Vox Political may seem a little quiet over the next 30 hours or so. This is because the site’s owner, Mike Sivier (that’s me), will be travelling to Cardiff to take the Information Commissioner and the Department for Work and Pensions to a tribunal.
The aim is to secure the release of mortality figures – death statistics – covering people who were claiming Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance during 2012.
Figures for later dates were not part of the Freedom of Information request that forms the basis of this action (submitted back in June 2013, nearly a year ago), so it is unlikely that these will be forthcoming. The hope is that the tribunal will judge in favour of the information being released, ensuring that further requests cannot be blocked by the DWP.
The government’s claim is that a single-sentence, off-the-cuff line at the end of a Vox Political article about the FoI request constitutes a co-ordinated, protracted and obsessive campaign of harassment against the DWP, and for that reason the request is vexatious.
It is utterly ridiculous. It brings the DWP and the Freedom of Information Act into disrepute. Yet it is enough to prevent this valuable information from being published.
It is important to have the data in the public domain, as a yardstick by which the government’s so-called ‘reforms’ to the benefit system may be judged. Between January and November 2011, 73 deaths were recorded every week, just among people in the work-related activity group of ESA and those going through the assessment process. The government does not monitor the progress of people it has marked ‘fit for work’ and thrown off-benefit altogether, and this group is four times as large as the WRAG, meaning the death toll could be anything up to five times larger than we understand at the moment.
The government has claimed that it has been implementing changes designed to make ESA serve its claimants better. An increased death rate will disprove that. Of course, a lowered death rate would support the government’s position but, if this were the case, it is logical to expect the government to have publicised it widely without any prompting.
This is why tomorrow’s tribunal is important.
People are dying every day and nothing will be done to stop it unless the severity of the situation is made clear.
Let’s all hope we get the result we need.
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