MP fights back tears as she reads powerful list of 24 benefit claimants’ deaths

An MP fought back tears in the House of Commons last night as she read out a list of people who died after problems with their benefits.

Debbie Abrahams choked up midway through reciting the list of 24 names of people who died while caught up in the system – which took more than three minutes to read out.

The cases included Errol Graham, who was found starved to death and weighing five stone in council flat eight months after his ESA disability benefit stopped.

And they included Jodey Whiting who took her own life after her ESA was stopped in 2017.

Tory minister Justin Tomlinson said lessons would be learned and apologised for "cases where we have not got it right" – adding the "vast majority" of cases get it right.

Scroll down for the full list read out by the MP.

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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and suicide campaigners also stress it is wrong to blame one definite "cause" for someone taking their own life.

But Labour MP Ms Abrahams said: "This inaction shames the Government. I have raised this so many times over the past five years, and there has been no change whatsoever."

The Commons was almost empty during Ms Abrahams' 11pm speech because she was granted an adjournment debate – the last item of Commons business each day, which has no legal force and is almost never well-attended.

She said her list was "not exhaustive, but shames us all".

It included several cases covered by the Mirror – including David Clapson, a diabetic ex-soldier who died in 2014 with just £3.44 left in his account after he was stripped of cash following a missed appointment.

At the time, the DWP insisted he would have been told payments would still be available after sanctions.

Her list also included Jimmy Ballentine, a former coal miner with mental illness who took his own life after a DWP fraud investigation. His family said he accidentally over-claimed a small amount and was "hounded" before his death.

She mentioned Mark Scholfield, who endured an eight-week delay for his Universal Credit payment before dying, aged just 62, after losing a battle with mouth cancer. The DWP apologised and said while he was receiving UC, his ESA payment should have been fast-tracked.

And she raised the case of Stephen Smith, who was deemed fit for work before photos emerged of him weighing just six stone. He later died. A review found the DWP followed policy.

It comes after the National Audit Office revealed the Tory government has probed 69 benefit claimants' suicides since 2014 – and there are almost certainly more it has never looked into.

In recent years the DWP has announced a string of changes to the benefit system after a decade of complaints about Tory cuts and reforms.

They include shortening the wait for Universal Credit to five weeks; ending repeat assessments for some people on disability payment ESA; and reviewing fast-tracking rules for the terminally ill.

But Ms Abrahams told the Commons recent reforms were not enough, adding: "It's a scandal.

"These are British citizens who are dying as a result of policies implemented by this Government.

"Everybody should be taking note."

The MP said she has asked for a full independent inquiry and wants a response by the end of the week, noting: "This is too serious to be ignored."

She went on: "Peer-reviewed research published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimated that between 2010 and 2013 work capability assessment was independently associated with an additional 590 suicides, 280,000 cases of self-reported mental health problems and 725,000 additional anti-depressant scripts.

"These assessments are not only not fit for purposes, they are actually doing harm."

DWP minister Mr Tomlinson said failings would be looked at by a Serious Case Panel.

But despite inquiries by the Mirror and outlets such as the Disability News Service, the DWP has repeatedly refused to release details of how this panel will work.

Last month officials conceded it would include some members from outside DWP staff, after initially suggesting it would only be civil servants inside the department.

Last night, however, Mr Tomlinson revealed the panel will only meet once every three months – and appeared to suggest it may not investigate individual cases.

Instead he said the panel "will consider the most serious systematic issues that have been identified" in the course of cases like Errol Graham's.

The DWP have still not said whether the panel's findings will be released to family members of the deceased, let alone the public.

Work and pensions minister Justin Tomlinson said: "Day in, day out, DWP as a department interacts with many, many people – around 20 million each year – and a number of these are some of the most vulnerable in our society.

"In the vast majority of interactions with these people we get it right.

"The wellbeing of everyone who interacts with DWP is of the utmost importance. That is why we improve support and guidance for staff on how best to support vulnerable people and are constantly looking at our processes, striving for continuous improvement.

"However, we can see there are cases we haven't got it right for which we apologise."

If you need to speak to someone, Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123 or by emailing  [email protected]

The cases are listed here exactly as they were described in the Commons by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams. Changes to phrasing have been made by Hansard which produces a written record of the Commons.

Brian Sycamore died in September 2017, taking his own life after leaving a note blaming the DWP after failing his work capability assessment

Mark Scholfield who died in July 2017, was a terminal cancer patient who did not receive any UC before he died in spite of his illness

Chris Gold who died in October 2017, was found fit for work following a stroke and was facing foreclosure when he died because he could not work

Lawrence Bond collapsed and died in the street in January 2017 after being found fit for work

Julia Kelly died in 2015, taking her own life after losing ESA for a third time

Ben McDonald took his own life in March 2015 after being found fit for work

Chris Smith who died in 2015, had cancer and was found fit for work despite a terminal diagnosis

David Clapson could not afford to power his fridge to store his insulin and died as a result in July 2014

Michael Connolly took his own life on his birthday in May 2014 after losing his ESA

George from Chesterfield died of a heart attack in May 2014, eight months after being found fit for work despite having had three previous heart attacks

Robert Barlow died of cancer in April 2014 after losing his ESA

David Barr died in September 2014, taking his own life after losing ESA

Trevor Drakard took his own life in 2014

Shaun Pilkington died in January 2014

Terry McGarvey died in February 2014

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