MP demands official inquiry into Stephen Smith's treatment after another pathetic government response

Liverpool Echo - 30 Apr 2019

Merseyside MP Frank Field has written to DWP Secretary Amber Rudd and called for an official inquiry into how six-stone Liverpool man Stephen Smith was cruelly denied benefits in the lead up to his death.

64-year-old Stephen, from Kensington, died last week after a lengthy battle with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in which he was wrongly denied benefits for nearly two years.

This weekend, the ECHO published two separate doctors' notes which warned the department about Stephen's failing health and criticised a decision to find him fit for work and deny him the support he needed.

Now Birkenhead MP Frank Field, who chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee in Parliament, has written to Ms Rudd to call for an inquiry into how Stephen was treated.

In a letter, shared exclusively with the ECHO, Mr Field writes: "I am writing to request an official inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Stephen Smith.

"You may be aware that Mr Smith, who lived in Liverpool, died earlier this month at the age of 64. His death followed a lengthy dispute with the Department over his claim for Employment and Support Allowance and, in particular, whether he was fit enough to look for work.

"In the weeks leading up to his death, while he was still trying to dispute the status of his claim, Mr Smith developed pneumonia and became severely malnourished. His weight plummeted to just six stone.

"The more details that emerge from Mr Smith's case, including the seemingly scant consideration given to his doctor's notes, the more troubled I am by what this man was made to go through and the impact all this had on his health."

In his letter, Mr Field - who has raised issues with the DWP many times in Parliament - says he fears that without an inquiry, the 'injustice surround Mr Smith's case' could repeat itself in an unknown number of cases involving some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

He adds: "Might you therefore be willing please to initiate an inquiry into Mr Smith's case and, if so, could it report quickly so that the lessons from this appalling episode can be applied as soon as possible."

The ECHO has been attempting to reach Ms Rudd for a response to Stephen's death for some time now, but the DWP has said she will not comment as it is an 'operational matter.'

Mr Field's letter follows his own attempt to ask the Secretary of State a Parliamentary question.

He asked how many benefits claimants have died within either six or 12 months of being assessed as fit for work.

Ms Rudd did not reply, with a dismissive response instead issued by Minister for Disabled people Justin Tomlinson.

It stated: "To provide a reply would require the Department to link together several complex datasets and quality assure the results.

"Although theoretically possible, it is estimated that this would take in excess of 4 working days therefore as the information requested is not readily available, to provide it would incur disproportionate cost."

Liam Thorp, Liverpool Echo