Another good report with useful information from the Mirror:
A new report shatters Tory claims that slashing state support leads to rising employment.
Ministers including welfare axeman Iain Duncan Smith have used climbing jobs stats to justify their social security assault.
But a report published today explodes the claim, with academics saying “exploratory” analysis, found “sufficient evidence in the present report to cast doubt on one of the central claims used to justify welfare reform”.
Researchers from Sheffield Hallam and Glasgow universities added: “Welfare reform does reduce public expenditure and thereby the budget deficit but it does not, it would seem, lead to higher employment or lower unemployment.”
It’s good to see Michael Meacher responding to new developments on an issue in which he has played a major part in the past:
The report that in just over 2 years up to February last year no less than 2,380 disabled claimants died within 2 weeks of being assessed as fit for work and then having their benefit either reduced or stopped altogether, is beyond shocking.
It is arguably the most damning statistic yet of the sheer callousness and brutality of this government towards the most helpless victims in our society.
But there are further profound issues behind this dreadful story.
The most important issues are holding to account those who are responsible for this utter tragedy and even more important still, the power to stop this lethal policy in its tracks.
On both there is at present a vacuum.
We’re all working on it, though!
The DWP’s response to my FoI request shows three things very clearly:
Firstly, that the DWP is very bad at responding to FoI requests – in terms of both timing and content. The response is deliberately written to make it as opaque as possible and this reflects poorly on both the department and its ministers.
Secondly, that despite the poor quality of the report, it is clear that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose and the misallocation of people with long term illnesses – either into the work-related activity group or into the jobs market, classified ‘fit for work’ – has certainly led to needless deaths. Iain Duncan Smith said as much last week but it should not save him. Evidence that this was the case has been available since December 2011, when the number of deaths of people on ESA tripled – yes, tripled – in comparison with the average for the previous 11 months. The DWP and its ministers have been hiding this information from us for nearly four years. In the eyes of the law, that is criminal negligence – corporate manslaughter.
Thirdly, that the principles on which Employment and Support Allowance was designed are causing deaths. When Mrs Mike’s Contributory ESA ran out (she used to be in the work-related activity group), her benefit was cut off with no notification or advice about what to do next. How many others have received the same treatment? Many, it seems, according to the DWP’s statistics which show that the number of ‘unknown’ cases (into which these people are thrown as their NI credits are still paid) has dropped while the proportion of deaths in that group has increased hugely, year on year.
Other conclusions are available, although it could be argued that more evidence is needed.
For now, we need to see the elimination of the work capability assessment and the prosecution of the ministers who hid the facts from us for nearly four years.
A SEVERELY disabled young man who is unable to talk, read or write and needs round-the-clock care from his mother is the latest target in Iain Duncan Smith’s campaign against Scotland’s most vulnerable.
Stuart Chester, who has Down’s syndrome, epilepsy and autism and is unable to feed or wash himself, is being told by officers in the Tory minister’s Department for Work and Pensions to prove he is unfit for work.
The 25-year-old has been sent a controversial 20-page work capability assessment form to fill in that will investigate his fitness for work and whether he deserves his Disability Living Allowance (DLA# and Employment and Support Allowance #ESA) benefits.
For clarity, this is Osama Bin Laden, not Jeremy Corbyn. Some right-wing commentators may not be able to tell the difference.
… In both senses of the word.
It seems that people who should know better have dredged up a comment made by Jeremy Corbyn in 2011 about the death of Osama Bin Laden – that it would have been better if the Al-Qaeda leader had been arrested and put on trial, rather than killed.
Tory Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC: “Osama bin Laden was a terrorist who any sensible human being in the world would want either killed or arrested.” So he agrees with Mr Corbyn that arrest should have been an option.
And Labour’s – Labour’s! – defence spokesman, Kevan Jones, said: “This just shows you how out of touch he is with what most people’s views are.”
This Writer would have preferred to see Osama Bin Laden arrested and put on trial, and so would Mrs Mike. We may not be representative of the whole of the UK but that’s two-thirds of this household agreeing with Mr Corbyn (the other third is not available for comment) – enough for one to question whether Mr Jones is more out of touch than Mr Corbyn.
Why wasn’t Bin Laden arrested? The US troops who took part in the operation neutralised everybody in the compound, didn’t they? So there was no reason not to take Bin Laden into custody. The fact that he was shot raises questions about whether he might have revealed information that compromised the USA’s – and possibly even the UK’s – standing in the international community. Those questions must go unanswered, leaving suspicion behind.
