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Our latest investigation is now available

26 March 2014

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland has recently conducted an investigation around the new benefits system.  

We investigated the case of a woman who tragically took her own life in December 2011.  She had recently had a work capability assessment following which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided her benefits were going to be reduced. She was on incapacity benefit and was told she would not be able to be transferred to Employment and Support Allowance so would receive Jobseekers allowance

Ms DE was a woman in her fifties who had worked for most of her life but had been experiencing mental and physical health issues so was signed off work and receiving incapacity benefit. She intended to return to work when she was able to. Ms DE had a teenage son and was engaged and planning to get married in 2012.  She had been receiving care and support from her GP and her psychiatrist for over 20 years. Her doctors had never been worried during this time about her taking own life.

During our investigation we spoke with people who were involved with Ms DE's care and treatment. We discussed the case with relevant officials from the DWP. We also conducted a survey of psychiatrists to find out how they felt the system was affecting their patients. 

We found that the decision was made on the basis of an assessment that contained insufficient information about her mental health. The work capability assessment needs to be more sensitive to mental health issues.

We were also disappointed at how the DWP communicated with Ms DE.  We felt that not enough effort was made to contact Ms DE and this meant she was not given the opportunity to fully engage with the process. She was not treated as a vulnerable claimant and so was not given any additional support to help her with the process around the assessment by the DWP. 

George Kappler, Chief Social Work Officer, who Chaired the investigation, says,

'We were asked to investigate the sad case of Ms DE. Our investigation raised numerous concerning issues about the DWP and Atos process.

Ms DE should have been supported as a vulnerable claimant.  We found a lack of sensitivity to individual circumstances.

We thought the assessment process was flawed and needs to change in order to be fair to individuals with mental health problems.

We feel that these issues would apply to whichever service provider is doing the assessments so the DWP need to be aware of this when the contract with Atos ends.

We have been involved in useful discussions with the DWP about the recommendations we have made in the report and these are continuing.'

You can find a copy of the full report available here.

We have received a response from the DWP in relation to our recommendations and we have made comments on their response. You can find the response here.