MPs call for inquiry into whether withdrawal of benefits increases risk of suicide

Government has carried out 49 reviews following the death of a claimant

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MPs have called for an independent inquiry into whether withdrawing benefits from jobless people judged not to be actively seeking work has contributed to suicides.

In a report published today, the Work and Pensions Select Committee revealed the Government had carried out 49 reviews following the death of a claimant. In 33 of the cases, there were recommendations for a change of practice, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was unable say how many of the claimants had been hit by a benefit sanction.

Dame Anne Begg, the committee’s Labour chair, said: “It is important that all agencies involved in the provision of public services are scrutinised to ensure that lessons are learned after members of the public are let down by the system, particularly where the failures... may have contributed to a death. We believe a new independent body should be established to fulfil this role.”

Last month a coroner ruled that Malcolm Burge, 66, killed himself after Newham Borough Council cut his housing benefit by 50 per cent. It was trying to recover an £800 debt he could not pay and his bank balance stood at £50. The MPs are concerned claimants hit by benefit cuts for not seeking work have to wait 15 days for hardship payments, which they say should be available from day one.

A DWP spokesman said the case of Mr Burge had nothing to do with benefit sanctions. He added :"As the report recognises, sanctions are a vital backstop in the welfare system and are only used in a small minority of cases where claimants don’t do all they can to look for work... We continue to spend around £94bn a year on working-age benefits to provide a safety net that supports millions of people.”