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Debbie Abrahams in the House of Commons.

Debbie Abrahams in the House of Commons.

How pleasant to hear this said in a Parliamentary debate, with not a single word of denial from the Conservative Government:

“Last week there was an amazing sequence of events. On Monday, the Secretary of State told me that he could not publish … data because they were not kept, and told me to stop scaremongering; on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that they would be published; and this was swiftly followed by the Government saying that they were appealing against the Information Commissioner’s ruling, stating that publishing these data would lead to ‘probable misinterpretations’ and ‘was too emotive…and wasn’t in the public interest’. What an absolute shambles!”

This was part of the speech by Debbie Abrahams, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, in a debate on ‘welfare reform and people with disabilities’, called by her to set the scene for any measures against the disabled that George Osborne is considering for his July budget. As the Government prepares to cut £12 billion from the annual social security budget next week, there are real concerns that – in addition to potentially slashing tax credits for the working poor – they will cut further support for working-age people with disabilities.

She was referring, of course, to the government’s increasingly confused response to This Writer’s request for an honest answer to the question, ‘How many people have died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance between November 2011 and May 2014 (the date of my request)?” But wait! She continued:

“I could not disagree more. This is definitely in the public interest. As a former public health academic, I am more than aware of the strict criteria for establishing causality, but there are no grounds for not publishing numbers of actual deaths as well as the Government-proposed standardised mortality ratios, including those who died within six weeks of being found fit for work. Will the Minister now confirm when these data will be published?

Dear reader, it falls to This Writer to report that not one word came back from the Government benches – not even when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Justin Tomlinson (who?) got onto his hind legs to give the Government’s response to the debate.

You can sign the petition demanding that the Government end its appeal against the order to publish the statistics, and provide the figures to the public, on the Change.org website.

She also asked when the Government will publish redacted information on the circumstances of the deaths of claimants who died while sanctioned, and what changes the DWP instigated in the light of reviews of these deaths – and whether the significant surge in suicide rates for both men and women since 2010— particularly for working-age men—is being analysed by the DWP. No response.

The Government doesn’t have anything to say to the sick, disabled or vulnerable, and even less to say about them.

Ms Abrahams began her speech by pointing out, “It is poignant that this debate falls on the very day that the Independent Living Fund closes. A further £1.2 billion is being cut from support for people with disabilities. Such cuts were a hallmark of the Tory-led coalition, and many are concerned that not only will this increase but the cuts will get worse under this Government.

“I … want to draw attention to the punitive and dehumanising culture that has been part of the delivery of these welfare reforms, which set the tone for the leadership within the Department for Work and Pensions and the Government’s wider tone on social security.”

Here’s a quick precis of the facts: She said that, by 2018, £23.8 billion of support would have been taken from 3.7 million people with disabilities, according to Demos. The measures include:

  • Indexation of social security payments was changed from the higher retail prices index to the lower consumer prices index
  • There was also a 1% cap on the uprating of certain working-age benefits.
  • People on incapacity benefit were reassessed.
  • The time that disabled people in the work-related activity group are able to receive the employment and support allowance was limited.
  • Disabled people in receipt of disability living allowance are being reassessed to determine whether they are eligible for the personal independence payment.
  • Disability benefits are approximately 15% of average earnings. With the recent changes—the 1% uprating and the indexation to the consumer prices index—they will fall even further below those in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
  • People with disabilities are twice as likely to live in persistent poverty as non-disabled people: 80% of disability-related poverty is caused by extra costs. This has implications for disabled people’s families – a third of all families living in poverty include one disabled family member.
  • Since the Government’s new sanctions regime, the rate of sanctioning of people on IB and ESA has doubled.

She said part of the Government’s strategy has been the “invidious” spreading of a culture of blame and fear.

“In the 1980s we saw the unions being targeted; today the focus is on the poor and the vulnerable.

“The narrative associated with the so-called welfare reforms has been one of divide and rule, deliberately attempting to vilify people who receive social security as the new undeserving poor.

“The Government have spread a culture of pejorative language, such as “shirkers” and “scroungers”. They have intentionally attempted to demonise social security recipients, including disabled people.

“The innuendo that people with a disability or illness might be faking it or are feckless is, quite frankly, grotesque… Unfortunately, the regular misuse of statistics is another way that the Government are trying to harden the public’s attitude.

“The facts are that, in an ageing population, the largest proportion of social security recipients are pensioners and not, as is often implied, the workshy.”

The whole debate can be found here.

Additional: It has been pointed out to me that Mr Tomlinson stated: “We will be publishing them [sic] the mortality stats—I know the hon. Lady is keen to see them soon; we would all like to see them as soon as possible.” Since he did not define the form those statistics would take, nor did he provide a firm date on which they would be published, it seems clear that what he did say was as near to nothing as makes no odds.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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