Incapacity: Fewer claimants died after DWP suspended repeat assessments

It’s true – the DWP suspended repeat work capability assessments of Employment and Support Allowance claimants on January 20, 2014 and – thanks to figures This Writer received from the Department last week, Vox Political can reveal that the number of people who died while claiming incapacity benefit started to drop shortly afterwards.

Unfortunately, the numbers revealed are low – meaning that This Writer cannot claim they are statistically significant – that the results we have are not from random chance. There could be several reasons for that, though.

I won’t tell this story from the beginning because, by now, many of you will know it by heart. My freedom of information request on the number of incapacity benefit claimants who died after November 2011 was answered in part on August 27, when the DWP released figures up to the end of February 2014. As my request was for figures to May 28 that year, I demanded the rest. The DWP countered with a claim that I should send in another FoI request for those figures, but I disagreed strongly and the Information Commissioner’s Office sided with me. I had those figures last Friday.

The headline figure was that, between March 1 and May 28, 2014, a total of 8,640 incapacity benefits (ESA, IB and SDA) claimants died. That’s 97.08 per day, compared with 98.83 per day for the period December 1, 2011-February 28, 2014.

This means 156 fewer people died between March 1 and May 28, 2014 than between any equivalent period from December 2011 – February 2014.

In percentage terms, it’s a drop from 0.36 per cent of the incapacity benefits population to 0.35 per cent – as I mentioned, statistically insignificant.

It does seem reasonable, though, to take this as an indication that the work capability assessment has contributed to the deaths of claimants.

And there are mitigating factors. The average number of deaths and percentage from the 2011-14 cohort refers to a much longer period of time, during which the incapacity benefits population fell by more than 100,000 before starting to rise again – significantly, in figures relating to February 2014, after the moratorium on repeat assessments began.

The DWP stopped referring repeat assessments to Atos (for it was that company) on January 20, 2014, meaning that some of the drop in the number of deaths is likely to have occurred between then and the end of February, lowering the average number of deaths in that period.

But the result of some repeat assessments may not have been known until the March-May period, raising the average number of deaths that happened then.

And the DWP would have us believe that it has altered the work capability assessment in response to criticism. Its own figures show that, between December 2013 and December 2014, the percentage of claimants qualifying for ESA rose from 73 to 75, during a time when the number of claims has been increasing.

Undoubtedly there may be other influences which This Writer has not identified.

It seems unlikely that the DWP will volunteer any more accurate information – especially if the figures support critics of the Department. And, with the current plan to charge an exorbitant amount for ‘Freedom’ of Information requests – a contradiction in terms that the Conservative Party seems only too willing to overlook – it seems unlikely we will see any numbers for the rest of 2014 (after the number of repeat assessments flatlined completely).

Your comments are invited.

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  1. shaunt November 8, 2015 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    With respect to the control of information the Conservatives have a callous disregard for human life when they place Public Relations ahead of Public Responsibility. That’s what schooling at Eton prepares one for: making tough choices and still being able to sleep at night. It’s hard at the top, but somebody has to do.
    Of course the pay and perks (not to mention the inherited wealth/status one needs to get a place in the dinning hall) are not too bad.

  2. gfranklinpercival November 8, 2015 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    I think it is long past time that we demand and receive all the raw data for which we have already paid via taxation, with regular monthly updates.

  3. Florence November 8, 2015 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    Although the changes are small, until a full statistical assessment is carried out we can’t properly say they are “not significant”, which is actually a very precise statistical measure. we can say that the numbers are small in the overall system, but the totals will include those not being tested by ATOS. I hope someone with access to the raw data and the appropriate software to perform these analyses can help here.

    It would help in such an analysis to know how many were affected by the suspension of testing, out of the entire population, and how many were actually informed, as this is possibly the most significant determining factor in the well-being of people in the system. On the other hand, other statistical tests can be done to simply say that the death rate varies in direct proportion to the number of tests ie that x will die for every 1000 assessments which does / or does not change with the actual number of tests performed. Underlying this is the old death rate data from IB, before WCA was brought in, to provide a baseline, which is badly needed, especially if the rates can be apportioned between diagnostic groups in the before / after sequence.

    The DWP have once again been forced to release data – and for each data set, the longer it takes to force it out of them, we may be more confident that it will contain some damning data, if it is analysed thoroughly.

    • Spoonydoc November 9, 2015 at 11:53 am - Reply

      I don’t see why being informed is important. It is a fact that my health, both mental and physical deteriorates every time I undergo a WCA (I have had 4 so far).
      It is so bad that I developed moderate depression at my first reassessment despite never having done so in my life before. I actually have an assessment letter from the mental health team recommending I avoid DWP correspondence and assessments (quite how they expect me to do that I don’t know!)
      Not being subjected to reassessments is good for me, whether or not I have been informed that one was in fact due.

    • lanzalaco November 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      exactly, did anybody advise mike these are statistically insignificant, because i don’t see how. its low sample sizes of below 75 rather than percentage overall that makes for statistical insignificance. If correlations are found in the overall period, and the data collection is consistent throughout, that’s what matters.

      • Mike Sivier November 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm - Reply

        My problem with it – and the reason I’m saying we can’t rely on it entirely – is that it seems there’s too much margin for error, or for other factors that haven’t been taken into account. If the numbers were higher, those would be less important.

      • Florence November 10, 2015 at 1:06 pm - Reply

        Actually sample size is not always relevant, that’s where the choice of method of analysis is crucial. With out going into detail, there are many different methods, including such differences as parametric and non parametric methods. It is entirely possible to get meaningful results, which makes me suspect that this data set has been withheld until now for that very reason.

  4. AndyH November 8, 2015 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Share this with everyone you know!

  5. casalealex November 8, 2015 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Definition of Statistics: The science of producing unreliable facts from reliable figures. Evan Esar

    • Mike Sivier November 8, 2015 at 10:48 pm - Reply

      I’m not sure the figures are particularly reliable in this case – they’re from the DWP, and the DWP has chosen how to represent them.

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