My St George’s Day bid to kill the ESA/WCA ‘dragon’

Confrontation: Let's hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image:]

Confrontation: Let’s hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image:]

Vox Political is going to court.

A tribunal on April 23 – St George’s Day – will hear my appeal against the Information Commissioner’s (and the DWP’s) decision to refuse my Freedom of Information request for details of the number of people who died while claiming Incapacity Benefit or ESA during 2012.

The aim is to find out how many people died while going through the claim process, which is extremely stressful for people who are – by definition – ill or disabled; and also to find out how many have died after being put in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, as these are people who should be well enough to work within a year of their claim starting.

The Department for Work and Pensions has guarded these figures jealously, ever since an ‘ad hoc’ statistical release in 2012 revealed that, every week, an average of 73 people in the above two categories were dying.

According to the rules of the process, these were people who should not have come to the end of their lives while going through it. Clearly, something had been going wrong.

The DWP has strenuously denied this, and has made great efforts to promote its claim that it has improved the process.

But when at least two individuals asked for an update to the ‘ad hoc’ release at the end of 2012, all they received in return was delay and denial.

That’s what prompted me to make a very public FoI request in mid-2013. I published it on the blog and suggested that readers who felt the same way should follow my example.

The DWP claimed that this meant I had co-ordinated a campaign of harassment against it, and answering all the requests it received would create a severe burden on its already-taxed resources. It refused my request, claiming that it was “vexatious”.

In its own words, the DWP is an extremely-large, customer-facing government department with 104,000 employees. It is claiming that it received 23 requests that were similar or identical to mine in the period after my blog post – but I have not seen these and it is possible that this is inaccurate.

Severe burden? Campaign of harassment? It doesn’t seem realistic, does it?

I reckon I have a good chance of winning this – which brings me to the next issue: Winning is only part of this battle.

It won’t mean a thing if nobody hears about it.

Vox Political is a small blog. Agreed, some articles have been read by more than 100,000 people (presumably not all DWP employees) and hundreds of thousands more will have heard of them – but these are rare, and there are more than 60 million people in the United Kingdom.

If I win, I’m going to need help to get the information out to the public. I can’t rely on the mainstream media because they tend to support the government and may suppress the information. Having said that, I do intend to put out press releases and give them the opportunity to do the right thing.

But I also want to hear from people on the social media who want to help get this information out – either on blogs, organisations’ websites, personal websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. It doesn’t matter how many people follow you; if you want to help, please get in touch.

Please also feel free to suggest people or places that might help if contacted.

Reply using the ‘Comment’ box at the bottom of the article. I won’t publish your details but will use them to create a list of participants.

When I receive a verdict from the tribunal, I’ll put out an announcement and we’ll have to see how much noise we can make.

This is a chance for the social media to show what they can do.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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43 thoughts on “My St George’s Day bid to kill the ESA/WCA ‘dragon’

  1. Joanna

    My absolute Best Wishes to you Mike!! And thank you so much for fighting for us all! You have stuck in there no matter how chaotic life might have got and we all owe you a debt of gratitude!!!

  2. Jenny Hambidge

    Here’s a thing – the gagging bill may affect all our organisations and charities unless its resolved before MAY 2014.
    Good luck: my thoughts go with you on the 23rd. You are doing this for so many of us.

  3. Nick

    the number is well up on 2012 we wont know the true death rate for many years as will be kept a secret and like the many bankers that have mysteriously died

    anyone revealing the true death rate of welfare reform they could too find themselves ending up dead

      1. Nick

        i wasn’t meaning you mike i was meaning those at the DWP behinds the scenes responsible for the deaths and may talk at some point try to distance themselves

  4. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Best wishes for St. George’s Day, Mike. I also think that Private Eye might also be interested in your story about the DWP refusing to release the figures of the numbers of people who’ve died going through the claims process. They have been highly critical of Atos and covered a number of cases where people have committed suicide, or attempted to commit suicide, after an assessment and being told they were going to be thrown off benefits.

  5. Joseph Smith

    Lots of luck Mike, these people need to be in the public eye and brought to justice if needed. This applies to IDS down over. It’s insane to think that the seventh wealthiest country holds the well-being of its disabled poor and needy citizens in such contempt so as to make them feel.their lives are worthless.I’m.with you.

  6. Janice

    Good luck. Most are surprised to learn the detail and the true effects of the coalition cuts, information that just isn’t in the mainstream media.

