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Atos: Welcome to Hell

Is the Department for Work and Pensions unable to compile data about the number of incapacity benefits claimants (including IB and ESA) who have died because it is underfunded – or understaffed?

That is the main question in Samuel Miller’s latest letter to Iain (Something) Smith, which you can find over at http://mydisabilitystudiesblackboard.blogspot.ca/2013/06/my-latest-letter-to-iain-duncan-smith.html

This blog mentioned a few days ago that LieDS and his department have decided to withhold up-to-date information on the number of deaths involving people going through the assessment process for benefits (via Atos), who have been refused benefit or who are appealing against a decision.

Vox Political has put in a Freedom of Information request, requiring the DWP to produce that information, and we know that many of you have followed that lead.

Mr Miller has been in the fortunate position to write an authoritative inquiry – as the person who made the original request all the way back in (and this will make your eyes water if you don’t know about it already) November last year!

“On November 6, 2012, I wrote to your department regarding the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants who had died that year,” he writes.

“I pointed out that ‘Incapacity Benefits: Death of Recipients (9 July 2012)’ was outdated, as it only provided mortality statistics up to November 2011.”

The letter goes on to detail the DWP’s reticence in responding, until he received a reply on June 24 stating that there is “no intention” of releasing an updated version of the statistics.

Mr Miller’s appraisal of the situation, while polite, goes straight for the jugular, and if I were Iain Pretentious Smith, the Secretary would be in a right State after reading it.

“If your department is too understaffed and underfunded to compile such data, then I fully understand and sympathize,” writes Mr Miller-  in the knowledge that the DWP has thousands upon thousands of employees and spends billions of pounds every year on pointless money-wasting projects like the Work Programme (see recent Vox Political articles for the current state of that road crash).

“However, I must confess that while I have been very patient and reasonable regarding this matter over a period of many months, I am succumbing to the belief that your department is resorting to petty obstructionism — even a full-fledged cover-up — because the mortality of the sick and disabled has become too politicized for the Tories to cope with”.

That’s a crippling blow, right there. Now that the observation has been made, it will be interesting to watch Smith squirm out of answering it. So let’s keep asking him until he does.

“I suspect that there has been a staggering increase in the number of benefit claimant deaths since November 2011.”

This, of course, is the killing blow. We all want the answer to that one. A proper answer. A straight answer.

And we want it now.

… which isn’t soon enough for Mr Miller, whose legendary patience has worn out: “I intend to file a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office unless the transparency of your department improves.”

That is the next step for the Vox FOI request – if there’s no reasonable response (and you’ll read about it, whatever it may be) then the Information Commissioner will be receiving another complaint.

If you believe this cause is just, go thou and do likewise.