That’s right – This Blog said what the mainstream media have been shying away from, because it’s clear: Conservative ministers including Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling refused to change the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), despite evidence that it was causing the deaths of vulnerable people.
A Freedom of Information request by John Pring at Disability News Service has revealed details of ‘peer reviews’ into 49 deaths that were linked to the WCA, in a period covering the years 2012-14. The fact that civil service reviewers were making the same recommendations for around two years is clear evidence that the Conservative ministers did nothing to protect vulnerable people for whom Duncan Smith eventually did admit they had a duty of care.
The DWP is sticking to its story. A Guardian report on the release of the ‘peer review’ information tells us: “A DWP spokesman said it would be wrong to link benefit claims with deaths. ‘Any suicide is a tragedy and the reasons for them are complex, however it would be inaccurate and misleading to link it solely to a person’s benefit claim.'”
We’ll gloss over the fact that not all of these deaths were said to be suicides – in fact, only 40 were.
But there’s no need to gloss over the fact that a joint report by Oxford and Liverpool Universities found that suicide and mental illness has soared among people subjected to the WCA. The DWP tried to deny any causality but this claim was comprehensively trashed by the experts.
The academic researchers admitted their findings do not show that the WCA directly caused the deaths of claimants. But a correlation between the WCA and those deaths is clear, and this often implies causation as well. Having established a correlation, it should have fallen to the Conservative Government to determine whether there was an actual cause-and-effect relationship, by further investigation.
The Conservatives have refused to do this, but have provided no reasons at all for their decision.
And let us not forget This Writer’s own contribution. A Freedom of Information request that I submitted, which the DWP also wasted two years trying to refuse, eventually showed that thousands of people had died within just two weeks of a “fit for work” verdict that ended their claim, that the mortality rate in the ESA work-related activity group (in which people are supposed to be recovering from their illness) was three times the normal rate, and – after a wait of several months while the DWP struggled to withhold more information – that fewer benefit claimants died after the DWP suspended repeat WCAs for people on sickness and disability benefits.
All of this was happening while various Conservative DWP ministers were repeatedly telling MPs in the House of Commons that they had taken every step possible to improve the assessment system and make it as friendly as possible for vulnerable people. I think they were lying.
The evidence is stacking up against the Conservative Government, the DWP and its ministers, including Iain Duncan Smith and now Stephen Crabb. Let us hope it will be aired soon – in court.
It is clear that ministers were repeatedly warned by their own civil servants that their policies to assess people for out-of-work disability benefits were putting the lives of “vulnerable” claimants at risk.
This is because many of the peer reviews – in fact, nearly all of those where it is possible to tell which benefits were involved – were commissioned following deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA), which tests eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA).
And many of those related to the WCA process were also linked to the huge reassessment programme of hundreds of thousands of long-term claimants of incapacity benefit (IB).
This, remember, was a reassessment programme launched ahead of schedule by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and employment minister Chris Grayling in 2011, even though they had been warned by their own independent advisor the previous year that it was too soon to roll it out because of flaws within the WCA system.
In all, I counted at least 13 peer reviews in which the author explicitly raises concerns in her recommendations about the way that vulnerable claimants – this is likely to be mostly people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties – are treated.
Ministers, through their senior civil servants, were warned repeatedly that these processes were risking the lives of benefit claimants, and that action needed to be taken. That review after review makes similar recommendations suggests one thing: that ministers failed to act because it would cost too much money to make the system safe.
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