Court case regarding Errol Graham to be heard – from WinVisible

Photo of Errol Graham

Dear friends,

On 12 & 13 January, a judicial review regarding Errol Graham, who tragically starved to death after his disability benefits were cut off, will be heard at the High Court online. His son’s fiancée, Alison Turner, is courageously bringing the case, with Leigh Day solicitors. The hearing will consider why Mr Graham’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) when they knew he had severe mental distress.

This legal case against the DWP is even more urgent during the lockdowns while it’s harder to access support and many more people are isolated at home. When Mr Graham was found dead at home in Nottingham by bailiffs in 2018, there was no food in his flat. He had been cut off ESA for “failure to attend” a work capability reassessment interview, and failure to show “good cause” for missing it. Alison and her legal team are focussing on why the DWP did not contact his GP, his welfare rights representative, family members or others when he didn’t reply; and their duty under the Equality Act to promote equality and eliminate discrimination.

Those of us who are people of colour suffer systemic racism — combined with disability discrimination in the brutal benefits system. WinVisible knows from helping women with mental distress that the assessors Maximus and the DWP are still treating claimants as badly as ever. And women are struggling on low basic Universal Credit long-term, as interviews held by telephone under COVID are deemed “inconclusive” so they are denied the disability amounts added on.

We remember Jodey Whiting who took her own life in February 2017 after being cut off ESA for missing a face-to-face interview notification while she was in hospital. She had asked for a home visit on her renewal form. A DWP decision-maker disbelieved her account of being in hospital, saying there was “no proof”.  Her benefits were stopped despite a known history of being suicidal. Her mum Joy Dove recently won the right to a second inquest, as the first one left out the DWP role.

If you want to attend the online hearing, please email the court at listoffice@administrativecourtoffice.justice.gov.uk stating that you wish to obtain access to the following hearing listed on 12-13 January:

CO/1689/2020 The Queen on the application of ALISON TURNER versus SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WORK AND PENSIONS

Press release by Leigh Day solicitors who are bringing the case:

Court case regarding Errol Graham to be heard

On 12 and 13 January 2021 a judicial review hearing will be heard at the High Court to consider the case of Errol Graham who starved to death in June 2018 after his Employment Support Allowance (ESA) payments were terminated by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) eight months earlier.

Description: Errol Graham
Photo of Errol Graham

8 January 2021

The claim, brought on behalf of the family by Alison Turner (the fiancée of Mr Graham’s son), alleges that the decision to halt Mr Graham’s benefits in 2017 was unlawful and that the DWP’s ESA safeguarding policy on the termination of benefits is still unlawful, despite revisions that were belatedly made following the issuing of these proceedings. 

Mr Graham, who suffered severe mental ill-health, was found starved to death aged 57, eight months after his ESA payments and housing benefit payments were halted. He had missed a fitness for work assessment and had not responded when the DWP tried to contact him by phone and in person. The payments were terminated in line with DWP policy, without any effort to contact next of kin or other support services and without considering whether Mr Graham’s known mental health issues could have been the reason for his lack of communication.

When Mr Graham was found dead, he weighed just four and a half stone, there was no food in his flat and no credit on his gas or electricity meters. An unsent letter to the DWP was found which pleaded “please judge me fairly”.

Following the issue of court proceedings by Ms Turner the DWP has made several changes to the safeguarding policy that was applied in Errol’s case and it has published new internal guidance. 

Whilst welcoming the improvements made, Ms Turner says the ESA safeguarding policy remains unlawful in key respects:

  • It puts the onus on vulnerable benefits claimants to prove to the DWP that they had “good cause” for failing to attend a meeting or not responding to communication. This is contrary to Regulation 24 of the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008 and s149 of the Equality Act 2010. 
  • It fails to make clear that the DWP has a duty (not a discretion) to make inquiries, including where necessary from external individuals and bodies, to obtain sufficient information about the state of the Claimant’s health so they can properly assess whether they had good cause for missing an appointment or not responding to communication. That is a rigorous duty in part because many such claimants (in the same way Mr Graham was) will be at serious risk of harm or death if their benefits are terminated.

