The DWP stopped my brother’s benefits payments. It was a death sentence

Diabetic David Clapson died two weeks after his benefits were stopped because he missed two appointments. Now his sister wants the DWP to admit they contributed to his death

The sister of a soldier who died 18 days after his benefits were stopped is appealing for funds to fight for a public inquest into whether the Department for Work and Pensions contributed to his death.

David Clapson, who served as a Lance Corporal in Belfast during the height of the Troubles, passed away in his flat in July 2013 from diabetic ketoacidosis – caused by an acute lack of insulin. His body was found a few metres away from a pile of CVs and he had £3.44 in his bank account. 

Two weeks before the 59-year-old died the Department for Work and Pensions had sanctioned him for a month, after he missed two appointments. His £71.70 a week Job Seekers Allowance payments were immediately stopped.  When Gill Thompson discovered her brother’s body, she found his electricity had been cut off, meaning the fridge where he stored his insulin was no longer working. 

With no money for his electricity meter, his family claim he was unable to chill his insulin in the height of summer. He also was found to have no food in his stomach when he died.  

Speaking to The Independent, Ms Thompson said: "In my opinion, it [the benefit sanction] was a death sentence". 

After exhausting other avenues Ms Thompson has now launched a crowd funding campaign to raise money to enable her to fight for a public inquest into his death. “The sanctioning took away his lifeline,” she added.  

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Gill Thompson and her brother David Clapson

The £10,000 she hopes to raise will pay towards instructing lawyers, accessing records and seeking expert advice to “build the strongest case” for an inquiry. Leigh Day, the law firm representing Ms Thompson, has added that rendering a person unable to afford food or to chill their insulin “is likely to have fatal consequences”. 

Ms Thompson said to The Independent she was not after revenge. “For me, David’s gone and there’s nothing I can do. All I want is for lessons to be learned and acted upon. What I am trying to do is show their [the DWP] actions didn’t help David. Hopefully by doing this I can help others…prevent further deaths. People are still dying.” 

She added: “These are not criminal offences; these are things that happen – missing appointments. I’m sure all of us have missed a couple appointments in our lives. But to be punished with such cruelty and such severity I just don’t feel the need. As we speak, hundreds of thousands of people out there are suffering – they’ve got nothing to look forward to. This is why I’m doing it. For me, David didn’t have help. I’m just asking for help.

“To lead someone, even healthy, without food and any means for two weeks is going to have some drastic effect. You don’t know what’s round the corner. I’m 59 now – my brother’s age – luckily I’m OK and I’m working. But who knows what could hit me next year or the year after. Then what happens… are they going to do the same to me? You just don’t know.”

In 2014 Ms Thompson started a petition with Change.org that gained over 200,000 signatures, helping to secure a Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry in March 2015, which came up with 26 recommendations.  

However, the Government rejected her calls for an independent review into her brother's death and the deaths of others in similar circumstances. They also rejected the recommendation of the select committee that the number of peer reviews into deaths of persons subject to a sanction be made public.   

During the inquiry, in an emotional confrontation last February, Ms Thompson presented an image of her late brother to the former Employment Minister Esther McVey. “A diabetic cannot wait two weeks,” she said – in reference to the amount of time a Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant, when sanctioned, has to wait to receive a hardship payment.

"‘It’s complicated.’ That’s all she [Esther McVey] said to me."

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Gill Thompson believes the sanction took away her brother's 'lifeline'

Merry Varney from the law firm Leigh Day who is representing Ms Thompson in her fight for an inquest into her brother’s death, said:  “David had a made a significant contribution to the wider public good, working in the Forces at a difficult time and later providing personal care for his elderly mother. At the time he needed support, he was made destitute for failing to attend a meeting.   

“Managing Type 1 Diabetes requires good nutrition and regular insulin injections. Rendering a person unable to afford food and/or unable to chill their insulin is likely to have fatal consequences. David’s death must be investigated to make sure safeguards are in place to protect others and to establish whether the DWP knowingly cut off David’s lifeline.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Mr Clapson.” 

They added: “Decisions on sanctions aren’t taken lightly — they are only ever used as a last resort and after we have taken every opportunity to contact the individual… Even when someone is sanctioned they can still get financial support through the hardship fund and we continue to spend around £80bn a year on working age benefits to ensure a safety net is in place….Mr Clapson did not appeal or ask for a reconsideration of the sanction, or apply for a hardship payment.”

Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Debbie Abrahams MP, who has been a long standing supporter of Ms Thompson's campaign to have a full independent inquiry into her brother’s death, said: “Gill is a quiet but immensely strong and determined woman who will not let this Government get away with their ideologically driven agenda to hammer the sick and disabled in our society.

“Gill is just one of thousands of family members and friends left devastated by the misery Iain Duncan Smith’s sanctions regime has been inflicting on vulnerable people over the last few years.

“Politicians like me can shout from the rooftops of Parliament about the injustices that are being meted out by this Government but it really does take brave people like Gill to bring issues like this to the public’s attention and she deserves our support and admiration for doing so.”

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