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Gill Thompson’s legal case for her brother David, who was diabetic and died in 2013 after his Jobseekers Allowance was sanctioned, has just been launched. Gill’s legal team wrote to the Hertfordshire Coroner setting out why there should be an investigation, including of breach of the right to life and of DWP procedure sanctioning claimants (see Leigh Day press release). David’s death was put down to “natural causes” and there was no inquest. Public support through CrowdJustice fundraising has enabled this challenge.
In October, at the people’s premiere of Ken Loach’s film “I, Daniel Blake” in Leicester Square, Gill joined other campaigners at an invited vigil against deaths from benefit cuts, on the red carpet. Nichole Drury, another bereaved relative, spoke about her mother Moira Drury, who had a head injury from domestic violence, and developed cancer. Moira was too ill to attend the benefit exam but her reasons were not accepted and she was cut off. The stress of being without benefit for months, then a Council Tax demand for nearly £2,000 resulting from loss of benefit, hastened her death. The banner of names of people who died from benefit cuts and sanctions was read out by Maggie Zolobajluk. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, longtime opponents of the Work Capability Assessment, gave their support at the vigil and spoke to people individually.
Corbyn highlighted David’s plight in Parliament at Prime Minister’s Questions, telling Theresa May and ministers to go and see “I, Daniel Blake”.
Black Triangle welcomes Gill’s challenge, relevant to the refusal to hold an inquest into the death of Alan McArdle, who died of a heart attack in 2015 within an hour of being read a letter threatening to stop his Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Maximus had reported him to the DWP for missing back-to-work appointments, insisting on sanction when someone called to let them know he was in hospital.
Many claimants say WinVisible’s Benefit self-help rights sheet has helped them, including against sanctions. We won exemption from the face-to-face Work Capability Assessment (WCA) exam for many vulnerable women, and helped restore benefit to disabled women cut off for “failure to attend”.
Despite words that people on ESA Support Group rate with chronic conditions will no longer be retested, on 1 November the government launched a “Work, health and disability: improving lives” green paper at disability charity Scope, which includes the proposal to make everyone subject to sanctions, including sick and disabled people in the Support Group who are currently protected. Disabled campaigners are determined to fight this new attack on claimants, and recently protested against national Mind, confronting CEO Paul Farmer against Mind sending their policy officer Tom Pollard to work for the DWP – tied to lucrative DWP contracts for the “work cure” for people with mental distress.
Opposition inside Parliament is also growing. MPs opposed to the ESA cut due in April 2017, are calling for a debate, including Green, Labour, SNP and Tory MPs, such as Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage where David Clapson lived. McPartland’s correspondence with the DWP at Gill’s request, where the DWP replied they knew David was insulin-dependent, forms part of the legal challenge.