At the inquest into Mr Graham’s death, the coroner said more detail about his condition could have been sought from his GP and noted that there is no guidance for DWP staff following “failed safeguarding visits” as had occurred in his case, and no requirement in those cases to seek more information before a decision to cease benefits is made.

The coroner called for “robust policy and guidance…that ensures all evidence that can reasonably be gathered is put together about a client, before a benefit is ceased”. 

Ms Turner is asking the court to give a declaration that the DWP’s decision to disallow Mr Graham’s benefits in October 2017 was unlawful because it was in breach of s.149 Equality Act 2010 and Regulation 24 of Employment Support Allowance Regulations 2008. She says there were strong indicators that his mental health or disability may have given him good cause for not responding and he was known to have long term depression, and the DWP’s policy should ensure such indicators are identified and considered.

Mind, the leading national mental health charity in England And Wales has submitted evidence in support of Ms Turner’s case and the Equality and Human Rights Commission are formally intervening in support.  

Alison Turner is represented by Tessa Gregory and Carolin Ott of Leigh Day solicitors and Adam Straw and Jesse Nicholls of Doughty Street Chambers. 

Alison Turner said:

“The DWP decision to stop paying Errol’s benefits meant that, without money to buy food and to pay for heating and lighting, in the end, he starved to death. Although at first the DWP maintained that their safeguarding policy was lawful, faced with a court case, they have made some changes to the policy.

“But these changes are not enough. It still falls to the vulnerable claimant to make sure the DWP knows why they have good cause not to respond to DWP enquiries. That makes no sense when vulnerable claimants might be too mentally ill to respond. For Errol’s sake, I have to challenge this policy so that other people don’t suffer in the way that he and our family did.”

Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory, who represents Alison in her claim, said:

“Errol’s family have always made clear that their one goal in bringing this litigation is to try to ensure that no other families live through the same horrors they have. The DWP provide support to many others like Errol, who due to their significant mental health issues may miss appointments and may have difficulty responding to correspondence. 

“It cannot be right that it falls to such vulnerable individuals to prove that they had a good cause for not responding and the DWP must require their staff where necessary to make further enquiries before taking the momentous decision of cutting off what is often a person’s only source of income. Unless and until the DWP changes its policies other vulnerable individuals will remain at risk of serious harm or death.” 

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“Mind has heard from many other people who have lost loved ones in similar horrendous circumstances. Mind provided expert testimony to the hearing based on the views of people with mental health problems who we’re in touch with who have had to endure awful experiences at the hands of a benefits system, which is made needlessly complicated and stressful.

“Change can’t come soon enough. The pandemic has caused devastating financial insecurity, with more people than ever relying on the benefits system to keep them afloat through this difficult period. We want to see a fair and compassionate benefits system.”

Information was correct at time of publishing. See terms and conditions for further details.

Linking struggles and opposing the SNP in Dundee

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Ninewells Hospital Porters Support Group – Launch Press Statement 15/05/15

At the initiative of local campaigning group Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions, a representative of the striking Ninewells Porters was welcomed to a meeting to set up a Ninewells Porters Support Group.

Full support for the Ninewells Porters struggle was expressed and solidarity actions planned, including a protest at the SNP Office on Glamis Road when SNP Health Minister Shona Robison has her surgery next Friday.

The meeting was updated on developments in the Porters Strike and went on to discuss suggestions for raising the profile of the Porters Strike. The Support Group will seek to build wider understanding of the issues in the community, amongst other workers and amongst the unemployed.

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19/05/15: About this photo… it says it all! Hmmm! that’s an awfy interestin’ bus! ‘ SNP-Pay the Porters, Save Menzieshill High!, Cover Welfare Sanctions!’ Did ye hear anything there…like 300 folk marchin’ past shouting that…or a yer ears made o’ tweed ‘n aw SNP MP Chris Law!

Ninewells Porters Support Group – Press Statement 21/05/15

At a post election discussion last night- Wednesday 20 May- Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions, who initiated the Ninewells Porters Support Group, called for the fullest support for a protest picket to be held at SNP Health Minister’s Friday surgery. 2-3pm 22 May Old Glamis Road.

The call was supported by the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network which included SNP members, supporters and voters. Porters supporters, campaigners against Welfare Sanctions and campaigners against the SNP council’s decision to close Menzieshill High, will all gather at the Old Glamis Road offices of the SNP to call for support for the strikers’ case and their own campaigns.