  7. Phil Workman

    I will be thinking of you, Mike; I don’t have a personal connection with this (lucky me) but when I attended a recent anti ATOS demo in my locality, I was amazed by some of the stories I heard and the people who were telling us the stories. I have always said that you shouldn’t judge people but I’m only human and a few people that I’ve known for years suddenly appeared, telling quite grim tales. Not all connected with your current campaign but it showed that it’s a broad band of people affected by this – mothers/partners of men with mental health problems very common.

    I’ll be out celebrating St Geoges’s Day anyway, so will keep you in mind.

  8. jeffrey davies

    there are too many deaths at their hands allowing this out into the open could sink their ship I just wonder whot those 99percent who aint rich find out they who are in power are the new Nazi party jeff3

  9. Florence

    Wishing you good luck seems so faint, knowing how hard the road has been for you to get to this point, and that luck has not been a factor so far. Instead, regardless of the outcome (although we hope that you succeed 100%) can I say you have been a true inspiration, and a hero for your persistence in locking on to the figures that will reveal the depths of depravity of IDS, the DWP and the ConDem regime. We already thank you endlessly for your work, and you have our unconditional support to the bitter end of this fight.

    And yes, good luck, too!

    1. Nick

      whatever happens mike you have done your best

      thousands of people have died at best in very odd circumstances in which they were classed as fit for work and died shortly afterwards

      you cant get anything more bizarre as a country than that fact, however much spin you put on it

      if i had the been the prime minister there would have been no deaths at all and if there had been i would have sent out for an urgent police enquiry to flush out the culprits who through their own negligence were responsible for the deaths. make no mistake about it, you want to kill people by whatever means, you will then in a court of law have to pay the price

      it’s called justice and it’s been going on for years and no matter who you are, from the leader of a country to royalty, if you kill people, however that may come about, then you and whoever is responsible over time get brought to book and we’ve all seen that over the years throughout the world

  10. Polly

    I was one of the people supporting you. The reply I got was same as yours. Disgraceful. I feel there is quite an overt threat in this- that I’m a troublemaker who has no right to ask such questions. Support you all the way mate and hope more people do.

    1. Mike Sivier

      (Polly copied in the reply she received from the DWP, after she sent in her own FOI request. Very interesting for me, as I have not seen what anybody else received in that respect, but very boring for the rest of you, I would imagine, so I have cut it out.)

      1. Polly

        Here is my reply back to DWP-

        Thank you for your reply to my FOI request.

        However, I am disappointed that you do not answer this simple request and that you consider it ‘vexatious’. I consider this request legal and legitimate. . I would suggest that you are making use of the legal system in a vexatious manner in order to attempt to subdue me.

        As ‘vexation’ means causing or tending to cause annoyance, frustration, or worry, I can assure you that this was not the intent of my request. My request was to establish facts for the purpose of research into these statistics to ensure they are accurate and indeed do not cause hindrance or worry to those that read the end result. Whether the wording was duplicated from another request, is irrelevant and incidental, as the words of another simply summarised exactly the information I had sought, and indeed, would cause YOU less duplication in replying. I consider it’s ‘vexatious’ to provide fewer rights to people than pet animals; that they feel suicidal and have fewer and fewer options. It’s ‘vexatious’ to me to have a reasonable request treated with dismissal rather than it being answered. It is also ‘vexatious’ to me that basic human rights legislation is being ignored, and that ANYONE has died as a result of a lack of compassion or understanding, and that the vulnerability of disabled people is not being considered with the priority that a civilized society ought to consider it.

        I would remind you that your department is a government body and subsequently are accountable to the general public.

        I wish to submit a simplified FOI request- can you please provide simply the number of IB & ESA claimants who have died during 2012 and 2013?

        Should a satisfactory answer not be forthcoming, I will take the next step and ask for the information commissioner to investigate your breach of FOI and DPA.

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  12. Jim

    Vexatious is defined by the dictionary: Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary. It may take the form of a primary frivolous lawsuit or may be the repetitive, burdensome, and unwarranted filing of meritless motions in a matter which is otherwise a meritorious cause of action. Filing vexatious litigation is considered an abuse of the judicial process and may result in sanctions against the offender.

    They are attempting to use the legal systems to point the finger at you as an offender by engaging in the legal process. I would suggest that it is they that are making use of the legal system in a vexatious manner to subdue you!!??

  13. foodbankhelper

    Very best of luck Mike for the 23rd. Crucial day. This is what FOI is for. Massive issue of public interest here. Your persistence and energy is inspirational. Will do anything I can to help with publicity.

  14. Janet Sykes

    good luck. I’ve made a donation to you and I hope it all goes well, there should be total transparency regarding these figures if the government has nothing to fear…

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