The Work and Pensions Committee has condemned DWP secrecy over its investigation into benefits deaths as the secretary of state, Therese Coffey, fails to answer a question on how many apologies have been made to families of the deceased.
The committee has been exchanging letters with Coffey following a National Audit Office report which highlighted DWP failings in investigating and making changes following claimant deaths.
However, Coffey is still refusing to give any information whatsoever about the Serious Case Panel which was supposedly set up to ensure that the DWP learnt lessons from the deaths of claimants.
This refusal extends to not even saying what the terms of refence of the panel are, let alone what findings it has made.
Stephen Timms, chair of the work and pensions committee said:
“The welfare of people who rely on the social security system ought to be one of DWP’s highest priorities. But its failure to learn lessons from tragic cases in which people lose their lives, revealed so starkly by the National Audit Office earlier this year, suggested that the Department simply wasn’t taking this seriously enough.
“It is appropriate, and welcome, that the Secretary of State is now making this work a priority even in the midst of a pandemic. Her willingness to appear before the Committee is a significant step forward. But the Department seems still to be too wedded to secrecy, reluctant even to publish the terms of reference—let alone the recommendations—of a panel set up to look into its most serious failures.”
The DWP have investigated 69 occasions when claimants took their own lives over the past six years and the NAO concluded that it was highly unlikely that these were the only ones that could have been looked into.
The committee asked how many families the DWP have contacted to discuss the most serious investigations and how many apologies has the Department issued to families.
Coffey’s response was that in the past year just two families have met with Director General for Service Excellence. An unstated number of families have met with lower ranking DWP staff.
But Coffey refused to address the issue of how many apologies had been issued, saying only that
“These are private meetings.”