A coroner’s warning that the impact of the last Labour Government’s Work Capability Assessment triggered a suicide is the second one ITV News has uncovered in collaboration with the Disability News Service.
The fact that the Government’s chief welfare advisor at the time says he didn’t know about it suggests that lessons that could have been learnt from the tragedy weren’t, and it once again draws attention to the way people with mental health issues have been treated on the WCA.
Stephen Carré took his own life in 2010 after he lost an appeal against the finding that he was fit to return to work. He was clinically depressed and had been diagnosed as bipolar.
At the inquest into his death the coroner ruled that the decision that he was “fit for work” had been the trigger for his suicide.
The coroner made his concerns about the system known to the Department of Work and Pensions in March 2010 by issuing what was then known as a Rule 43, a rare and significant intervention.
“I feel the decision by the department NOT to seek medical advice from the claimant’s own GP or psychiatrist if they are suffering a mental illness should be reviewed,” Coroner Tom Osbourne wrote.
His office told ITV News they have never received a “substantive” reply from the DWP to their 2010 letter.
And the man in charge of reviewing the WCA at the time for the Government says he was never even told about the case.
Professor Malcolm Harrington, who led the first three of the Government’s five Independent Reviews into the WCA from 2010 to 2012, says if he had known about the case, he would have raised the alarm about the vulnerability of mental health claimants in the system earlier and more vehemently in the first of his three reviews.
And Paul Farmer, CEO of the mental health charity MIND, said overlooking Stephen’s case looked like a “major system failure”.
He said had it been investigated properly the experience of hundreds of thousands of people who went through stressful fit for work tests could have been different.
A DWP spokesman said: “Suicide is a tragic and complex issue and there are often many reasons why someone takes their life, so to link it to one event is misleading.
“Since this inquest took place under the previous Government we have made significant improvements to the Work Capability Assessment, including improving the process for people with mental health conditions.
“The percentage of people with mental health conditions who get the highest level of support has more than tripled since 2010.”