IDS off the hook with ICC – so evidence needed of Atos deaths

Brian McArdle. On the BBC’s Question Time last Thursday, Iain Duncan Smith flew into a rage when Owen Jones challenged him about what happened to Mr McArdle, “57 years old, paralysed down one side, blind in one eye; he couldn’t speak. He died one day after being found ‘fit for work’ by Atos.”

People whose family members have died while going through the DWP/Atos work capability assessment are being urged to contact a disability specialist – who has been seeking international legal action against the austerity-enforced injustice.

Vox Political reported back in September that Samuel Miller had contacted the International Criminal Court in The Hague, intending to file a complaint against Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, the ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions, considered most responsible for “draconian welfare reforms and the resultant deaths of their society’s most vulnerable”.

Mr Miller got in touch over the weekend, but said that the result had been disappointing: “They stated that the International Criminal Court has a very limited jurisdiction. The Court may only address the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes as defined by Articles 6 to 8 of the Rome Statute.”

The Rome Statute is the document under which the ICC was established. Article 7, which covers crimes against humanity, states: “For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:

“(k) Inhumane acts … intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”

I thought this – Article 7 (k) – was a perfect description of what the DWP and its ministers are trying to achieve, and Mr Miller agreed. But he said: “Clearly the ICC is striving to discourage the filing of austerity complaints.”

There is a way forward. He added: “On a welcome note, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently acknowledged that austerity measures may violate human rights — which certainly is a step in the right direction.”

He’s right. The chair of the UN committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay said on October 23 that, although member states face tough decisions when dealing with rising public deficits, austerity measures are potentially violations of their legal obligations to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“All States Parties should avoid at all times taking decisions which lead to the denial or infringement of economic, social and cultural rights,” Pillay said, citing an open letter to States Parties from the committee earlier this year that clarified the committee’s position on austerity measures.

By ratifying the Covenant, member states like the UK have a legally binding obligation to progressively improve, without retrogression, universal access to goods and services such as healthcare, education, housing and social security and to ensure just and favourable conditions of work, without discrimination, in accordance with established international standards. These rights must be achieved by using the maximum of available resources.

Pillay pointed out that austerity measures are also a disincentive to economic growth and thereby hamper progressive realization of economic and social rights.

The committee had pointed out that social insecurity and political instability, as seen in parts of Europe today, were also potential effects of the denial or infringement of economic, social and cultural rights.

The poor, women, children, persons with disabilities, older persons, people with HIV/AIDS, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees were particularly at risk, the committee had noted.

Having identified the possibility, we come to the burden of proof. Mr Miller said: “My best hope lies in procuring coroner’s reports where the cause of death is found to be destitution and/or suicide.”

Inevitably, there is a problem. The UK Coronial system does not involve the collating of such information, nor does it look for national trends. The role of the Coroner is case specific, so wider information is not available. This is because the system of inquests into deaths was never intended to investigate whether those deaths were being caused by insane decisions of the government itself.

The law in relation to death certification may be amended in 2014 to provide for Medical Examiners whose role will be to examine such matters – but that is two years from now, and the DWP/Atos system could pile up another 7,600 bodies in that time (using the generally-accepted average of 73 deaths per week).

Mr Miller has written to the DWP, seeking a change of coroners’ duties to allow proper and robust reporting of trends such as stress-related deaths, suicides and/or destitution deaths of welfare recipients and recipients who perished shortly after being stripped of their benefits can be reported to both the DWP and the Ministry of Justice.

But I think we all know there is little chance of success there. This government is hardly going to hand over the tools by which its own ministers might end up in an international court. They’re insane, but they’re not stupid!

So people are going to have to do it themselves. We know about high-profile cases in which deaths have been blamed on Atos. Information about the others needs to be available now.

This is why I want to appeal for anyone who has lost a loved one because of the DWP/Atos work capability assessment system to get in touch with Mr Miller. He needs to know the verdict that was reached at the inquests into their deaths.

His email address is [email protected]

I would strongly urge that anyone writing to Mr Miller keeps their correspondence to the point. It is to be hoped that he will receive a strong response, but this entails a large amount of work. It is therefore important to make that work as easy as possible, perhaps by putting the deceased’s name, address and the verdict at the top of your email.

18 thoughts on “IDS off the hook with ICC – so evidence needed of Atos deaths

  1. Michael Natkanski

    Just to be on the safe side, for the avoidance of later doubt, the question of 73 deaths per week should be scientifically compared to the baseline, ie what would have happened anyway, by someone with appropriate scientific credentials, like a professor of epidemiology or medical statistics. Without this support the argument is legally vulnerable from the start.