The Ninewells Porters Support Group recognises the just demands of the strikers against Low Pay and calls on all campaigners to unite to oppose poverty pay, welfare sanctions and council cuts.

We challenge the SNP who were massively elected on an anti- austerity platform to turn their words into deeds. Pay the Porters Now!

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22/05/15: Great day out today wee the porters, Great picket of the SNP offices, very vocal and straight to the point. PAY THE PORTERS, STOP THE SCHOOL CLOSURE, STOP WELFARE SANCTIONS. Shona Robison has agreed to meet with porters representatives on Monday 25th of May. The strikers are under no illusions. We say DIRECT ACTION FROM HERE ON IN!

Excellent, noisy, militant protest for the Ninewells Porters. Meeting suddenly scheduled for Monday morning with Robison! Unity and support from DAWS, SUWN, SSP, SP, Class War, RIC, RCG/FRFI and even the Labour Party! The protest was reminded that while the SNP are trying to close Menzieshill High, it was the Labour council that closed Linlathen High 20 years ago. The open mike meant everyone could have a shout at the SNP, to put the question: ‘Where is your anti- austerity now!’ Porters want to be back next week, let’s hope we don’t have to be back and that victory is achieved very soon. Good point made by Andy D. that the NHS is our NHS and we vote to pay the porters! They are out in the town centre tomorrow, Boots Corner, 12-2pm. All out for the Porters! Low Pay- No Way! SNP! Pay the Porters Now!

Protesters denounce sanctions and workfare at Edinburgh Jobcentre

Demonstrators denouncing sanctions and workfare besieged High Riggs Jobcentre in Edinburgh on Wednesday 29th April.

Braving pouring rain, protesters from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and other groups displayed banners and placards and distributed hundreds of leaflets urging claimants to resist benefits sanctions and the government’s compulsory “work for your benefits” schemes.

At one point the demo moved temporarily from the Jobcentre front door to the staff car park.  Here, overlooked by the Jobcentre offices, protesters used a megaphone to direct speeches and chants to those inside.  Demonstrators pledged direct action to resist sanctions and workfare, and called for solidarity from Jobcentre workers, pointing out that workfare and sanctions undermine all workers’ wages and conditions – workfare is even being used in Jobcentres!

A representative from the Food Solidarity project, who work with Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and supply food parcels for sanctioned claimants, entered the Jobcentre to ask them to take a food collection sack to put in the staff room.  A jobcentre worker initially stated this should be fine, but then a manager ruled that the Jobcentre would not accept the collection sack.

SANCTIONS VICTORY

ECAP say:

“We support claimants to challenge sanctions and workfare.  Together with the claimant concerned, we recently overturned a 4 week sanction imposed on an Edinburgh jobseeker who had informed the boss at his intended workfare placement, Oxgangs Neighbourhood Centre, that the community centre should not be participating in such exploiting schemes.

If you are sanctioned – dispute the decision, you have a good chance of overturning the sanction and getting your benefits back.  Contact us for support, and see the practical advice here.  If you are sent on workfare, don’t just accept it, there are ways to fight back – again, contact us and see the info here.

The tide is turning against workfare – 542 charities and voluntary organisations are now signed up to “Keep Volunteering Voluntary” and are pledged to boycott all forced labour schemes.”

Resistance to sanctions and workfare is part of the wider struggle against all austerity.  Standards of living for waged and unwaged are under attack as the crisis exposes the true nature of the exploitative capitalist system.  The election won’t solve our problems – we need to develop a movement of direct action to make the rule of bosses and their political protectors unworkable.”

The demo saw Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty joined by banners from the Solidarity Federation, Anarchist Federation, and the Industrial Workers of the World, plus contingents from Greater Leith Against the Cuts and Edinburgh Anti Cuts Alliance.  Police attended throughout the two-hour long demonstration, but there were no arrests.

The protest, numbering around 25 participants, was part of a week of action against workfare and sanctions, organised to coincide with the run-up to the general election, via the Boycott Workfare network.  Actions are taking place Britain-wide, in various locations in London and Glasgow, and including Swindon, Leeds, the Wirral, Cambridge and Bristol – plus several actions in the Netherlands, as resistance to workfare goes global.

