Benefit deaths: IDS lies while DWP evades

Denied benefit: This is the late Karen Sherlock. Her illnesses included chronic kidney disease, a heart condition, vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, underactive thyroid, asthma, diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastropaeresis, and diabetic retinopathy. She died on June 8, 2012, of a suspected heart attack, after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her Employment and Support Allowance.

Denied benefit: This is the late Karen Sherlock. Her illnesses included chronic kidney disease, a heart condition, vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, underactive thyroid, asthma, diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastropaeresis, and diabetic retinopathy. She died on June 8, 2012, of a suspected heart attack, after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her Employment and Support Allowance.

The Department for Work and Pensions has commented on this blog’s success in forcing it to reveal the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014.

Readers of this blog will recall that the DWP had refused a Freedom of Information request, made in May last year, but the Information Commissioner’s Office upheld an appeal that used its own rules to demonstrate that the Department had been wrong in law.

The comment appeared in an excellent article by Ros Wynne-Jones of the Daily Mirror. She had contacted the DWP after receiving a press release on the subject from Vox Political – and we should be grateful to her for doing so. Comments to the mainstream media are invariably delivered much more quickly than responses to members of the public.

It is more interesting in what it does not say than it what it does. There is no reference to the fact that the DWP had been found to be wrongly applying the law; no suggestion that it will abide by the Information Commissioner’s ruling; in fact no reference to the Vox Political appeal at all.

Instead, we are told: “It is irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim. Mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population.

“We’ll respond to the Information Commissioner in due course.”

Irresponsible, is it?

There are several ways to disprove this.

Firstly, let us consider the different elements of the Vox Political request. By definition, anybody in the work-related activity group of ESA is believed to be capable of recovering from their illness sufficiently to take a job within 12 months of making their claim. Between January and November 2011, the number of people in this group who died was 1,300; it should have been zero. It is therefore possible to claim that they were put in the wrong group (by a system that may have had targets to meet – but that is a different matter) and that their deaths may have been caused by the stress they faced in having to meet the conditions required by the DWP – or lose their benefit.

We can only say these deaths may have taken place for this reason, because the DWP has not carried out any research on the subject. This displays what many may conclude is a shocking carelessness on the part of the government department. Just one death, in this group, was one too many – but DWP officers, and Coalition Government ministers, allowed more than 1,000 to take place and have done nothing to research the cause and prevent more from happening.

For these reasons, it is simple to conclude that anyone who died while appealing against a DWP decision and those who died after being found fit for work should also be included in the statistics, although it seems likely the DWP will claim it has not researched the number of deaths taking place among those found fit for work. We have news stories covering some of these deaths, so the Department cannot claim ignorance that any deaths were taking place; therefore its omission of any investigation may be considered dereliction of duty on the DWP’s party.

It is possible for the DWP to claim that its comment is accurate regarding people in the support group of ESA – but only to a certain extent. This is why Vox Political initially left support group deaths off the original calculation of the average number of deaths taking place among claimants of ESA; this blog made it out to be around 60 people per week. But a commenter pointed out that being placed in the support group does not mean that a person with a long-term illness will be left alone, and that it is entirely possible that harassment by the DWP could have led to premature deaths in this group; people in the support group are subjected to periodical reassessments that not only cause extreme stress but may be called at random intervals, rather than at regular times. It is entirely possible for a person in the support group to be found fit for work, and have to appeal against the decision – causing more stress. And anyone winning an appeal is entirely likely to find a notice of reassessment in their letterbox the very next day – signalling a return to the beginning of that cycle of stress.

Under these circumstances, This Writer had no choice but to include people in the support group among the death toll – pushing the average during the period covered in 2011 up to more than 220 per week. Although the DWP’s claim that “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher” is more likely to be correct when applied to people in this group, the Department simply has not done any research on the causes of death. Instead, we have news stories which make it very clear where responsibility lies.

