Please be assured that I would always meet the family of any constituent of mine who took their life because of a benefit issue. This is of course a highly emotive issue, and it is important to remember that behind the numbers each individual death is a tragedy for that person’s family and loved ones. However, it would be wrong to draw broad conclusions about benefit assessments or sanctions based on individual cases, which are complex and varied.
I have spoken with colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) who assure me that, in the rare case that there is an allegation that DWP’s actions may have contributed to a person’s death, they take it very seriously. There is a wide-ranging, independent, and transparent system for investigating such cases, including through the Coroners, the Independent Case Examiner, and the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman. For instance, where engaged, a Coroner has responsibility for concluding the cause of a person’s death.
Internally, where DWP is made aware of a death and there is a suggestion or allegation that its actions or omissions may have negatively contributed to the customer’s circumstances, it will conduct an Internal Process Review to scrutinise departmental processes and, if appropriate, identify recommendations for changes. In recent years the Department has broadened the range of circumstances in which a review can be carried out to increase learning from such cases.
You may also be aware that DWP set up the Serious Case Panel in 2019 to consider and learn from systemic themes and broad issues arising from serious cases. The Panel tracks recommendations to ensure they are implemented, in order to reduce the incidence of such cases in future. The minutes from each meeting are made available shortly after each panel sitting via the gov.uk website, alongside the Panel’s Terms of Reference.