Shame of minister who refuses to accept link between benefit ‘reforms’ and deaths

Tarnished record: Mark Harper previously came to our attention when it was discovered that he dodged a £20,000 fine for employing an illegal migrant worker. Vox Political covered the story on August 7 this year. [Image: Political Scrapbook.]

Tarnished record: Mark Harper previously came to our attention when it was discovered that he dodged a £20,000 fine for employing an illegal migrant worker. Vox Political covered the story on August 7 this year. [Image: Political Scrapbook.]

The new Conservative minister for disabled people has insisted that his department is right to ignore reports of deaths linked to the loss or non-payment of disability benefits, according to the latest article from kittysjones.

It seems that, in an interview with the Disability News Service at last week’s Conservative conference, he said he did not accept that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be collecting this information or trying to learn lessons from such deaths.

The article continues: “One disabled activist suggested last week that this failure could amount to criminal negligence, while Samuel Miller, a prominent disabled academic from Canada, said this week that DWP had ‘seriously breached its duty of care by ignoring benefit-related deaths’.

“But Harper said he did not ‘accept the premise’ that DWP should collect and analyse reports that suggest a disabled person’s death could have been linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of benefits.

“He said: ‘If somebody in those sort of cases, if someone has [a] mental health [condition] and then something happens, trying to disaggregate what was the cause I don’t think is as simple as you are trying to suggest.’

“When asked whether he accepted that any deaths had been caused, or even partly caused, by the loss or non-payment of benefits, he said: ‘Of the cases I have seen since I have been the minister where there have been allegations, when you look at the detail they are not as simple and straightforward as people are alleging.’

“But Harper did promise to ‘go back and look back at what processes we have in place to track cases’ and to look at the Freedom of Information Act response from DWP that led to the DNS story.

“There have been numerous reports of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to the employment and support allowance claim process, or the refusal of benefits, including the writer Paul Reekie, who killed himself in 2010, and the deaths of Nick Barker, Jacqueline Harris, Ms DE, and Brian McArdle.

“Many of the cases became widely-known through media reports of inquests, but in the case of Ms DE, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland concluded that the work capability assessment process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a ‘major factor in her decision to take her own life’.”

Of course this all goes back to the Freedom of Information requests submitted by Samuel Miller and others that prompted Yr Obdt Srvt to make the now-infamous “vexatious” request of June 2013. When it was refused on appeal to an information tribunal, Disability News Service submitted its own request.

A repeat request by Vox Political has since been refused on the grounds that the DWP intends to publish some or all of the information at an unspecified time in the future. These ‘section 22’ refusals must be supported by certain conditions which the DWP did not meet, and a reconsideration request has been met with stony silence (other than the acknowledgement of receipt), so once against it seems an appeal to the Information Commissioner (and possibly another tribunal hearing) will be necessary.

It’s all stalling tactics. The Conservatives in the government know that, if the true extent of the deaths becomes clear, the game will be up for them.

After all, who in their right mind would want to vote back into office an organisation that had just caused the deaths of anything up to or beyond 50,000* of their fellow citizens? Nobody would be safe under such a government.

Turning back to Mr Harper, independent disability researcher Mo Stewart has written to him with a stern rebuke that he will, no doubt, ignore. Here it is:

“Please be advised that the public are beginning to challenge why, historically, your predecessors don’t manage to remain in post for very long and I note your website continues with the government rhetoric whilst totally disregarding the human consequences of the austerity measures.

“I often wonder what exactly MPs mean when claiming that we are living in ‘difficult times for families’ when failing to take responsibility for the deaths and devastation you have clearly created, using cash as the only justification for the fact that ‘malnutrition’ is now regularly found in Coroners’ reports.  The poor, the sick and the disabled people of the UK didn’t create the banking crash Mr Harper, so why are you hurting them but refusing to publish the growing mortality rates of government policies?

“Please be advised that your defensive claims that that you do not “accept the premise” that the DWP should collate and analyse the many, many thousands of deaths now directly linked to the withdrawal of DWP benefits is tantamount to an abandonment of responsibility by the British government, it may well lead to charges of crimes against humanity once all the detailed and often disturbing evidence has been collated and analysed by other sources and the British government is already about to be investigated by the UN for the demonstrated human rights violations of disabled people.  All this whilst the UK faces the return of Victorian diseases linked to extremes of poverty….  That’s quite a track record this government has built up.

“With respect, you are not professionally qualified to assess these reported cases and regardless of if you admit it or not, high calibre REAL experts are now advising that: ‘…there is growing evidence that the draconian welfare reforms are irreparably damaging the mental and physical health of benefit claimants.’

“If someone is already surviving on a token income and the government reduce or remove it, with savage sanctions or by using a totally compromised ‘assessment’, how precisely do you expect these people to live, to eat or to survive when they are already the poorest in the land?