    1. Stephen Kelly L35 4NQ

      I agree. What matters is that any burden of proof can be tested rigorously. That way, IDS et al will not have a leg to stand on (no disability pun intended). Evidence from doctors specialising in particular areas may well be necessary. Relying solely on case reports may not be enough.

      I wish this move well.

  2. Jean Eveleigh

    I have also made a similar submission to the ICC and received a similar response I was told I had to gather reams of evidence to back up my assertion although I had included evidence in with my assertion to begin with.

    They just don’t seem particually interested in helping the vulnerable in the UK which the government is taking as a sign that they are doing nothing wrong 🙁

  3. Alison Murphy

    people should also write down, either on their computer or on paper kept in a safe place, the direct effects being stripped of benefits and being found fit for work when they arent. this would help a lot as evidence in the event of their subsequent death.

  4. Frances Kelly

    I would say that throwing four fifths of IB claimants off benefits by declaring them fit for ESA WRAG – which efectively means they will be forced to work or support themselves in some other way – is an act of callous cruelty.

    Perhaps the case should not be made that the people who actually die are the victims but that the other four fifths of sick and disabled people who are no longer going to be supported by the state are the victims

    1. Philhow

      the trouble you will have (inpart) with this way of thinking is, Some GP’s,consultants and health care professionals are saying “working or seeming to take part in finding work is good for ones health. But they never seem to stand up and say who it would benefit or how.
      What about the people who may be forced to work but are a danger to themselves and others. There just don’t seem to be any clear guidelines or rules for anybody to follow…IDS is making it up as he goes along….And thats why we will never get our day in court….nothing is clear cut or on paper as a fact.

    2. Pam

      Add to that the thousands of severely disabled people who are going to lose their contributory ESA, for which they have worked and paid in past employment. Although ESA will not be part of Universal Credit, on the introduction of the UC system next year, all other benefits, including contributory ESA will be means tested in line with JSA etc, and the present £85 income disregard for ESA will go out of the window. All other income will be taken into account, including that of any partner or other household member. In addition, those disabled people who have had to retire and who are in receipt of even a small occupational pension, will find their entitlement to ESA wiped out, as UC takes ‘unearned income’ such as pensions into account pound for pound with no disregard. This will affect ALL claimants, including the most vulnerable who are in the support group. These details are buried in the small print of the Welfare Reform Act, so are not widely known, but it’s going to happen – the DWP will start writing to those affected in the run up to the introduction of Universal Credit next year. Don’t believe ANYTHING IDS says – they’re not interested in providing proper support for the disabled, and this is an easy way for them to be able to say they’ve cut the number of claimants. It’s nothing to do with finding them work, it’s about playing about with the system to make as many people as possible ineligible for benefit, so that they don’t count towards unemployment figures.

      Exactly the same thing will happen next April when DLA is phased out and PIP is introduced. The level of fraud within DLA is 0.5%, and yet before the eligibility rules had even been thrashed out, the government announced that they wanted a 20% cut in claimants with the introduction of PIP. Logically, this means that 19.5% of those savings will come from kicking genuinely disabled people off benefit. The draft rules are so tightly and narrowly drawn that it’s impossible not to conclude that the major reason for the reform of DLA is to save money. Again, it’s not about supporting the disabled, or ‘securing the benefit for the future’ as Maria Miller was fond of saying. It’s about saving money, and as far as I can see, the poor, the sick, the disabled and the elderly are paying for the excesses of those who have caused the situation.

  5. Mike Sivier

    It seems Laurie Penny is writing on welfare, disability cuts and Atos for New Statesman, and has put out a request for people to talk to her about their personal experiences. Tweet her @PennyRed if you like, but say that I sent you. 😉

  6. leonc1963

    What about those that are going though these barbaric and draconian benefit denial issues that have not died as a result but are suffering health wise as a consequence.

    For instance I had a heart operation in 2009 and up until a year ago all was fine, but now their is not a day passes that I have to get my GTN spray out due to my heart pounding like mad.

    It is the worry, stress and anxiety causing this due to DWP/ATOS constantly on my back and I have no doubts at all that it will shorten my life span.

    Their must be many thousands more like this

  7. Anna

    Where there is big money there will always be big cover ups..BUT THE TRUTH WILL ALWAYS OUT IN THE END!! ASK ANY NAZI,

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    1. Mike Sivier

      It’s the ‘ad hoc’ report from last year, that the DWP has vowed not to repeat. The fact that it appeared at all shows that the DWP is perfectly capable of collecting these figures – in fact it must have been doing so as a matter of course – throughout 2011 – in order to prepare the report at all. We have no reason to believe this ceased during 2012, therefore it should be child’s play for the Department to produce a new report.

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