The family of a man who starved to death after his benefits were suspended have started a High Court action against the DWP.
Errol Graham weighed less than five stone when bailiffs found his body in June 2018, eight months after his ESA disabled benefit was suspended for missing an appointment.
The 57-year-old, who had severe mental health difficulties, had just a couple of five-year-old tins of fish in his cupboard and now his daughter in law Alison Turner will argue it was unlawful to stop his benefits because it failed to have regard for his disability under the Equality Act.
She will further argue it breached the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life and the right against inhuman or degrading treatment.
A claim has been issued for judicial review and Alison Turner faces a wait to see if it will proceed.
She said that she saw disturbing things when she attended Errol’s flat following his death which would always stay with her and it was apparent that he was in extreme mental distress and pain and that it was impossible to see how the policy could be lawful.
A harrowing witness statement from Alison Turner said that she found a cardboard box containing two of her father in law’s teeth and a pair of pliers.
She said that she looked at it and then realised that Errol must have pulled out his teeth and she said that when she found the teeth she felt ill and that it made her feel sick and that she couldn’t begin to picture how much agony he must have been in, and to her, that was an indicator of how critical his mental health problems were at the time and that he couldn’t have been in the right frame of mind.
Errol Graham’s death has been referred to a Serious Case Panel but its membership is unknown and the DWP has declined to say if Alison Turner will be permitted to see the findings.
The family’s solicitor Tessa Gregory, of Leigh Day, said: “Our client is being forced to pursue legal action because the DWP has so far refused to make any real changes to the safeguarding policies which allowed her loved one, Errol, to fall through the safety net with such devastating consequences.
“Like so many other families affected by benefit-related deaths, the conduct of the DWP following Errol’s death has had a profound impact on our client and her family.
“She has been appalled by the lack of engagement and transparency.
“She hopes this case will make the Government realise that it can no longer ignore bereaved families and it must urgently address their concerns to ensure that the vulnerable are protected.”
Errol Graham’s death has sparked renewed calls for an independent inquiry into benefit claimant’s deaths.
His family said he was outgoing before his depression worsened following his dad’s passing in 2005. After he was sectioned in 2015 and Alison Turner said he simply shut her out and that she last saw him in 2016, despite repeated efforts to make contact.
The spiral towards losing his benefits started on 31 August 2017, when he failed to attend a fit for work examination for his ESA. The DWP sent Errol Graham reminders in September and October 2017 asking why he didn’t attend but had no response.
Benefit officers then carried out two safeguarding visits at his residence on 16 and 17 October, again with no response but despite the inconclusive visits, his ESA stopped from 10 October, some days earlier.
In a letter discovered following his death, Errol Graham said he dreaded any mail coming through the door and sometimes he couldn’t bear to even hear the washing machine. The letter further added that most days he went to bed starving.
It’s tragic when anyone dies, particularly when it was preventable. What’s even more disturbing is that this likely will be resolved, as so many cases before, with the blaming of an unrelated government body with some rule changes that do nothing to sort things out and the inevitability that it will continue to happen.
This woman is not just fighting for Errol but for the thousands of others who are cast aside by the DWP and who are left with no support and just look at how the safety net has failed them. This is the fault of the Tory government because this man was undoubtedly mentally ill and couldn’t interact with the DWP and it could happen to anyone.
The point is, if the DWP came to Errol Graham’s home on two occasions for safeguarding visits, knowing full well that he had mental health problems and they never got a response, then logic would dictate to phone the police to kick down the door.
Let’s not mince our words now, this was simply another innocent person killed off by Tory policy.