“Coroners don’t lie Mr Harper and the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland didn’t make up the case history when they concluded that a vicitm’s death was due to the impact of being ‘stripped of benefits.’   http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2014/03/woman-killed-herself-after-being-stripped-of-disability-benefit-says-watchdog/

“This question isn’t going to go away because DWP Ministers fear the public reaction if the figures of welfare reform related deaths are ever published.

“Now the DWP are attacking our older disabled veterans by threatening to remove the DLA of our War Pensioners, whilst the PM continues to wax lyrically at Conference about the debt this nation owes to our armed forces.  Unwise Mr Harper, very, very unwise.

“Release the mortality figures Mr Harper and don’t ever presume that we are about to stop asking for them.”

In addition to the above, it seems appropriate for Vox Political to reiterate:

Not only does the DWP have mortality statistics for benefit claimants, but it has them in a form that may be freely distributed to anybody asking for them, within the cost limits imposed by the Freedom of Information Act.

The only reason these numbers are not in the public domain is the fact that ministers like Mark Harper refuse to allow their release.

The only reason they have for refusing to release these figures – that makes any sense – is that they fear the consequences: Public shock and outrage.

That is not the response of a responsible government. It is the response of a gang of criminal killers who are terrified their misdeeds will be revealed.

*This is an estimate based on the known number of deaths related solely to a single benefit – Employment and Support Allowance – between January and November 2011.

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29 thoughts on “Shame of minister who refuses to accept link between benefit ‘reforms’ and deaths

  1. Tony Dean

    I am as certain as I can be that deaths above what is to be expected just for those dying between a “fit for work” decision and an appeal tribunal date has been running at 250 a week for some time.
    The potential death rate for the million people who have been waiting a year for a WCA/PIP decision is 10% based on real life experience of death rates for vulnerable/frail people being stressed by various events like merely being moved from one home to another.

    1. Anonymous

      These systems are specifically meant to be for sick and vulnerable people, they should not cause additional stress to people. I’d much rather there was more fraud (which can be dealt with afterwards) rather than deaths which are a permanent condition.

  2. Samuel Miller (@Hephaestus7)

    Disability Minister Mark Harper’s comments are so appalling, reprehensible, and callous that they beggar belief. There are always lessons to be learned from welfare-related deaths (with the objective of preventing others from occurring) and I am merely asking the DWP to demonstrate a duty of care and less inflexibility with respect to its regulations. Coroners are increasingly citing the welfare reforms as factors in the deaths of benefit claimants. Mr. Harper is not professionally qualified to assess these cases, and he is fiercely defending his department’s policies from scrutiny because of serious allegations from the UN of disability rights violations.

    There is growing evidence that the draconian welfare reforms are irreparably damaging the mental and physical health of benefit claimants. Health figures recently revealed a 19% increase in the number of people admitted to hospital with malnutrition over the past year, and a return of Victorian diseases linked to poverty such as gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets, and whooping cough are a barometer of failure and neglect. (The letters that I receive are often heart-wrenching: See http://mydisabilitystudiesblackboard.blogspot.ca/2013/03/pushed-over-edge-by-benefits-fear.html and http://mydisabilitystudiesblackboard.blogspot.ca/2014/06/sam-things-are-dire.html).

    Here’s a case that causally links the draconian welfare reforms to malnutrition: Disabled man left with malnutrition after waiting EIGHT MONTHS for benefits he was owed – Mirror Online http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/disabled-man-left-malnutrition-after-3795893

  3. Nick

    This needs to be addressed by the UN and the EU in the same way all atrocities, are addressed worldwide. if you take his view then all sick and disabled COULD be killed off in the uk over the coming years

    My feeling are that the way governments are formed should in future be only undertaken by those who have many years of personal experiences in each of the Modules that make up government

    In this way, we as a country would have the expertise to deal with problems both major and minor as and when they arise

    It is all very well to say that the government have advisers that may be but if the government of the day are dishonest and deceptive as this and many are around the world any advice from an adviser is meaningless

  4. Jeffrey Davies

    yet how can they explain it even my life long friend who had his atos assesment ready for work but sadly died the night before his jcp visit but there are very very very very many stories of people dying taking their lives all because greed got in the way of this lot leaving the poorest to suffer the loss not the other way round jeff3

  5. Jeffrey Davies

    ps well we now from history that tells us by the summer of 41 that party had seen its weakest people off 75 ooo or so are they going for more one wonders jeff3

  6. jaypot2012

    Perhaps someone who has access to those figures will grow a conscience and release them to the public – but not through a newspaper or tv as we know we would never find out about the true figures at all that way.
    A file with all the names and figures could easily be copied and sent to Samuel Miller who has rooted for the people of the UK for years, yet he lives in Canada.
    We need those figures to show the people of the UK just how very dangerous this tory led government are.

