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Amber Rudd FINALLY responds to death of six-stone Liverpool man Stephen Smith

Liverpool Echo - 21 May 2019

Benefits secretary Amber Rudd has finally acknowledged the death of six-stone Liverpool man Stephen Smith - who died after being repeatedly and wrongly denied vital support by her department.

Mr Smith died last month following a gruelling battle with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) - who repeatedly denied him benefits despite numerous doctors warning of his dramatically failing health.

In the end, 64-year-old Mr Smith - who weighed just six stone at the time - had to get a pass out of hospital to allow him to fight the DWP at a tribunal and finally win back the benefits he had been denied.

After his story was made public, the DWP also agreed to pay him back around £4,000 in backpay that he should never had been denied.

Sadly, this money arrived too late for Mr Smith - and was instead used to pay for his funeral.

The ECHO has been following his story for some time - and we have been repeatedly asking for Ms Rudd to respond to how he was treated following his tragic death.

So far, we have only been sent generic responses from a DWP spokesperson.

But Birkenhead MP Frank Field has also taken up the case, alongside the ECHO.

Mr Field is the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee - and has written to Ms Rudd asking for a full inquiry into Mr Smith's case.

And in a response received today - it looks like that is now underway.

Ms Rudd writes: "This is a grave and tragic case. I speak on behalf of the Department when I say that we are very sorry to hear of the experience Mr Smith had and that our thoughts continue to be with his friends and family.

"You asked for an official inquiry into this matter. I can advise you that an urgent Internal Process Review has been commissioned on Mr Smith's case, which will be complete by the end of May."

Ms Rudd explains that Internal Process Reviews 'enable full and open scrutiny of cases internally' and that a 'factual sequence of events will be put together for Mr Smith's case and will be provided to a panel of subject experts within the Department.'

However, despite Mr Field's call for a public inquiry it appears that Mr Smith's case will only be reviewed within the DWP.

The Secretary of State's letter continues: "This will be objectively reviewed against the customer journey and what should have happened - including safeguarding processes.

"This will help us to understand what happened, with recommendations for improvements and changes to be shared with the Permanent Secretary following this review."

Ms Rudd said she recognises the 'gravity of this case' and will consider any further steps necessary following the outcome of the review - and will notify Mr Field.

She concludes by saying that Mr Smith's case has her 'personal attention' and that 'if there is a need to take further action, it will be taken.'

Liam Thorp, Liverpool Echo