And isn’t it interesting that Mr Corbyn’s opponents are reduced to digging around for long-buried comments he made, in order to besmirch his reputation.
Would these people like it if we all did that?
Here’s George Osborne, writing in Tory propaganda sheet The Sun: “The new unilateralists of British politics [meaning Corbyn and his supporters] are a threat to our future national security and to our economic security.”
Those are bold words, coming from a man whose policies before the economic crisis threatened our economic security to a much greater extent, by supporting calls for banking to be deregulated further than they already had. The banks later became part of – and fuelled – a massive debt crisis that threatened the global economy. If Osborne had had his way, it would have been much worse.
Perhaps this is why he has persistently claimed – falsely – that the UK’s debt problems were due to overspending by the previous Labour government.
And perhaps that is why he has been a strong supporter of austerity policies that take money from the poor and hand it to the rich – despite the discrediting of the academic studies on which these policies are based, early in the Coalition Parliament.
With that kind of record, why should anyone listen to George Osborne?
Still, this episode offers an opportunity for the rest of us. If Corbyn’s opponents are willing to dig up anything he once said, just to keep a good man from an opportunity to change matters for the better, they won’t mind if the rest of us do the same.
Pick your targets, folks, and start digging up the dirt.
The United Nations will probe whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are committing ‘grave violations’ of human rights, a prominent charity chief has said.
Officials from the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities could soon sweep into Britain after the Tory axeman announced a wave of measures, including slashing disability benefits by £30 a week.
It seems clear that the new ‘statistical releases’ from the Department for Work and Pensions aren’t worth the immense amount of time they took to prepare – other than as tools for confusion and corruption.
In the three days since they have been released, there has been confusion in the media about their interpretation, and dissent in the social media about how they may be used. Meanwhile, the DWP has withdrawn its appeal against my Freedom of Information request, claiming that it has provided all the facts I wanted. Iain Duncan Smith is no doubt delighted.
Here’s something to make him choke on it: The DWP has not provided all the facts I wanted and my FoI request has yet to be fully addressed.
I am well within my right to contact the First-tier Tribunal (information rights) and demand that the hearing scheduled for November 10 go ahead, allowing me access to the full range of data I wanted, and to question DWP lawyers in order to clarify the information that was released on Thursday (August 27).
This writer has examined some of the information provided in the DWP’s release of Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, and has been able to compare the background information with the facts (if we can call them that) in its attempted response to my FoI request. They don’t all add up – and where they do, the results are horrifying.
For example, it seems we now have an answer to a question that has disturbed many of us ever since the DWP’s first ‘ad hoc’ statistical release, Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients was released on July 9, 2012. The request stated: “Can you please provide me with the number of ESA claimants who have died in 2011?” But the response provided figures only to the end of November that year – a total of 10,600, equating to around 32 deaths per day or 222 per week.
The supporting tables for Mortality statistics: Out-of-Work Working Age benefit claimants show that the total number of deaths in 2011 was 13,490 – implying that a staggering 2,890 ESA claimants died in December that year alone.
That is more than 93 deaths every day – almost 653 per week – during the so-called festive season. Vox Political has previously pointed out that the period leading up to Christmas every year is a known suicide hotspot, but a near-tripling of the ESA death rate is appalling.
No wonder the DWP withheld it from the ‘ad hoc’ statistical release. Any claim that the information was not available in time for the release, which took place no less than half a year later is clearly not credible.
Another interesting aspect of the DWP’s statistical legerdemain is its curious inconsistency about the benefits to which its figures refer. Note that the figures in the 2012 statistical release showed 10,600 deaths among ESA claimants only. The same release responded to a question about “the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants who have died in 2009, 2010 and 2011” with figures covering IB, SDA and ESA for what we may believe to be the tax years 2008-9, 2009-10 and 2010-11 (“data is sourced from quarterly point in time data… for example 2010/11 includes the quarters May 2010, August 2010, November 2010 and February 2011”) – but even then the reference is vague enough for this not to be accurate. Why not just say, “this refers to the tax years in question, rather than the calendar years”? In any case, the question is not answered because it referred to calendar years and the answer referred to a different period.
