This man died 18 days after his benefits were stopped. Now his sister wants the DWP to stop the suffering

In a national day of action against ‘cruel’ sanctions campaigners protested at 70 job centres across the UK

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Indy Politics

The sister of a man who died 18 days after he was sanctioned by job centre staff has made an emotional plea to Iain Duncan Smith to open a public inquest into her brother’s death. 

Gill Thompson, whose brother David Clapson died in July 2013, was joined outside the Department for Work and Pensions in central London with up to 50 protestors brandishing placards highlighting the “callous” nature of the government’s benefit sanctions regime.

Ms Thompson carried with her a banner, engraved with the names of 96 people she claims to have died while on a benefit sanction. One of them is her brother. 

Speaking to The Independent, she said: "The DWP actions did not help my brother’s situation. I feel that his death could have been prevented. By doing this, I can’t bring my brother back, I’m just hoping that this will save other people.

"All these people have died, it has to stop now. That’s all we ask for, that’s all I ask for, no more deaths, no more suffering."

Debbie Abrahams MP speaks about David Clapson case

Campaigners also delivered a petition, signed by thousands of people, calling on the Mr Duncan Smith to implement the recommendations of last year’s work and pensions select committee into benefit sanctions. In 2015 the government rejected calls from MPs to make public the number of peer reviews undertaken by the DWP following the death of a claimant. 

The action outside the DWP came as 70 coordinated protests took place around the UK at job centres, as part of a national day of action against the government’s “grotesque cruelty” towards claimants. It was organised by Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union organisation. 

Ms Thompson brother, David Clapson, who served as a Lance Corporal in Belfast during the height of the Troubles, passed away two weeks after being sanctioned by the DWP for missing two appointments. His death was attributed to diabetic ketoacidosis, which is caused by an acute lack of insulin. 

Gill Thompson and her brother David Clapson

Mr Clapson’s body was found a few metres away from a pile of CVs and he had £3.44 in his bank account. Speaking to The Independent last week, Ms Thompson said: "In my opinion, it [the benefit sanction] was a death sentence". 

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.  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”.

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.  

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”. 

Responding to the protests, Owen Smith, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said to The Independent: “It’s crystal clear that the Tories sanctions policy is unfit for purpose.  It is as callous as it is ineffective: damaging the wellbeing of many who are subject to its inflexible rules, as well as failing to help people in to work.”

He added: “Iain Duncan Smith refuses to acknowledge that there is anything wrong with the sanctions regime and has consistently refused to subject it to independent scrutiny. However, Labour will keep up the pressure on this issue and maintain our demand that the system is totally overhauled to treat people with dignity, fairness and compassion.”

Liane Groves, the head of Unite Community, said: “Half a million people have been sanctioned and had their financial support withdrawn in the last 12 months alone. Money can be cut for arriving late at the Jobcentre, missing an appointment to go to a funeral or even failing to apply for a job while waiting to start a new job.”

She added: “This harsh benefit sanctions regime treats claimants worse than criminals fined in courts, leaving people without money and unable to feed themselves and their family. It is a system out of control with decisions on guilt taken in secret and claimants not even allowed to be present to explain their case.

“Far from helping people back to work, the cruel sanctions regime harms physical and mental health and drives up food bank use and homelessness. 

“It is totally counterproductive and there can be no justification for this grotesque cruelty by the government. It can’t be allowed to go on.”

A spokesman for the DWP said: “Decisions on sanctions aren’t taken lightly but are an important part of our benefits’ system — they are only ever used as a last resort and the number of sanctions continues to fall.

“Even when someone is sanctioned they can still get financial support through hardship payments and we continue to spend around £80bn a year on working age benefits to ensure a safety net is in place”