That leaves people who are in the assessment phase of the process. Readers will be aware that the DWP has lengthened this part of the claim procedure hugely by adding a new “mandatory reconsideration” procedure – if a claim is refused, the claimant may not appeal against it until after “mandatory reconsideration” has taken place. There is no time limit in which it must take place and no benefit is paid during the “mandatory reconsideration” period. It is hard to believe this is not intended to place the lives of vulnerable people at risk. How are they supposed to pay the bills, with no money coming in? If they have a mental health condition, won’t this be worsened by the incessant money worries being forced on them by this DWP-enforced process? Of course it will.

Examples of ESA-related deaths (and suicides) are a running theme in Vox Political; this blog has recounted the stories of dozens of people who either died after their benefit was withdrawn or committed suicide because they could not see a way out. We have seen stories of people with terminal cancer being ordered to go to work; of people on their deathbeds being told to attend an interview for work-related activity or lose benefits; of one person with severe mental health problems who had been thrown off sickness benefit and sanctioned off of JSA, who froze to death in the street because he had nowhere else to go.

The DWP is known to have investigated 60 suicides that were allegedly related to benefits, according to the Disability News Service – but has withheld the results of its research. Why?

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith lied on television yesterday (May 5), during a debate on the benefit system, when he said no such review had taken place. The Green Party subsequently demanded a formal apology from the minister, for misleading the public.

One final point: Duncan Smith’s, and the DWP’s, arguments would never stand up in a court of law. There is a wealth of evidence to show the connections between people losing benefit and their subsequent deaths. The DWP has supplied none to disprove those connections. Therefore, if this matter were being tried under jury conditions (as it may be, if allegations of corporate manslaughter are made after the information becomes available) then a jury would have no choice but to convict the representatives of the public organisation.

Duncan Smith labelled the allegations against him and his department “cheap”.

We’ll see how cheap they prove, when all the information is available to the public.


In the meantime, Vox Political‘s advice to readers is unchanged: The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have withheld the facts from you.

So please, withhold your vote from them.

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  1. Bill Kruse May 6, 2015 at 11:44 am - Reply

    IDS seems to be suggesting the opinion of coroners, some of whom have commented on the connection between people losing their benefits and their untimely deaths, is cheap then. Hmmmm…

  2. Tony Dean May 6, 2015 at 11:49 am - Reply

    The DWP seems to be suffering from collective cognitive dissonance.

  3. Nick May 6, 2015 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    IDS suggested on the debate yesterday that it was a complicated as those that died were ill

    That would suggest they were ill be it in the body or the mind ?

    All IDS and his policy’s have done in the real world is to create stress in the minds of those that are ill which in turn leaves that person unable to sleep which in turn leads to a mental disorder and therefore in turn leads to the death of that person

    If IDS is saying that he was not aware of those very basics of life and death then should anyone even be voting him into office in the first place

    With the likes of IDS with his type of viewpoints living then not only is the uk far more dangerous but also the world for those unfortunate to be long term ill of have a disability who have to live in fear of their lives on a daily basis

    • Michele Witchy Eve May 7, 2015 at 6:49 am - Reply

      “IDS suggested on the debate yesterday that it was a complicated as those that died were ill” – which is obviously his own unintended admission that these ill people should not have had their benefits reduced, removed, or threatened with removal. That being ill, they should not have been assessed as anything other than ill. His only wiggle-room being just *how* ill people actually were. Certainly ill enough not to warrant those being left without any benefits.

  4. Graham Lowell May 6, 2015 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    While I agree with the broad thrust of the article whole-heartedly you can’t claim (of deaths in work related activity group) “it should have been zero”. Some people will die, even in a healthy sample, so you can’t expect, even in a group whose health is improving, zero deaths.

    • Mike Sivier May 6, 2015 at 12:46 pm - Reply

      Accidents will happen, of course – but 1,300 accidents? No.
      My point was that, according to the DWP’s own criteria, there should have been no deaths in that group.

