It’s good to see Michael Meacher responding to new developments on an issue in which he has played a major part in the past:
The report that in just over 2 years up to February last year no less than 2,380 disabled claimants died within 2 weeks of being assessed as fit for work and then having their benefit either reduced or stopped altogether, is beyond shocking.
It is arguably the most damning statistic yet of the sheer callousness and brutality of this government towards the most helpless victims in our society.
But there are further profound issues behind this dreadful story.
The most important issues are holding to account those who are responsible for this utter tragedy and even more important still, the power to stop this lethal policy in its tracks.
On both there is at present a vacuum.
We’re all working on it, though!
The DWP’s response to my FoI request shows three things very clearly:
Firstly, that the DWP is very bad at responding to FoI requests – in terms of both timing and content. The response is deliberately written to make it as opaque as possible and this reflects poorly on both the department and its ministers.
Secondly, that despite the poor quality of the report, it is clear that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose and the misallocation of people with long term illnesses – either into the work-related activity group or into the jobs market, classified ‘fit for work’ – has certainly led to needless deaths. Iain Duncan Smith said as much last week but it should not save him. Evidence that this was the case has been available since December 2011, when the number of deaths of people on ESA tripled – yes, tripled – in comparison with the average for the previous 11 months. The DWP and its ministers have been hiding this information from us for nearly four years. In the eyes of the law, that is criminal negligence – corporate manslaughter.
Thirdly, that the principles on which Employment and Support Allowance was designed are causing deaths. When Mrs Mike’s Contributory ESA ran out (she used to be in the work-related activity group), her benefit was cut off with no notification or advice about what to do next. How many others have received the same treatment? Many, it seems, according to the DWP’s statistics which show that the number of ‘unknown’ cases (into which these people are thrown as their NI credits are still paid) has dropped while the proportion of deaths in that group has increased hugely, year on year.
Other conclusions are available, although it could be argued that more evidence is needed.
For now, we need to see the elimination of the work capability assessment and the prosecution of the ministers who hid the facts from us for nearly four years.
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