Inquiry into benefit cut deaths dropped

LABOUR MP Debbie Abrahams last week said she was “shocked” that a senior civil servant will not be examining whether there is evidence that the Government was to blame over any of 49 deaths related to benefit cuts.

Disability News Service (DNS) informed her that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) does not intend to produce the information for her.

Last week Abrahams asked Chris Hayes, DWP’s labour market strategy director, whether any of 49 peer reviews of benefit- related deaths had found the department’s actions to have been “inappropriate or incorrect”.

He told her — during an evidence session held by the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee — that he would “have to look at the peer reviews in detail” in order to answer her question.

But a DWP press officer subsequently told DNS that Hayes was not intending to produce that information and did not “commit to looking at the detail for Abrahams”.

When told of the DWP response, Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, said: “I was shocked to hear that Chris Hayes, the labour market strategy director at the DWP, will not be looking at the peer reviews in detail, despite indicating that he would in his evidence.

“The least claimants and their families can expect is transparency and openness from government ministers and I will be pursuing this with the DWP.”

Abrahams, a member of the work and pensions committee, which is conducting an inquiry into benefit sanctions, told employment minister Esther McVey last week that there was “an increasing... and a worrying number of deaths that are being associated with sanctions”.

The DWP’s refusal to answer Abrahams’ question is just the latest in a series of attempts by ministers and officials to avoid releasing key information about the peer reviews.

Bob Ellard, from Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The more the DWP act like they have something to hide, the more urgent it becomes that the work and pensions committee discover the truth about claimant deaths.”