Labour MP Debbie Abrahams accused the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, of having ‘a bit of a smirk’ and finding something ‘amusing’ about a debate yesterday into the deaths of claimants. Tomlinson denied the accusation, which came almost immediately after Abrahams had read out a list of 20 claimants who had taken their own lives.
Yesterday’s brief debate took place in an almost empty house of commons.
Abrahams spoke knowledgeably about claimant deaths and the need for a full, independent inquiry.
She pointed out the role of PIP assessments and work capability assessments in harming claimants and quoted a report which found the WCA associated with an additional 590 suicides in three years:
“Peer-reviewed research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimated that, between 2010 and 2013, work capability assessments were independently associated with an additional 590 suicides, 280,000 cases of self-reported mental health problems, and 725,000 antidepressant scripts.”
Abrahams read out a list of more than 20 claimants, briefly describing the circumstances in which each had taken their own lives or died of an illness made worse by benefits problems. At times she was closing to breaking down and fellow MPs intervened to give Abrahams time to compose herself.
She talked about the inquest into the death of Errol Graham who died of starvation after his benefits were stopped and how shocked his family were by the behaviour of the QC acting for the DWP who:
“ . . . tried to intimidate not just the family but others, shouting at the police officer who found Errol’s body about what else he had seen. In particular, they were deeply offended that the police officer was asked whether he had found any takeaway menus or cartons. It was clear at that inquest that the Government were far from being in listening mode or trying to learn from this. Rather, they were seeking to blame, which is absolutely unforgivable.”
Immediately after reading out the list, Abrahams pointed out that the work and pensions committee had called for a body modelled on the police Independent Complaints Commission to investigate the deaths of claimants.
She then turned to Tomlinson and said: “Would the Minister like to intervene? I believe there is something he finds amusing about this.”
Tomlinson responded: “No, there is not.”
Abrahams: “Okay. I just saw a bit of a smirk.”
Tomlinson: “It was not.”
Abrahams: “I hope it was not.”
Throughout the debate Abrahams relied heavily on the investigative work of the campaigning journalist John Pring of Disability News Service, who brought to light the death of Errol Graham and many others.
You can read the full debate here.