Returning to the final question to which that statistical release responds, “Can you please provide me with the number of ESA claimants who have died in 2011?” the answer refers only to ESA claimants – and, caveats about the period covered by the response aside – you may feel that it is justified.
However, in response to my own question regarding the number of IB and ESA claimants who have died since November 2011, the DWP chose to include not only IB and ESA claimants but also those on SDA. I didn’t ask for SDA figures – perhaps I should have – but the DWP provided them anyway. Since it was so obliging for me, why could it not be similarly obliging for the previous requester?
Now, dear reader, you may feel that this is needlessly picky, considering the new releases contain death figures for people on IB/SDA during 2011. The trouble is, we can’t trust them.
We know from the background information that the DWP’s statistics on the total incapacity benefits population counts people only once, even if they claimed both IB/SDA and ESA in the same year – which is possible as people began to migrate from the old system of benefits to the new. This should not affect the number of deaths; if you die on IB/SDA, you won’t have made it onto ESA – right?
But the DWP figures show that if you add deaths on IB/SDA to deaths on ESA, the totals for each year are greater than the total number of deaths recorded for the whole population. In 2009 there were 80 more deaths, in 2010 there were 50. For 2011: 640. For 2012: 1,880. And for 2013: 1,330 more deaths.
Ian Fleming may have said “You only live twice” but, according to the DWP, it seems you can die twice as well.
This means that, although we now have IB/SDA death figures for 2011, we cannot add them to the number of ESA deaths to get an accurate figure. The total would be a horrifying 38,270 – but this is 640 higher than the equally-horrifying total of 37,630 provided by the DWP elsewhere. Which do we believe?
(For information, you may remember that the figures for ESA alone, producing a death rate of 32 per day/222 per week, sparked a horrified public reaction which led to the DWP’s moratorium on providing further figures – a ban it took myself and my fellow campaigners more than three years to break. Add in the lower set of IB/SDA figures and we have a death rate of 103 per day/nearly 722 per week. The higher set of figures raises this to nearly 105 per day/734 per week. No wonder those figures weren’t released in 2012 – the outcry would have been overwhelming.)
Sadly, for the purposes of calculating whether the current system is needlessly harmful to benefit claimants, This Writer does not believe the figures for IB/SDA are useful. In fact, they muddy the issue because, taken together with the figures for ESA, they show the total incapacity benefits population has stayed more or less consistent over the years since ESA was introduced, at around three million people. The number of deaths has done roughly the same thing.
a) We know that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government adopted harsh new assessment policies from 2011 onwards, which meant many more people were refused incapacity benefits than previously. I am told that the number of refusals in 2013 was almost 750,000, although this included repeat claims so the figure cannot be used to calculate the number of claimants who were refused. Still, that’s a very large figure.
How many of those people have died? We don’t know. The DWP provided figures for ESA and IB/SDA “off flows with a date of death at the same time” who had been classified “fit for work”, but this relates to people who died up to 14 days (in the case of ESA claimants) or 42 days (for IB/SDA claimants) after the claim ended. Some commenters have quibbled over what this means, but their comments are irrelevant; these people were found fit for work and then died – which tends to prove they weren’t. What happened to all the people who were found fit for work but didn’t die within the period of the DWP’s “regular scans” (as the process is described in the new statistical release)? We don’t know. The DWP has said it does not monitor what happens to them. Some may have claimed JSA, in which case it may be possible to find out what happened to them – but there may remain a large number whose fate will be a permanent mystery – unless, perhaps, Parliament launches an investigation.
b) The fates of those who have successfully claimed ESA provide an opportunity for us to ask some pertinent questions.
We can see that, between 2012 and 2013, the support group grew by 81 per cent, while the number of deaths increased by 54 per cent. The support group was the hardest to join after Iain Duncan Smith introduced his changes in 2011; it includes people with degenerative conditions, terminal illnesses and severe disabilities, many of whom are likely to die during the period of their claim. But this does not mean that all the deaths in that group are due to what we might describe as “natural causes”. We have heard many examples of DWP harassment that harms the health of people in the support group or pushes them to suicide. We have no reason to believe they are lies. Therefore the conduct of the DWP towards people in this group requires much closer scrutiny.
