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Mark Wood starved to death four months after a DWP medical assessment found him fit for work. He lived in David Cameron's Witney constituency.

Mark Wood starved to death four months after a DWP medical assessment found him fit for work. He lived in David Cameron’s Witney constituency.

There is a recent addition to Twitter which claims to offer a chance to catch up on relevant information, called “While you were away”, or some such. It seems events have transpired to create a similar effect for This Writer.

Yr Obdt Srvt has been helping Mrs Mike with family business that necessitated a trip to Hereford yesterday. Upon our return, late into the evening, certain developments became clear:

  • A petition on Change.org, launched to support Vox Political‘s demand for the Department for Work and Pensions to publish the number of people who have died while in receipt of incapacity benefits since November 2011, has received nearly 60,000 signatures (at the time of writing); and
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office has sent a notification that any information on the tribunal hearing triggered by the DWP’s appeal against that demand should be requested from the Information Tribunal. This Writer should write to that organisation in order to be “joined as a party to the appeal”.

The Information Tribunal will be contacted by this writer shortly!

The petition had been gathering roughly 1,000 signatures a day since it was launched last week (after a piece on the DWP’s appeal was published in Ros Wynne-Jones’s Real Britain column in the Daily Mirror). This is a very healthy performance in itself, but it has now gone stratospheric after Ros published notification of its existence in this week’s column, and after Change.org decided to promote it heavily. It’s entirely possible that support from one or two celebrities on Twitter might have helped, too…

Maggie Zolobajluk, who started the petition, is a former CAB adviser who has prepared countless presentations re benefits including the changes and their impact of the Coalitions changes to benefit and housing legislation. She now has a blog, Telling it as it is.

She emailed me to say a press officer at the ICO had told her the tribunal hearing has not yet been listed. He said it will probably be a paper hearing and she may be able to submit the petition to the hearing. He estimated that it would be October before the appeal would be heard.

Firstly, the possibility of a paper hearing (in which all submissions are documentary and no evidence is heard from people attending in person) is extremely unwelcome. The DWP requested this in its appeal and This Writer intends to oppose it. We are entitled to an oral hearing, that will provide the opportunity to cross-examine the DWP representative. It is in the interests of justice to have an oral hearing, yet the ICO seems happy to accept one on paper instead.

Secondly, submitting a petition on the day of the hearing seems a little late. Wouldn’t it be better to send it in at a time before the hearing, in order to give the Tribunal a chance to take action?

Readers of this blog may be interested to know that the DWP hired a Treasury barrister, whose salary has been estimated at £49,000 per year, to prepare its appeal. This seems entirely out of proportion, considering it may reject a Freedom of Information request of the cost of responding exceeds £600.

Just how free can government information be, if it is prepared to waste thousands of pounds in preventing its release?

This matter is nowhere near ending yet – and in the meantime the death count lurches ever-higher.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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