  7. Mo Stewart

    Thanks for this brilliant piece Mike and for using my contact with the Minister.
    It would help if as many people as possible could be encouraged to print out the letter and forward to MPs, but also share this link on as many websites as possible and share it with local and regional press too. It’s not until the able bodied public begin to wake up that the reality of this government’s genocide will be exposed.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Genocide.
      That is the intention, isn’t it?
      I’ve recently used the Harrowing of the North (1070) as a guide to the severity of what’s going on; the policies of this Conservative-led government – of David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and their ministers including Mr Harper – constitute the greatest genocide of the British people by their own government since then.

    1. Tony Dean

      Not acknowledged or responded to? That is disgraceful, I think you should complain to Mr Speaker about that. (Seriously.)

  8. iain moncrieff

    A quite superb article, keep it up. Tories have skin as thick as a rhinoceros. You gotta chip chip chip away at the same spot. Hopefully, not too long, but I fear they will bury the truth until after the General Election. Merry go round Ministers are part of this secrecy. Can’t an opposition MP have access to them?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Apparently not. Michael Meacher tabled a request for the information, either in January or before Christmas.

      1. Steve

        ‘This week something happened which is without precedent in my 40 years of Parliamentary experience. On an issue of acute public importance where there had already been a Parliamentary debate revealing a total cross-party consensus solidly opposed to government policy, a Departmental minister then refused to see a delegation to discuss the matter further and to consider necessary changes in procedure.’

        Meacher’s quote says it all. http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2013/03/dwp-ministers-run-frit-of-seeing-delegation-on-atos-healthcare/

  9. HomerJS

    It is clear that the Tories intention is for people to die, and it is also obvious why they don’t want people to know. We need to keep raising awareness until it becomes impossible for them to ignore. It would be nice if we had more support from the Labour party by bringing up this issue in Parliament. I understand that an MP may get into trouble with the speaker if they make a serious allegation, but surely we have a few MPs who are willing to make a sacrifice in order to expose this crime. At least this is a way it may get on TV.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Labour MPs have raised this issue time and time again, and there have been several Opposition Day debates on the subject.
      However this seems to pass the general public without registering.

      1. Tony Dean

        Whenever I raise the issue of the deaths being caused by current government policies and back it up with Hansard and DWP data references on some forums I use I get virtually lynched and abused.
        I have come to the conclusion until people start having to step over dead bodies in the street they will not believe it, unless it is on the Daily Mail front page.

  10. Susan Mitton (@suemitton1)

    Just clicked on Mo Stewart!
    Will have to return later as so much to read and take in. Very detailed first hand experience from Mo ‘at the hands’ of Atos & the DWP. It’s so incredibly shocking how this government is ‘doing business’, in particular their treatment of the unemployed, poor, sick and disabled, whom are being ‘segregated’ from the ‘haves’ in society. Many are barely ‘clinging on’ by their fingertips, it’s so easy to ‘fall’. The ‘safety’ net is full of large holes and it seems that no one wants to take responsibility and ‘sew’ those holes back up! People’s only hope for change, better or worse, is the GE 2015!

  11. Penny Ledger

    Many people have left clear messages when they killed themselves. This includes a man who left a note saying that his benefits had been cut after many years of mental health problems and he did not want to become a tramp. Others have died of illnesses made worse by stress, malnutrition and lack of heating. Local newspapers have often reported these.

  12. Chris

    Stress kills just by itself, without the stress in the body already of the pains of disability, the lack of energy caused by pain and lack of body strength, the stress of the disability to the body itself and the addition most of the time of chronic illness.

    Stress even in young able bodied people causes heart failure, even when no heart disease is present at all.

    Add the stress of being left without food and fear of homelessness, and you have a perfect storm for death.

    Fraud is far far below the belief by the community.

    Criminals do not starve nor suffer the stress of fear of hunger. Because our criminal class are born into a network of criminal families for generations, and have the local and national family connections to have multiple sources of nefarious income.

    If this were not so, then the fraud would have meant starvation would not have risen 70 per cent since 2010 surge in welfare abolition.

    The Greens offer a Citizen Wage, non-withdrawable, but do not help the
    disabled / chronic sick over 50s losing state pension at 60 since 2013, or facing nil state pension for life. Because a fair few of these will be women who lost jobs under austerity job cuts over 50 and have a small works pension that is nowhere near a living income and were banking on the food/fuel money of the state pension at 60.

    Men of the poorest workers will also be left with nil state pension for life.

    The state pension is actually withering away under the Pension Bill 2014, when it is already the lowest state pension in the rich nations.

    If young Labour signed a petition to Repeal the Pension Bills 2010-2014, then Miliband and Balls might amend their 2015 manifesto pledges and get Labour far above the mere few points ahead of the other parties in the polls.

    https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/state-pension-at-60-now

    The return of the state pension at 60 would mean jobs on the high street for young people, as it is the old who shop in the town centre.

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