The Scottish National Party (SNP) has accused the UK Government of abandoning any responsibility for benefits deaths.
Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that around 90 people have died every month over the last three years after being found ‘fit for work’ and their benefits removed.
However, Employment Minister Priti Patel told the House of Commons on Monday that it was “impossible” and “wrong” to draw a link between the deaths of claimants and the removal of sickness benefits.
She also claimed there was no ‘causal link’ between the effect of benefits sanctions and the deaths of claimants.
The SNP has now renewed its call for benefit sanctions to be frozen, as well as calling for a full and independent review into the DWP’s “practices and protocols”.
The SNP’s Social Justice and Welfare spokesperson, Eilidh Whiteford MP, said:
“Serious health problems are a major cause of people being unable to work, and we already know that around 90 people have died every month over the last three years shortly after having been found fit for work and having their social security benefits withdrawn.
“This is unacceptable and it is deeply concerning that these sanctions continue to be handed out when the DWP’s own figures have revealed that 285,000 sanctions were overturned when appealed – it is vital that we find out the root cause of these errors to stop them from happening in the first place.
“The UK Government has completely abandoned any responsibility for the people who have died shortly after being declared fit for work which just goes to show that this process is not fit for work.
“A root and branch review of the DWP’s conditionality and practices must be carried out as a matter of urgency and all sanctions should be frozen, so that the DWP can be held to account for these errors which are having a damaging and negative effect on people’s lives.”
The call comes just two weeks after Eilidh Whiteford wrote to the Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP, to raise allegations from a DWP whistle-blower of a culture of pressure to sanction claimants.
Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly denied allegations that Jobcentre staff are under pressure to sanction claimants.
However, an investigation into Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions by the PCS union found that “league tables have been used to compare the numbers of sanction referrals at different Job Centres”.
The review added: “DWP claim there are no targets for JSA claimants being sanctioned but instead they set staff an ‘expectation’ for the number of sanction referrals they must make. In PCS’ view this is the same as setting a target.”
“In some offices staff were expected to select at least two claimants a week to refer for sanction.”
And evidence submitted by the PCS to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in February 2015, revealed how Jobcentre staff are losing pay rises if they fail to sanction enough jobseekers.