      • Tony Dean. May 6, 2015 at 1:01 pm - Reply

        The death rate for the “normal” working age population is 2.9/1000/annum (ONS)
        The death rate for ESA Support Group is 6%/annum (DWP)
        That is to be expected.
        The death rate for ESA WRAG is also 6% (DWP) That is suspicious for a start.
        Using DWP data that is available but now out of date.
        The death rate for those who appeal a fit for work decision and who die before an appeal date is 14/1000 during that time.
        Which is 5 times normal.
        If a GP had a death rate for people they had declared fit for work, the police would be all over them before you could say Shipman.

      • Nick May 6, 2015 at 1:54 pm - Reply

        indeed mike the press are very late in the day taking on what i have been telling them from day one

        had they printed the deaths as and when they occurred the conservatives would never have a chance of winning on Thursday

        as it stands as now they could still win and then go on to kill off many more sick and disabled including me over the next 5 years

  5. scoobydoo May 6, 2015 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    the noose is tightening around George Duncan smiths neck

    • Mr.Angry May 7, 2015 at 7:05 am - Reply

      The sooner the better lets hope it’s slow.

  6. Graham Hughes May 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Even if there is no causal link between the death of the claimant and the process of their claim (Although the evidence is that there is such a link in some cases) the fact that someone dies shortly after they have been assessed as fit for work shows the assessment process does not work. If I was an employer and insisted my new staff underwent a medical to see if they were fit to work before I employed them and then a significant number of them died within a few weeks of starting work I would be seriously questioning whether the medical was doing what it was supposed to

  7. jacobusmcmxlvii May 6, 2015 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Chapter and verse. Coalition b*****ds. With IDS as b*****d-in-chief – and what does he have on Cameron that makes him able to REFUSE to be moved from the DWP? He would presumably laugh at the idea of being actually sacked – but why? If the law won’t deal with these criminals the only option left is with the people… Anyway – link duly posted on fb and tweeted

    • Mike Sivier May 6, 2015 at 6:17 pm - Reply


  8. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady May 6, 2015 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Excellent article Mike. I was pleased to see the Green Party candidate also mention the FoI request which IDS swept away by shouting at said candidate. The useless Andrew Neal let him continue to berate the Green Party candidate without interruption and yet every time Rachel Reeves spoke Andrew Neal interrupted her. Made me very angry to watch it.
    The whole time IDS was ranting one thought popped into my head … methinks he doth protest too much.

  9. thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady May 6, 2015 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    watch from 13:50 onwards for Green Party comments to IDS re benefit suicides

    • Ian May 6, 2015 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      I get Page Not Found on that… It surely wuldn’t be the bBC helping out the government yet again, would it?

      • thelovelywibblywobblyoldlady May 6, 2015 at 10:00 pm - Reply

        Oooooh dark forces are at work …

      • Ian May 7, 2015 at 2:09 am - Reply

        Ah, that’s better. Thanks. How full of ess aitch one tee is IDS??? Can he open his mouth without a lie falling out of it? How can he say his reforms have “improved the lives of all sorts of people”? The man is clearly not right in the head.

        Also, as an aside, he said employment was “ultimately the only way out of poverty”. This has implications. Like, does he accept that some people will never be fit enough to work and if he does do those people have to be consigned to poverty because of that? And given that unemployment is used by governments (of all parties) to keep inflation down (google NAIRU if you find that hard to believe, folks), where does that leave the people governments deliberately impoverish in this way?

        The man isn’t even thick enough to be classed as a halfwit. Him and Osborne together might make a passable halfwit if they got their act together.

  10. A-Brightfuture May 6, 2015 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    IDS is a narcissist, in the true sense of the word. He will drive you crazy with his view of what`s going on. His total lack of awareness and denial is mind-blowing.
    It takes a brave person to challenge a person with such a mental disorder, his pretence of being compassionate manifests itself as punishment for others.
    His sense of grandiose is second to none as he sees himself as the second messiah, and the saviour of the poor.