Moving on to the work-related activity group – this is for claimants the DWP consider will be capable of work in the future and may take steps towards moving into work (work-related activities) immediately. In other words, this is the group in which people are admittedly ill, but are expected to get better. Between 2012 and 2013, this group grew by nine per cent – but the number of deaths increased by 24 per cent, from 2,990 to 3,720. This is in a group where people are not expected to die due to their condition. Other commenters have pointed out that it is wrong to expect none of these people to die, and they are correct. If this group was populated according to its stated aims, they would have a slightly lower chance of dying as anybody else in the general population (as benefit claimants, they wouldn’t be subject to all the same risks). The general population has a 0.19 per cent chance of death, according to the DWP’s own figures. In 2013, the work-related activity group had a population of 596,010, which would suggest the total number of deaths should have been less than 1,132. When the actual number of deaths is more than three times more than what we should expect, it’s time to demand reasons.
Between 2012 and 2013 the number of people in the assessment phase of ESA increased by two per cent, while the number of deaths increased by six per cent. Assessment has been the subject of considerable scrutiny over the last few years, with a new ‘mandatory reconsideration’ stage introduced after claimants were shown to be winning a remarkably large number of appeals against adverse decisions. The aim of this stage is generally accepted as being to discourage people who have been found fit for work from arguing against the decision (isn’t it right that they get no benefit during the reconsideration period?) therefore the size of the assessment phases population and the number of deaths within it are both likely to be affected and the information we have is suspect.
Then we have the claims marked ‘unknown’. According to the DWP, “Where the claimant is not in receipt of any benefit payment, such as ESA (Credits only), then the phase is shown as unknown. This is opaque. It seems likely that these are people whose entitlement to contribution-based ESA has run out but are still entitled to National Insurance credits. Some commenters have speculated that it may also include people who have been sanctioned, but This Writer’s understanding is that NI credits are suspended when a sanction is imposed.
In 2012, the number of claimants marked ‘unknown’ was 207,390 – of whom 1,550 died. The following year, membership of this group had dropped to 172,670 – that’s an impressive 17 per cent fall. But the number of deaths had increased to 1,810 – a shocking 13 per cent increase on the previous year.
This suggests that people in the work-related activity group (they tend to be on contributory ESA) are being left with nothing (but NI credits) after their 365-day period is over – so they die.
it is clear that British priorities are warped; thirty British deaths are apparently worthy of calling the nation to a standstill for when they are the handiwork of a fanatical foreigner, but thousands of British deaths are not even worthy of a mention when they are the handiwork of a fanatical Minister.
Duncan-Smith is clearly responsible for many, many times more British deaths than Rezgui, but it is Rezgui whom the British public are most likely to vilify.
So it seems killing British citizens is only a matter for outrage when foreigners do it. When the British ruling class do it, it is a matter for shrugged shoulders.
Here’s a slimy little article for you: Sam Ashworth-Hayes’ piece on the benefit deaths at Full Fact.
The fact-checking website set him to respond to reporting of the DWP’s statistical release on incapacity benefit-related deaths, and he’s done a proper little cover-up job.
“It was widely reported that thousands of people died within weeks of being found ‘fit for work’ and losing their benefits,” he scribbled.
“This is wrong.
“Within weeks of ending a claim, not within weeks of an assessment.”
Not true – unless Sam is saying the DWP has failed to answer my Freedom of Information request properly.
If Sam had bothered to check the FoI request to which the DWP was responding, he would have seen that it demanded the number of ESA claimants who had died since November 2011, broken down into categories including those who had been found fit for work and those who had had an appeal completed after a ‘fit for work’ decision.
The date the claim ended is irrelevant; the fact that they were found fit for work and then died is the important part.
If the DWP finds someone fit for work, then it ends the claim anyway, you see. Obviously.
But Sam continues: “If someone is found fit for work, they can appeal the decision, and continue to receive ESA during the appeal process. There is no way of telling how long after the start of the appeal process those claims ended.”
The statistical release covers those who had had such an appeal completed and then died – 1,360 of them. The release does not state that they should be considered separately from those who had a fit for work decision, meaning that this is one of several areas in which the release is not clear. In order to err on the side of caution, This Writer has chosen not to add them to the 2,650 total of those found fit for work. Any who were still deemed to be fit for work after their appeal ended, I have deemed to be among the 2,650.
