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.
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