the DWP- Impact of welfare policy on claimants

Dear Mel Stride MP,

We are writing as a country wide network of health organisations to express our deep concern at the Department for Work and Pensions’s (DWP’s) failure to publish reports detailing the various impacts of recent welfare policy on claimants during a time of profound economic crisis.

A body of public health evidence has established the harms of existing welfare policies, notably adverse mental health, increased anti-depressant prescribing and suicide risk, particularly amongst those with disabilities and mental health conditions. Further evidence regarding the harms of welfare reform, which has been collected by the Deaths by Welfare project at Healing Justice Ldn, starkly illustrates that at the most extreme, this has resulted in the loss of life.

Your predecessors have promised to publish the reports, including the impact of the benefit cap, deaths of benefit claimants, and the impact of universal credit and sanctions. Importantly, as revealed only through FOIs, we have seen the number of internal process reviews of deaths of claimants double over the last three years with no published guidance to explain why. In a written response by Therese Coffey MP, to the chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee in July 2022, political circumstances and the global public health emergency were cited as an unsuitable time to release these reports. We ask you, when is the best time for their release? We are in an economic crisis, itself fuelling a public health emergency and the country awaits their publication.

We are already witnessing the health impacts of a worsening cost of living crisis, disproportionately in those who claim welfare. In particular, disabled people who are more likely to receive benefits, continue to be amongst the hardest hit with three in ten disabled households already at breaking point, forced to choose between heating and medication. To meet the scale of this crisis, longer term solutions are needed, starting with the publication of the reports. They are essential to ensure lessons are learned and lives are saved. We need to urgently evaluate the effectiveness of current welfare policy, in order to inform emergency public health policy, and to craft a way out of destitution for our most impacted communities. This is information in the public interest.

Your department provides essential support for our most vulnerable communities. At this time of new leadership, it gives your department the opportunity to set off on the right step, rebuild trust through transparency and make meaningful change with the very people engaged in the services that your department oversees. The DWP must be accountable for its decisions.

We demand the following:

  1. Immediate publication of recommendations from the 151 internal process reviews on the deaths of all benefit claimants between July 2019 and June 2022
  2. Establish a full public inquiry into benefit-related deaths and cases of serious harm
  3. Set up an independent body to investigate future cases of death or serious harm in the benefits system.

We look forward to hearing from you on this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,