The DWP may be trying to cover up their failure to act on an undertaking they gave a coroner in 2014 in relation to preventing future claimant deaths. If this proves to be the case, it could see Iain Duncan Smith standing in the dock of a criminal court in Scotland.
Michael O’Sullivan committed suicide in September 2013. He had been suffering from anxiety and depression for a number of years and had previously been in receipt of incapacity benefit. He applied for employment and support allowance (ESA).
Following the inquest into his death in January 2014, the coroner issued a Regulation 28 report which is designed to prevent future deaths occurring in similar circumstances.
In the report the coroner stated that:
“I found that the trigger for Mr O ’Sullivan’s suicide was his recent assessment by a DWP doctor as being fit for work.”
In their response the DWP told the coroner that they would “issue a reminder to staff about the guidance related to suicidal ideation that has been described in this report.” This was a reference to the DWP’s six point plan for supporting claimants who had talked to DWP staff about thoughts of committing suicide
In October 2015 we made a freedom of information request to the DWP for copies of the reminders that were sent out and details of which agencies they had been sent to.
Initially, the DWP fobbed us off with a response that said “We regularly review and remind staff of current guidance as well as any changes. A copy of the latest guidance issued to healthcare professionals in February 2015 can be found here” and referred us to a scheduled update of a wide ranging handbook that was published over a year after the Coroner contacted the Department.
We responded by requesting a copy of the precise document that the DWP issued specifically in order to fulfil the undertaking the they gave to the Coroner’s court.
The DWP then pretended that they thought we hadn’t got their original email and resent it some weeks later.
At that point we referred the matter to the information commissioner’s office (ICO).
In March of this year they confirmed that they were taking up the case and were contacting the DWP.
Now, seven months after we made our initial request, the ICO tell us that they are still waiting for a response from the DWP.
Yet in the letter that they released along with the 49 peer reviews last week the DWP claim that
“With direct relevance to self -harm, DWP has a national ‘Six Point Plan’ which offers a clear process outlining what staff should do in these circumstances. Regular reminders are sent out – most recently in April this year – reiterating to offices the importance of having plans in place and reviewing them regularly.”
If regular reminders are sent out, why are the DWP finding it so hard to give details to us or the ICO?
If, on the other hand, the first reminder that was sent out was the one that went out in April 2016, then the DWP and the secretary of state at the time, IDS, have some serious explaining to do.
Because at least four deaths since 2012 are connected with the DWP’s failure to follow the six point plan.
And, in Scotland, IDS has been reported to the police for wilful neglect of duty by a public official for failing to act on a coroner’s report in 2010.
If it turns out that in 2014 the DWP did almost exactly the same thing in relation to an issue that has been shown by the department to be implicated in the deaths of at least four claimants, then IDS might yet find himself standing in the dock.