    He will never ever admit wrong doings and defeat, even if faced with the truth written in black and white.
    The man is a backstabber of the highest order, Ms Mcvey, and Mr Harper and co will probably find out over next few days, when he will land them up sh**e creek without a paddle.
    That’s the trouble with narcissists….they eat their young, and everybody else around them.

    • A6er May 6, 2015 at 10:50 pm - Reply

      I’m sure Mcvile and Harper will be well looked after by IDS, even after one of them loses her seat tomorrow!
      After all, both have sat by Idiot Doughnut Smiths side from day 1 of the Welfare Reforms and have therefore been privvy to all the secrets, lies and subterfuge the DWP have done to all claimants,
      I hope Mike’s hard work is paid off tomorrow by us bringing in a Labour government which will hopefully reveal all the information that IDS has covered up so that we can bring IDS and others to court.

  11. prayerwarriorpsychicnot May 6, 2015 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Elderly and seriously ill people are killed by stress. There must be research on the stress-death connection somewhere. Think of the frequent occurrence of an elderly person burgled then dies of a heart attack a few days later.

    • Ian May 7, 2015 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      Yep, the reason old people aren’t supposed to be moved from one nursing home to another. They often die after such a move.

      • prayerwarriorpsychicnot May 8, 2015 at 5:46 am - Reply

        Yes, I thought of that after I’d made my comment. And that isn’t even an attack/abuse – just a move. But the same principle must also apply to seriously ill and mentally frail people. Even healthy people have “last straw” experiences, when just one more knock pushes them over the edge.

  12. Ian May 6, 2015 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    Suzanne Moore fairly sums up IDS in one sentence:

    “I found, however, that he is none too bright, witlessly cruel yet deluded enough to think himself a decent chap”

    If he was a man of his convictions, as is often claimed, rather than an inadequate,cowardly, lying, disingenuous, putrid, emetic, degenerate little moral cesspit, he’d front up and provide what has been requested with no ifs or buts. but no, he’s a typical cowardly little sociopath. A insubstantial man. A man of small character not fit to mop the floor of Chingford’s public toilets, much less have the power of life and death over people with troubles he could never begin to understand, much less empathise with.

    He’s such a cartoon evil figure (though nobody is laughing, except maybe Guido Fawkes and his pathetic acolytes) I almost likened him to a Bond villain but he’s just not clever enough (even Gidiot Osborne thinks he’s dumb, ffs), he’s more like a Bond villain’s socially deficient, morally stunted henchman.

    The sooner he’s in jail for manslaughter or murder the better. If there was any way at all I could fund his prosecution myself I would do so and gladly leave myself destitute in the process.

    Where is Michael Mansfield QC when you most need him?

    • Mike Sivier May 6, 2015 at 10:53 pm - Reply

      If Chingford has any public toilets I’ll be surprised – his party’s ‘reforms’ should have ensured they would be closed by now.

    • Mr.Angry May 7, 2015 at 7:18 am - Reply

      Mansfield would be the man to bring justice for us all against these corrupt murderers, I would certainly sell something just to chip in.

      Nothing I would like to see more than someone like Mansfield cross examining the odious despicable little rat IDS, he would annihilate him, I would pay a huge sum to sit in the public gallery to watch him squirm.

      • Ian May 7, 2015 at 5:58 pm - Reply

        Sky could pay per view it :-)

  13. Marjory Stewart Maxwell May 12, 2015 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    Now Cameron is set to take away human rights,pensioners on DLA and who were not 65 by April 2013,will automatically be downgraded to indefinite,and will be subject to reviews,and may be asked to attend assessments,that includes those who were awarded a lifetime benefit,mainly because their illness will be for the rest of their life,and such illnesses can only get worse,it’s bad enough what’s been happening but even sicker to do it to old people who worked hard and through no fault of their own were struck down by illness,this government is running wild because they have no one to stop them,they think they are above the law.

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