On Employment and Support Allowance, Ms Patel isn’t sitting pretty

Ignorant: Priti Patel will need to work a lot harder if she thinks she's going to convince anybody about the Conservative Government's appalling record of deaths among people on incapacity benefits.

Ignorant: Priti Patel will need to work a lot harder if she thinks she’s going to convince anybody about the Conservative Government’s appalling record of deaths among people on incapacity benefits.

The new Parliamentary session is going to be very hard on Iain Duncan Smith and his team (if you can call it that) at the Department for Work and Pensions. His skiving employment minister Priti Patel discovered this on her very first day back.

Ms Patel, who had the hypocrisy to criticise the UK’s workforce as lazy at a time when her own Parliamentary attendance record was among the lowest in the House of Commons, faced an inevitable series of questions on the government’s botched release of figures relating to the deaths of people claiming incapacity benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance – and of course messed up her answers ridiculously.

“It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit,” she stated. Oh, really?

Didn’t the DWP do just that in its statistical releases of August 27? Among the incapacity benefits population alone, the number of deaths recorded – by the DWP – between 2003 and 2013 was 444,620… or 448,300, depending on whether you’ve accepted the DWP’s accumulated death figure or checked them by adding together the separate totals for IB/SDA and ESA. As you can tell, they don’t add up – casting doubt on the reliability of any of the figures the DWP has released.

“It is impossible and completely wrong to draw any causality from the statistics,” continued Ms Patel, tragically. “Any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond those figures is wrong.” My word, she was keen to make sure we knew what the Conservative Party thinks is wrong, wasn’t she!

What a shame for Ms Patel that she was in the wrong. While the figures themselves do not – necessarily – damn the DWP’s activities since the Tories took over, they do provide enough information to support some serious questions about Conservative Government policy and its effects on people with long-term illnesses.

If all is well in the assessment of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, then why did the DWP deliberately mislead This Writer, by falsely claiming it could not answer my Freedom of Information request on the incapacity benefit deaths because those facts were to be published in the future? In fact, the DWP was planning to publish a set of ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’ – about which we’ll learn more in a moment. By using this tactic, the DWP successfully evaded answering my question for more than two years. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?

According to Ms Patel, when the ASMRs were finally published, they were “in line with Office for National Statistics requirements and to national statistics standard”. That’s all very well, but the ONS provides information on how to create ASMRs that means the figures published on August 27 are, at most, a single day’s work for one person at the DWP. I submitted an FoI request on May 28, 2014, meaning they were published almost one year and three months later, with no reason provided for the delay. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?

Ms Patel said: “Specifically with regard to the statistics, the trend is that the number of people dying, as a proportion of the population, is going down.” What clever phrasing (she no doubt thought)! That is, indeed, what the ASMR statistics show. But the population of the UK is increasing rapidly, and this affects per-head-of-population figures like ASMRs – perhaps Ms Patel should have liaised with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister before passing her comment.

The numbers paint a different story. For the sake of transparency, This Writer has been using the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and the number of people who have died after being declared fit for work in order to demonstrate this. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of people in the WRAG increased by nine per cent. The number of deaths increased by 24 per cent – from 2,990 people to 3,720. Increased. This does not indicate a downward trend. This is in a group where the Conservative Government expects – no, demands – that people will be ready to return to work within a year. This means members of the group should have no worse life expectancy than anyone in the general population, but if you apply the death rate among the general population to the WRAG, then the number of deaths in 2012 should have been 1,037, and in 2013 the total should have been 1,132 – in both cases, that’s around one-third of the actual figure. Priti Patel wants us to think that is no reason to question whether the work capability assessment – the procedure used to decide if a person should receive ESA and whether they deserve to go into the support group for people with severe illnesses or the WRAG – is fit for purpose. What do you think?

Let’s look at the number of people who have died after being assessed as fit for work. The media – and the Conservative Government – have been using this figure of 2,380 deaths from December 2011 to February 2014 (inclusive). But those are only people who died within two weeks of having their claim stopped (on the grounds that they were fit for work)! What about people like Mark Wood, who died of starvation, several months after the DWP decided he was fit for work? What about people who were moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were told they were fit for work? Did they all find jobs and live happily ever after? This seems unlikely. How many of them were sanctioned because they could not fulfil the requirements of their Jobseekers’ Agreement’? How often? How many of them died? How many people were pushed off benefits altogether, and what happened to them? We may accept the claim that it is wrong to extrapolate anything from the figures, but isn’t that because the figures have been deliberately phrased in order to make it so?

If you disagree, take a look at This Writer’s Freedom of Information request. The part requiring the DWP to state the number of people who died after being found fit for work calls for information covering the period between December 2011 and May 2014 (inclusive), covering everybody who had been claiming ESA but died within that period. The DWP has complied with neither of those parts of the request, despite having withdrawn its appeal against answering the FoI request, and is in danger of being in contempt of court. Do you think that is acceptable behaviour for a government department?

In a later exchange, Louise Haigh MP said: “Contrary to the Minister’s earlier remarks, figures finally released by the Department over the summer showed that 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work—more than four times the death rate of the general population. In a harrowing case, a constituent of mine reported to me that she frequently considered committing suicide, both before and after being found fit for work. Does the Minister not feel that it is therefore high time to review the work capability assessment and that thousands of people are being wrongly defined as fit for work?”

In response, Ms Patel said: “Organisations have commented on this and Full Fact, which is widely known, has said that similar comments to those made by the hon. Lady, which have been widely reported, are simply wrong.”

So Ms Haigh was wrong to say that her constituent had considered suicide due to the DWP’s treatment of her? Ms Patel had no right to make such a claim; she did not have any experience of the case.

