The influential Commons Work and Pensions committee has today called for “a body modelled on the Independent Police Complaints Commission,” to look into the deaths of working age benefits claimants.
The call for an investigative body to be set up, likely to infuriate Iain Duncan Smith, was included in a series of recommendations in a report into benefits sanctions by the committee.
The committee noted that there have been 49 investigations into claimant deaths by the DWP since February 2012 and has called on the DWP to reveal how many claimants were subject to a benefit sanction at the time of their death.
They then went on to demand that the DWP
“ . . . should seek to establish a body modelled on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to conduct reviews, at the request of relatives, or automatically where no living relative remains, in all instances where an individual on an out-of-work working-age benefit dies whilst in receipt of that benefit.”
The committee also renewed their call, first made in January 2014, for a full independent review to “investigate whether benefit sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately, across the Jobcentre Plus (JCP) network”
Dame Anne Begg MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:
"Benefit sanctions are controversial because they withhold subsistence-level benefits from people who may have little or no other income.
“We agree that benefit conditionality is necessary but it is essential that policy is based on clear evidence of what works in terms of encouraging people to take up the support which is available to help them get back into work. The policy must then be applied fairly and proportionately.
“The system must also be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. And it should avoid causing severe financial hardship.
“The system as currently applied does not always achieve this."
The committee also looked specifically at why employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants are being sanctioned in ever greater numbers.
They heard evidence from work programme providers that, because they had been so unsuccessful in getting ESA claimants into work, more mandatory activity had been forced on sick and disabled claimants. This, they said, “might be leading to more sanction doubts being raised.”
The committee recommended that work programme providers should be allowed to accept ‘good cause’ explanations from claimants as to why they hadn’t met a requirement, instead of having to refer every issue to the DWP.