What assessment she has made of the effect on disabled people of the covid-19 outbreak. 
Between March and July, disabled people, including people with a health condition or impairment, accounted for almost 60% of all covid deaths, yet a survey of disabled people in Greater Manchester revealed that eight out of 10 were not included in the official Government shielded group, in spite of 57% having significant support needs. With the second wave upon us, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that all clinically vulnerable people are shielded and properly supported?
Will the Secretary of State ensure that during the coronavirus epidemic, any social security claimant who fails to attend a work capability or work-related activity assessment will also not have their social security support stopped?
My right hon. Friend is spot on. There are so many learning points that we should have already picked up on, and I will go through them in a minute.
I will finish the list if I can. Shaun Pilkington died in January 2014, and Terry McGarvey died in February 2014. This is not an exhaustive list, but it shames us all. This inaction shames the Government. I have raised this so many times over the past five years, and there has been no change whatsoever.
For years now, there have been warnings that the Department’s safeguarding policies are not working. In 2014-15, as a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I asked for an inquiry on sanctions policy. From this inquiry, the Committee recommended:
“DWP should seek to establish a body modelled on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to conduct reviews, at the request of relatives, or automatically where no living relative remains, in all instances where an individual on an out-of-work working-age benefit dies whilst in receipt of that benefit. Such a model, operated within the purview of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, should ensure that the role of all publicly-funded agencies involved in the provision of services or benefits to the individual is scrutinised, so that a learning document can be produced setting out how policy, and the service delivery pathway, can be improved at every stage.”
In their formal response—[Interruption.] Would the Minister like to intervene? I believe there is something he finds amusing about this.
I hope it was not.
In the Government’s formal response, there was no recognition or acknowledgment of the recommendation, which was completely rejected by the Government.
In 2014, the Disability News Service asked, via a freedom of information request, for the Department to publish 49 internal peer reviews into deaths. After nearly two years, and following an information rights tribunal, redacted versions were published. It was clear from the limited information available that Ministers were repeatedly —repeatedly—warned by their own civil servants that their policies to assess people for out-of-work disability benefits were putting the lives of vulnerable claimants at risk.
More recently, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) mentioned, on 7 February 2020, following a request from the former Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the NAO published a briefing report setting out the findings of its inquiries with the Department on the information it holds on benefit claimants who ended their life by suicide.
The NAO found:
“The Department has received nine contacts from coroners via its official coroner focal point relating to suicide since March 2016…received four Prevention of Future Death (PFD) reports from coroners since 2013, of which two were related to suicide…investigated 69 suicides of benefit claimants since 2014-15… It is highly unlikely that the 69 cases the Department has investigated represents the number of cases it could have investigated in the past six years”.
In other words, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We do not even know the actual number of people who have taken their own life as a result of what they went through.
The report continues:
“The Department does not have a robust record of all contact from coroners.”
How can that be? This is a Government Department, for heaven’s sake.
“The Department accepts that not all its staff are aware of the IPR guidance.”
What is the point of doing them if they are not aware?
“We also found that the Department’s guidance does not necessarily reflect the full scope of issues that could trigger an IPR.”
That just beggars belief. The report continues:
“the Department told us that there is no tracking or monitoring of the status of these recommendations. As a result, the Department does not know whether the suggested improvements are implemented.”
Do Ministers not feel ashamed? The report also said that
“the Department does not categorise IPR outputs to identify larger trends or themes from within the outputs, and so systemic issues which might be brought to light through these reviews could be missed.”
The NAO report found similar conclusions to those found by the Select Committee five years earlier: that lessons have not been learned. This is absolutely damning. I hope that the Ministers here take on board these results. Not only that, but because this is rarely covered in the media I hope that everyone in the Press Gallery is going to be reporting on this. It is a scandal: British citizens are dying as a result of policies implemented by this Government. Everybody should be taking note. I have asked for a full and independent inquiry, given the serious failures that are clear just from the speech I have given. I appreciate that the Minister needs to consult others, but I would like a response by the end of this week. This is too serious to be ignored.
The Department stated that there will be a new system of serious case reviews, so who will sit on the panel? Will there be independent panel members, not just DWP employees and contractors? Will they have medical expertise? Will there be a commitment to publishing the panel’s membership and terms of reference? How will the trends or themes to be investigated be identified? How will the recommendations made by the panel be tracked? Will the Department undertake to review its safeguarding policies in the round, including the training of staff? In the light of the NAO’s findings, how will the Department ensure that its guidance reflects the full scope of issues that could trigger an internal process serious case review and that all its staff are well aware of the relevant guidance?
The death of any person as a result of Government policy is nothing less than a scandal. It is clear that from the cases that I have talked about, and from the NAO report and others, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We do not know what is going on. For too long, the Department has failed to address the effects of its policies. It must now act. Enough is enough.
4. What recent assessment she has made of the effect on claimant health of the work capability assessment process. 
Jodey Whiting took her own life in 2017 when her social security support stopped after she missed a work capability assessment that she did not know about. Last week, a psychiatrist said that Jodey’s mental state was likely to have been “substantially affected” by the DWP’s decision.
Last week, Errol Graham’s death was reported in the news. He died in 2018, of starvation. He weighed four and a half stone—again, under similar circumstances. Will the Secretary of State consider, as a matter of urgency, an independent inquiry into the deaths of claimants in these circumstances?