THE Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is satisfied that ‘appropriate support’ is available for those seeking universal credit after a Cumbrian coroner raised concerns about the process.

Kirsty Gomersal, the area coroner for Cumbria, wrote to the DWP saying that their procedures may not be 'practical' for those with mental health illness and can 'exacerbate symptoms', following the death of Kevin Gale, of Langton Court, Penrith, in 2022.

Following an inquest on November 2, 2023, which heard that he was 'anxious' about his universal credit application in the days leading up to his death, the coroner concluded that Mr Gale's death was suicide.

Mr Gale was detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act in November 2021 and was discharged on January 4, 2022. He was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.

He was 'compliant with his medication and engaged with services', and was 'well supported by his family and friends', according to a Prevention of Future Deaths report by Ms Gomersal.

On March 2, two days before his death, Mr Gale was seen by an associate specialist psychiatrist, who gave evidence at the inquest.

The psychiatrist considered Mr Gale’s anxiety was exacerbated by his application for universal credit.

During Mr Gale’s appointment, the psychiatrist called the benefits office for help, but the call was not answered before the end of the consultation and Mr Gale was then expecting a call from a DWP representative the next day.

The day after, at approximately 11am, Mr Gale spoke to the duty registered mental health nurse. He remained very anxious, and his 'main concern was the application for universal credit'.

During their evidence, the psychiatrist expressed concerns about the experience of mental health service users with DWP, though these concerns were not just specific to Mr Gale, according to the report.

The coroner’s matter for concern was that current DWP procedures may not be practical for those with mental health illness and can exacerbate symptoms.

In response to Ms Gomersal’s claims, the DWP expressed their ‘deepest condolences’ to Mr Gale’s family and said that they were 'constantly reviewing' the services they provide in an effort to improve for the “many vulnerable people who rely upon” them.

The Universal Credit system has been widely criticised in the past and has been partly blamed for the sharp rise in the use of food banks across the country and the rise in poverty rates.

“The DWP is committed to ensuring that it gives claimants the right support at the right time,” the department added in its response to the coroner.

“When a threat of self-harm is identified, staff follow a six-point plan that helps them take the appropriate action; this could include alerting the emergency services where appropriate.

“The package is constantly evolving, and work is ongoing to strengthen guidance and training as part of continuous improvement activities, ensuring colleagues have the necessary tools and confidence to respond to these challenging declarations.

“Upon reviewing the full circumstances of this case, we are satisfied that appropriate support is already available to allow claimants with complex needs to access benefits.”

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