The release most emphatically does not mention those who had appealed against a fit for work decision, but the appeal was continuing when they died, as Sam implies. The DWP asked me to alter my request to exclude them, and I agreed to do so. Therefore Sam’s claim is false. Nobody included in these figures died mid-appeal. Some died after being found fit for work again. Some died after winning their appeal and while they were continuing to receive their benefit – but they do not skew the figures because they aren’t added onto the number we already had (we don’t know how many of them succeeded because the DWP has chosen to follow the letter of the FoI request and has not provided that information). The outcome of the appeal is, therefore, irrelevant.
The point is, the decision that they were fit for work was wrong, because they died.
Let’s move on. Under a section entitled Mortality rates matter, Sam burbles:
“If 2,380 people were found fit for work from late 2011 to early 2014, and all 2,380 subsequently died in the process of challenging that decision, that would indicate that something was almost certainly going wrong in the assessment process.”
2,380? He means 2,650! For a person supposedly checking the facts, this was an elemental mistake to make.
“But if 2 million people were found to be fit for work, there would be less concern that the assessment process was going wrong; one in 1,000 dying could just be the result of the ‘normal’ level of accident, misfortune and sudden illness.
“If we want to know if people found fit for work are more likely to die than the general population, then age-standardised mortality rates would let us make that comparison while adjusting for differences in age and gender.
“Unfortunately, the DWP has not published an age-standardised mortality rate for those found ‘fit for work’.”
Fortunately, This Writer has been directed to a site whose author has attempted just that. This person states that the problem is that we don’t know how many people were found fit for work in total – only that there were 742,000 such decisions during the period in question. This would suggest that the number of people dying within the two-week period used by the DWP is 0.35 per cent of the total. We know that there were 74,600 deaths among the general working-age population in 2013 – a population totalling around 39 million – meaning the chance of dying within any two-week period was 0.007 per cent. So, using these crude figures, the probability of an incapacity benefits claimant dying after being found fit for work is no less than 50 times higher than for the working-age population as a whole, and probably much higher.
So sure, if Sam thinks mortality rates matter, let him look at that.
In response to figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions on the known number of deaths while claiming incapacity benefits, Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn said: “It is clear that the work capability assessment has failed to adequately assess support needs, and has caused immense distress and suffering for thousands of disabled claimants.
“I voted against the legislation* that introduced the WCA and have campaigned alongside disabled people’s organisations to scrap it ever since. The assessment process needs to be completely rebuilt in partnership with disabled people and health professionals.”
* Welfare Reform Act 2007
The figures, published under freedom of information laws, show that more than 2,500 sick and disabled benefit claimants have died after being found ‘fit for work’ in just two years.
Mr Odoni is absolutely right. While I was overjoyed to learn that my two-year campaign to get these figures has been a success, the actual figures were heartbreaking.
I don’t think for a moment that the DWP caved in solely because of my efforts, either. Thanks are due to the nearly 250,000 people who signed a petition supporting my bid – and to Maggie Zolobajluk, who set it up; to the MPs who created and signed the Early Day Motion in Parliament, for the matter to be debated (more than 90 of them), and in particular Marie Rimmer and Debbie Abrahams, who have been implacable in their pursuit of Iain Duncan Smith and his ministers; to Vox Political’s readers for supporting and publicising This Blog and its articles on this subject; and to all those I have momentarily forgotten (I’m quite tired).
The campaign continues. Nobody has been saved because the DWP released a few numbers. The whole point is to change policy, ensuring that the system adapts to reduce the number of deaths. That’s something we have yet to achieve.
For the time being, though, I thank Mr Odoni for his congratulations and welcome his commiserations also.
I would just like to express my admiration and heartfelt condolences to Mike Sivier over on the Vox Political blog. After a very long, arduous and hair-tearing battle against the delaying tactics of the Department of Work & Pensions, to get the real numbers of deaths of people claiming incapacity benefits, today he won, as the figures were revealed to the world. It genuinely is a great achievement, managing to force one of the most stubborn, secretive and underhand departments in all of the British Government to give way. But has there ever been a more heartbreaking boon at the end of such a long and gruelling journey?
What Iain Duncan-Smith has done is preside over a completely pointless and utterly avoidable humanitarian disaster in one of the richest countries in the world, and then imagined he could keep such a disaster neatly brushed under the carpet. So while I congratulate Mike on lifting that carpet enough to reveal what we had all feared lay beneath it, I commiserate him on what it has taught us. If ever there were a victory to despair at, it is this one. However necessary it is to reveal ugly truths, that does not mean we have to enjoy them. Instead, they should be seen with the disgust that motivates us to correct them.
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