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Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have neglected to carry out their duties properly, and this has led to the deaths of claimants.

Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have neglected to carry out their duties properly, and this has led to the death of at least one claimant.

Let’s get this straight: In an inquest into the death of a disabled man, a coroner ruled in early 2014 that his suicide was a direct result of being declared ‘fit for work’ in a work capability assessment.

Bearing this in mind…

What has the DWP been saying about there being “no causal link” between its administration of the benefit system and the deaths of claimants, again?

Time and time again, we have been told that there is no link between the deaths of any benefit claimants and their treatment by the DWP, even though that government department had at least one report proving the opposite. We can say “at least one report” because we have no evidence to show that coroners have not submitted many, many more.

We do have evidence that the Department for Work and Pensions – and with the Conservative Government as a whole – has been lying to us.

The DWP’s response to the concerns raised by North London coroner Mary Hassall was that its policy on dealing with cases such as that of ‘Mr A’, the deceased, “regrettably was not followed in this case”. And in how many others?

The Atos-employed work capability assessor, responsible for collecting evidence to determine whether Mr A should receive Employment and Support Allowance, had recorded that Mr A was “at no significant risk by working” and failed to ask him if he had suicidal thoughts. Perhaps this is for the best, as we know from experience that the next question is “Why haven’t you killed yourself?” – the query that many of us suspect has ‘nudged’ many towards suicide.

According to Disability News Service, “The Atos healthcare professional had failed to take into account the views of any of Mr A’s doctors during a 90-minute assessment, telling him the DWP decision-maker would look at that evidence instead.

“But the DWP decision-maker did not request any reports or letters from Mr A’s GP (who had assessed him as not being well enough to work), his psychiatrist (who had diagnosed him with recurrent depression and panic disorder with agoraphobia), or his clinical psychologist (who had assessed him as “very anxious and showing signs of clinical depression”). Instead, Mr A was found fit for work. Six months later, he killed himself.”

Six months later? So Mr A would not have appeared in any of the statistics released by the DWP in August, then.

You see how the government has tried to spin its way out of responsibility?

The DNS report continues: “The coroner said in her report that she believed that action should be taken ‘to prevent future deaths’ and that DWP had the power to take such action.

“In its response, DWP said there was a ‘clear policy that further medical evidence [should be requested] in cases where claimants report suicidal ideation in their claim forms which regrettably was not followed in this instance’. It said it planned to issue a reminder to staff about this guidance, but appeared to make no further suggestions for how to prevent further such deaths.”

We have no evidence that any such reminder was issued to staff or that any of them acted upon it if it was.

These are circumstances that should lead to a major prosecution for corporate manslaughter.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death; and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased. An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.

It seems clear that, not only has the coroner accused the DWP of such a breach; the Department has admitted it – and failed to take steps to stop it happening again.

Let’s pause for a moment and note that we would not have evidence that the DWP has been lying about the “causal link” between its behaviour and the deaths of benefit claimants without my now-infamous Freedom of Information request – submitted in May 2014, after the inquest into the death of Mr A.

The request called for the number of deaths of anybody who had been found ‘fit for work’ between the end of November 2011 and May 28, 2014. This would, of course, have included the death of Mr A. The DWP failed to include his death in its statistical release of August 27 this year (which the government claims is a response to my request). Only people whose claim ended within two weeks of their death were included in the figures. I have asked the Information Commissioner to enforce publication of the full number of deaths, in line with both my request and his decision notice of April 30 this year.

It is only when the full number of deaths is known that we may be able to start assessing the full, devastating effect of Iain Duncan Smith’s policy of hate towards people with long-term illnesses and disabilities.

For those of us who are working to defend the most vulnerable people in society, important ground has been gained.

But the hardest battle is yet to come.

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