Errol Graham looking into camera

A watchdog commissioner says they are looking into cases like that of Errol Graham's - who died by starvation after his benefits were stopped


The government is being investigated by the equalities watchdog over claims that its treatment of disabled benefits claimants may have broken the law.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is looking at whether the department failed to make reasonable adjustments for people with learning disabilities or long-term mental health conditions, during health assessments for some benefits.

The EHRC said it was “extremely worried” about the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP’s) behaviour towards some claimants.

The DWP said it took equality laws "incredibly seriously" and would "continue to co-operate with the Commission".

Applicants for some benefits go through a health assessment determination, which considers whether a consultation or medical examination is required as part of a person's health assessment - and what format it should take.

The EHRC began looking into the department after a group of MPs recommended it investigate the deaths of vulnerable claimants, by suicide and other causes, between 2008 and 2020.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Akua Reindorf KC - a commissioner at the EHRC - said some coroners' reports have described "tragic, knock-on consequences" of things going wrong.

She cited the case of Errol Graham, who died by starvation when his benefits were stopped. She said what the EHRC would decide is whether cases such as Mr Graham's amounted to unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, external.

EHRC chairwoman Baroness Kishwer Falkner said the investigation had been launched because "we have decided we need to take the strongest possible action".

She added: "The DWP is responsible for vital support which many disabled people rely on, including personal independence payments, employment and support allowance and universal credit. Access to that support must be fair and must meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010."

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: "People severely affected by mental illness rely on the DWP for essential support.

"We hope this investigation by the EHRC is the catalyst that finally leads to real change in how people severely affected by mental illness are supported by the state."

A DWP spokesperson the department was "committed to providing a compassionate service to all our customers".

"Benefits assessments are carried out by qualified health professionals with reasonable adjustments available to protect vulnerable claimants," they added.

Ms Reindorf said the investigation was a "very big piece of work" and would take months to complete.

From BBC




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