As for Full Fact, the fact that the Conservative Government was using that website’s worthless article about the death statistics to justify its behaviour speaks volumes about the relationship between the two. We may not be able to draw conclusions about causality from the DWP’s death figures, but we may certainly draw conclusions about the DWP and Full Fact, it seems. This Writer’s advice is that any further comment on this subject from that website may be dismissed.

We should not have to wait too long for that fate to claim Ms Patel, also…

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18 thoughts on “On Employment and Support Allowance, Ms Patel isn’t sitting pretty

  1. Emma Taylor

    I think it would be really interesting to see some stats from helplines like Mencap or Samaritans on increased calls. My son is disabled and as a 24/7 carer – which he needs – I have had the same thoughts as the constituent. It’s such a hard job to do for £60 pw and it’s really hard to see any way of improving our situation when I can’t work. I did work and paid in to get nothing out now that I need it.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Would those charities provide that information, or would they say it’s confidential? (I can’t see why they should, but I know that some charities get very protective over some of the information they collect.)

      1. Emma Taylor

        I was thinking the same but know that Mencap are also trying to fight the same thing so you might be able to get something working together?

  2. Jean Hardiman Smith

    Have I got this right – the DWP provided a bunch of half facts, with a somewhat dodgy interpretation, to a programme called ironically Full Fact, and then when that show reported those half facts, and the dodgy interpretation the DWP used this to say they were right all along? Is this what these people go to Oxford to learn, because somebody wasted their money!! Even I can see that such circular reasoning is fallacious, and I doubt most people would be taken in. Never mind, once they destroy the education system and dumb down the populace it will be much easier, I’m sure.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Not quite. The DWP provided a bunch of half-facts in a part-response to a Freedom of Information request I submitted more than 15 months ago. Full Fact is a fact-checking website; one of its contributors contacted the DWP for clarification over the information that had been released and then published the response as fact without checking whether it made any sense. The DWP then used the Full Fact article as proof that its claims were valid.

      It is fallacious reasoning but I think many people would indeed be misled by it.

      1. Tony Dean

        I emailed Fullfact about the DWP data release only being a partial one, and as yet I have not had a response.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Interesting. They were quick enough to contact me when I wrote my piece attacking theirs.

  3. Nicola Clubb

    I can tell you i have considered suicide, not because of WRAG as I was not in that group. The reason was the letter that the DWP sent me informing me of a large cut in my JSA. The letter was so badly worded that i could not find the reason. It was because they thought i was living with a partner, which i have never done in the time i have been living in my current address. I only found out when the JCP invited me in to assist me with the form for claiming ESA, which is another story about explaining things in basic language and not what they call basic english.

  4. Jeffery Davies

    Rip my mate R Thomas who was going the following morning to talk to the JCP, who Atos had found that he was ready for work. Died the night before his appointment sadly. Another statistic jeff3

  5. Shaun Gardner

    And even these figures are now over a year old. The ever increasing momentum in tragic deaths would seem to point to yet another rise in the numbers in the last year.
    Will these figures now be released annually Mike? As they should be or will it take yet more pressure on the DWP to ensure this happens?

  6. Michael Broadhurst

    if Ms Priti Patel is absent from Parliament as often as this article claims,then perhaps she should be sanctioned along with all other MPs who are not in Parliament when they should be.
    we’d all like jobs where we could turn up when we feel like it,like MPs do,too busy with
    outside interests i presume.
    the whole rotten system wants a thorough shake up from top to bottom.

  7. Ruby

    After spending the last few weeks reading everything I can online I have seen umpteen comments from members of the public who say they are going to end their own life because of the state of the benefit system. they feel worthless and desperate. The human cost of these draconian policies is becoming a disgrace.

    Although I know statistics play an important part in analysis but what about actually looking at individual stories? The list of suicides because of cuts, that I have seen about the internet, for example, should not be taken so lightly and investigated further. The same for the mental health of benefit claimants. Human stories to put the context of these stats into focus.

    As for the ‘unknowns’ in these stats, I know of a lady who was deemed fit for work by WCA but was refused JSA because she was 3 months off retirement and would be getting a pension. She was left without any income. Someone gave that lady a part time job, she was riddled with arthiritis so couldn’t actually do much work, so she survived.
    The man in the news with leukemia, WCA says he is fit for work, Jobcentre says he isn’t, so no income. He has the wherewithal to get his MP on the case, but what about the ones who quietly accept their fate and don’t want, or know how, to fight?

    We are dealing with HUMAN BEINGS here!

    I am angry and despairing myself at the injustices I see perpetrated in this country and just wish I could do something, but I am one of the powerless.

    BTW congratulations Mike and thank you for informing us.

  8. hugosmum70

    Ruby, you are not powerless. sign every petition that you see. anything that has to do with austerity,bedroom tax, sanctions, assessments etc.not all succeed i’ll grant you but some do. so all worth doing. it may not seem like much but it can and does help.in between tell your friends/family about any of the stories you see in facebook or these forums etc., share anti austerity pictures, jokes even, news items etc. up n coming anti austerity marches,conferences etc.even if you cant go to them others that see them might.

  9. mrmarcpc

    Another rich, arrogant, ignorant, privileged bitch who’s deserves to come a cropper, time she and her master IDS were both thrown out of their jobs, more petitions and public pressure needs to be put upon these two vile individuals and the government, we must show them that we aren’t going away any time soon, we will keep up the struggle to reveal the truth, to get the changes made and to get these two b*****ds fired!

  10. Phil Lee

    It seems obvious that the entire DWP has been subverted by the Parliamentary Tory party’s conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, in addition to their human rights abuses.
    Of course, they are “only following orders”.

Comments are closed.