From Yes to Action | Joint statement on post-referendum organising

The vast majority of people who voted Yes did so for a more equal and just society; to stop the war on the poor being waged by Westminster and the rich; an end to food banks, benefits sanctions, wage cuts, public service cuts, wars, and the destruction of our environment.

There is no mandate in Scotland for the vicious austerity programme of the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Meanwhile Labour compete to prove they will reduce the deficit by hammering the poor.

Despite its claim to seek a better deal for Scottish people, the SNP-controlled Scottish Goverment is implementing austerity. It has already made cuts to further education – Edinburgh College workers struck against worse conditions. It has understaffed the NHS, while cuts to council funding are leading to disabled people paying for their own care. The SNP/Labour council in Edinburgh plans to slash £22 million from local services.

The devolution of new powers will not stop the cuts, and whether they come from local government, Holyrood or Westminster they are an attack on working class people.

So what are we going to do now? We have no faith in politicians. We have no trust in the electoral system.

Let’s take action

There is an alternative – people power. There are hundreds of thousands of people fed up with the unfair austerity programme and if we act together we can make the government’s policies unworkable, by mass collective direct action.

Our immediate aims should include:

  • Reversal of the cuts to benefits, ending workfare and the attacks on disabled claimants made via the Work Capability Assessment etc. Stopping the implementation of Universal Credit
  • Far better wages, conditions and a shorter working week for all workers – an end to poverty pay
  • Standing together with immigrant workers fighting for better conditions – solidarity not scapegoating
  • Stopping vital public services being torn apart in the name of austerity
  • An end to disabled and older people being charged for their care and support services
  • Fighting to maintain and improve NHS staffing levels and to stop budget cuts and privatisation of health services
  • Stopping fracking and open cast coal
  • Getting rid of Trident nuclear weapons, opposing all war
  • Ending the jailing of refugees in Dungavel detention centre
  • Ending fuel poverty, combating climate change
  • Totally opposing racism, patriarchy, discrimination against disabled people and all oppression

Let’s make Scotland ungovernable. Instead of politicians and the rich having the power we can create our own counter-power from below by organising in our communities, where we work and study. Real democracy is not voting for someone else to do our thinking for us, real democracy means direct democracy, first hand involvement.

We need to organise from below

We are not saying this will be easy. But something like it has been done before, here. We made the Bedroom Tax unworkable in Scotland because so many of us refused to pay, and because we organised in our communities to stop any evictions. The poll tax non-payment movement was an inspiring example of community self-organisation, defeating an all-conquering Thatcher.

Some of us who have written this statement are claimants and are involved in struggles against workfare, against sanctions, against the attack on disabled and sick claimants.  We are winning important victories, convincing and pressuring so many employers to pull out of the “work-for-your-benefits” schemes that in Edinburgh workfare providers like LearnDirect are really struggling to find workfare placements.  Our weapons are direct action and collective backing for claimants up against the system.  This is just one example. Together we have the potential power to make all the government’s hateful policies unworkable.

As we struggle for a society which will put human need first, we need to build up links with others doing the same thing internationally.  In a planetary economy, where the greed and recklessness of rich investors in the housing market in the USA can trigger a global crash, all countries are connected. Fundamental problems like war and the destruction of the planet by global warming need to be tackled world-wide.

Fostering distinctive cultures is positive. But beware governments and bosses using nationalism to divide us and promote a false “national interest”. In Scotland, as in all countries, there is no common interest between the ruling class – the likes of Brian Souter and Ian Wood – and the vast majority of working class people.

Our vision is of a world without borders where resources are shared communally. A world where a co-operative effort of a free association of producers aims at meeting human need in the widest sense. A world where relationships are based on equality and mutual respect, overthrowing the oppression of women by men, and all relationships where some dominate others.

The whole world will be one brotherhood…That can only be obtained when the people of the world get the world and retain the world.”
– John MacLean, 1918


#YesToAction is supported by the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, Dundee Against Welfare SanctionsEdinburgh Coaltion Against Poverty, Edinburgh Anarchist Federation, Industrial Workers of the World Scottish Assembly and Perth Against Welfare Sanctions.

We invite any other groups who support this statement to contact us and join the Action Against Austerity network.


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