A disabled man has been discovered dead after starving when the DWP told him that his benefits needed to be stopped.
MPs and campaigners have called for an independent enquiry into the death of Errol Graham who starved to death after welfare officials stopped his out-of-work and housing benefits.
The 57-year-old grandfather had a long history of mental illness and when he was discovered, weighed a shocking four and a half stone (28.5kg).
Bailiffs broke down his front door to evict him for non-payment of rent and found his emaciated body.
A coroner’s report into Graham’s tragic death determined that he had starved to death. He had suffered from social anxiety issues for years and detached himself from family and friends to cut himself.
Graham was found in his Nottingham flat and there no supply of gas or electric. Apart from two tins of fish that were four years out of date, there was no food in the property.
Graham’s family blamed the Department for Work and Pensions this week for his death in June 2018, they say he should not have had his benefits cut when they knew he was a man who was highly vulnerable.
His daughter-in-law, Allison Turner, said: “He would still be alive. He’d be ill but he’d still be alive.”
The findings of an inquest into Graham’s death in 2019, were brought to attention by Turner via the independent website Disability News Service. The inquest found that DWP and NHS staff had missed several opportunities to save Graham.
Coroner Elizabeth Didcock said: “The safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it.”
The tragedy is just one in a series of cases where vulnerable claimants have died when they have found that their benefits have been cut off. It has highlighted serious shortcomings in the DWP’s treatment of highly vulnerable claimants.
An overhaul has been called for its safeguarding systems and a halt to benefit sanctions against disabled claimants.
The case was raised in parliament on Monday by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, who stated: “Particularly worrying are the deaths of vulnerable claimants like Errol, following the DWP stopping their payments. This is in spite of departmental procedures which are meant to protect vulnerable people. This has to be looked at as a matter of urgency.”
The DWP claims to have taken Graham’s death seriously, they have referred the case to a newly created serious case panel process to learn lessons from this devastating mistake.
The panel’s official terms have yet to be made official, but its members will include DWP civil servants. A DWP spokesperson said: “This is a tragic, complex case and our sympathies are with Mr Graham’s family.”
In October 2017, Graham’s benefits were cut off as he failed to attend an appointment for a DWP fit-for-work test. Turner insists it was a “cruel and dysfunctional” response when they knew of Graham’s mental health.
Turner added: “They took the money off someone who was highly vulnerable and they knew he was highly vulnerable.”
In 2003 Graham’s father died and this is when his incapacity benefits began, before this, he had been an amateur footballer.
In 2015, he was submitted to a psychiatric hospital when he had an episode.
Since 2013, he had been assessed as unfit for work and was on an employment and support allowance (ESA), but DWP demanded a retest in 2017 “as the claimed level of disability was unclear”.
In the inquest, it was heard that is standard procedure for the DWP to stop benefits if they missed two safeguarding visits. They had arranged for two visits, on 16 and 17 October – both of which he missed. As a result, DWP stopped any future payments to Graham on that very same day.
It wasn’t a formal requirement for the DWP to seek further information about Graham’s health or how he was functioning before the cease of his benefits, and it had not been so, the inquest heard.
At the time Graham was meant to attend these visits, it has been concluded that Graham likely had very poor mental health as he was “vulnerable to life stressors”.
Didcock described this as “a hugely important decision to make, especially with the knowledge that [Graham] had a longterm illness that was unlikely to have improved significantly – also that he was reliant on this benefit as his sole income”.
Although it couldn’t be demonstrated that Graham’s death was a direct result of his benefits being stopped, she concluded: “The sudden loss of all income, and the threat of eviction that followed from it, will have caused huge distress and worry, and significant financial hardship.”
It was noted that Graham had absolutely no other money to pay for his rent, utilities or food. The impact of Graham’s benefits being cut would have had a crucial impact on his mental health, Didcock believed.
She added: “He needed the DWP to obtain more evidence at the time his ESA was stopped to make a more informed decision about him, particularly following the failed safeguarding visits. If anyone had known he was struggling, help could have been provided.”
A welfare rights and policy advisor at Disability Rights UK, Ken Butler, said: “The tragic and unnecessary death of Errol Graham again shows that the DWP is failing in its safeguarding responsibilities towards vulnerable disabled people.”
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