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Here’s a slimy little article for you: Sam Ashworth-Hayes’ piece on the benefit deaths at Full Fact.
The fact-checking website set him to respond to reporting of the DWP’s statistical release on incapacity benefit-related deaths, and he’s done a proper little cover-up job.
“It was widely reported that thousands of people died within weeks of being found ‘fit for work’ and losing their benefits,” he scribbled.
“This is wrong.
“Within weeks of ending a claim, not within weeks of an assessment.”
Not true – unless Sam is saying the DWP has failed to answer my Freedom of Information request properly.
If Sam had bothered to check the FoI request to which the DWP was responding, he would have seen that it demanded the number of ESA claimants who had died since November 2011, broken down into categories including those who had been found fit for work and those who had had an appeal completed after a ‘fit for work’ decision.
The date the claim ended is irrelevant; the fact that they were found fit for work and then died is the important part.
If the DWP finds someone fit for work, then it ends the claim anyway, you see. Obviously.
But Sam continues: “If someone is found fit for work, they can appeal the decision, and continue to receive ESA during the appeal process. There is no way of telling how long after the start of the appeal process those claims ended.”
The statistical release covers those who had had such an appeal completed and then died – 1,360 of them. The release does not state that they should be considered separately from those who had a fit for work decision, meaning that this is one of several areas in which the release is not clear. In order to err on the side of caution, This Writer has chosen not to add them to the 2,650 total of those found fit for work. Any who were still deemed to be fit for work after their appeal ended, I have deemed to be among the 2,650.
The release most emphatically does not mention those who had appealed against a fit for work decision, but the appeal was continuing when they died, as Sam implies. The DWP asked me to alter my request to exclude them, and I agreed to do so. Therefore Sam’s claim is false. Nobody included in these figures died mid-appeal. Some died after being found fit for work again. Some died after winning their appeal and while they were continuing to receive their benefit – but they do not skew the figures because they aren’t added onto the number we already had (we don’t know how many of them succeeded because the DWP has chosen to follow the letter of the FoI request and has not provided that information). The outcome of the appeal is, therefore, irrelevant.
The point is, the decision that they were fit for work was wrong, because they died.
Let’s move on. Under a section entitled Mortality rates matter, Sam burbles:
“If 2,380 people were found fit for work from late 2011 to early 2014, and all 2,380 subsequently died in the process of challenging that decision, that would indicate that something was almost certainly going wrong in the assessment process.”
2,380? He means 2,650! For a person supposedly checking the facts, this was an elemental mistake to make.
“But if 2 million people were found to be fit for work, there would be less concern that the assessment process was going wrong; one in 1,000 dying could just be the result of the ‘normal’ level of accident, misfortune and sudden illness.
“If we want to know if people found fit for work are more likely to die than the general population, then age-standardised mortality rates would let us make that comparison while adjusting for differences in age and gender.
“Unfortunately, the DWP has not published an age-standardised mortality rate for those found ‘fit for work’.”
Fortunately, This Writer has been directed to a site whose author has attempted just that. This person states that the problem is that we don’t know how many people were found fit for work in total – only that there were 742,000 such decisions during the period in question. This would suggest that the number of people dying within the two-week period used by the DWP is 0.35 per cent of the total. We know that there were 74,600 deaths among the general working-age population in 2013 – a population totalling around 39 million – meaning the chance of dying within any two-week period was 0.007 per cent. So, using these crude figures, the probability of an incapacity benefits claimant dying after being found fit for work is no less than 50 times higher than for the working-age population as a whole, and probably much higher.
So sure, if Sam thinks mortality rates matter, let him look at that.
His article isn’t fit to be toilet paper, though.
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