Driven to fury by DWP’s attitude to the deaths it has caused



A commenter on the blog sent me a link to Jack Monroe’s Facebook page today. I’m probably as familiar with Jack as you are, but no more so – perhaps mainstream success gives that person more validity in some way than mine in the social media. But Phil’s “Have you seen this?” intrigued me.

The link was to a post following up on an Observer article published over the weekend, and read as follows:

“I would like to publicly apologise to the Department of Work And Pensions for an inaccurate statistic in my Observer article yesterday on the grim reality of the welfare system in what was once ‘Great’ Britain.

“In my article I stated that 2,400 people had died shortly after their Employment Support Allowance had been severed, having been (clearly wrongly) judged as Fit To Work.

“The DWP informs me that the correct figure is in fact 2,380.

“As they are so keen on accuracy, and transparency, I thought I should provide the rest of the stats.

“Between December 2011 and February 2014, 50,850 people who were claiming ESA, died.

“Of these, 7,200 had been judged as ‘able to return to work in the future’ and placed in the ‘work group’ category of ESA to undergo regular gruelling testing in order to continue to claim the pithy pittances they needed in order to stay alive. (For avoidance of doubt, humans do generally need food and shelter to survive.) Spoiler alert- THEY DIED.

“On top of these, 2,380 people who had been stripped of financial support and judged fit to work, subsequently DIED.

“Seeing the DWP are so very keen on accuracy that they send bollocking letters to my editor, I expect they will be now opening the case files of the 9,580 people in a 2 year period who DIED having been judged as ‘fit to work’ or ‘fit to work in the future’. God forbid I make 20 mistakes in the face of your 9,580.”

You can read the Observer article here. The relevant passage states: “Comply or starve. Comply and die, such were the cases, over a two-year period, of 2,400 people who died after their claim for employment and support allowance ended because they were declared ‘fit to work’ by DWP. I wrote in 2013 that my three-year-old could pass an Atos assessment. It doesn’t mean I should have sent him to stack shelves in a supermarket.”

The mention of “2,400 people” is quite clearly a rounding-up because, if you click on the link that has been inserted on that very number, you can visit the original Guardian article quoting the DWP’s response to a Freedom of Information request for the exact number of deaths.

My Freedom of Information request. And one of the reason I am angry as I type these words.

You see, there are two reasons the DWP has no cause to – as Mx Monroe describes it – “send bollocking letters to my editor”. I have already described the first.

The second is the simple fact that the information the DWP sent out on August 27, 2015 was incomplete – and therefore inaccurate. The Department has no business accusing anybody else of inaccuracy when it can’t get its own figures right.

The story of how this information became public knowledge is long and complicated but it is relevant that I had to get a ruling from the Information Commissioner in May last year, ordering the DWP to release the figures. As my request had been made on May 28, 2014, those figures should have run up to that date – but didn’t, as Jack’s post indicates.

When I wrote to the DWP, pointing out that they were now under a legal obligation to provide all the information I had requested, I received an email saying I should submit another FoI request. Ha ha. It took 15 months and the threat of litigation to get a reply to the last one – and that had been a second attempt!

I reminded them that I could take them to court and they gave me what I wanted in the first week of November last year. With that information, I was able to demonstrate that few claimants died after the DWP suspended repeat work capability assessments on ESA claimants on January 20, 2014. Alas, it seems likely that the delay had allowed the public to grow bored with the issue of sickness and disability deaths, so this went largely unreported.

So, after the DWP told the world it had provided me with all the information I had requested, it took another two months and more before my demand was actually answered.

And ministers had the cheek to criticise Mx Monroe for a slight inaccuracy.

It may interest you to know that in the period that the DWP had originally left unreported, a further 120 people died shortly after their claim was terminated, on a claim that they were ‘fit for work’.

What really gets my goat is the petulance of it.

The words that triggered the DWP’s complaint were part of a very moving article about the effect of Tory austerity cuts on benefit claimants, using information that could have been lifted from This Blog – connected to the release of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. In the paragraphs immediately following, Mx Monroe wrote very powerfully about the film’s effect:

“I went to see the press screening of I, Daniel Blake in early September. I sat in a roomful of journalists as the two central characters lit tealights in a tray, under flowerpots, to take the chill off a room left freezing by shoddy windows and cut-off utilities, as I did and wrote about back in 2013.

“I sat and watched with a heavy heart as she stole sanitary products from the supermarket, remembering going without, or folding up a clean sock, or balling up toilet tissue on the heaviest days. I barely left the house anyway, so there was nobody to really notice.

“I sat and watched as she stole food. As she queued for the first time around the block at a food bank. As she gorged cold baked beans from a can with her fingers, having not eaten a thing for days. The young boy turning to his mother, asking her where her dinner was. She replies that she isn’t hungry, but she wasn’t hungry the night before, or the night before that, and soon he’ll realise that Mummy just isn’t hungry any more.

“The woman beside me, a stranger, squeezed my forearm as I choked on guttural, involuntary sobs. I’m sorry, I whispered, sloping out to punch a wall in the corridor and cry into the blinding, unaware streets of west London. I looked mad. I am mad.

“How can anyone sleep at night, knowing what we know? How does the world turn, and children going hungry to bed is a guilt alleviated by a sympathetic nod towards the cardboard food collection box in the supermarket? If you’re not angry, as Loach said, what kind of person are you?”

Apparently the only part of it making the officials at the DWP angry was a slight statistical inaccuracy. What kind of people are they?

I gave up chasing the DWP for a while after I finally won my FoI battle. I was fatigued; I needed a break. The figures were making increasingly less sense.

And now, nearly a year later, nothing has changed. The DWP is still treating people like stock to be culled, and protesting that it is being treated unfairly whenever anybody points that out. In its doublespeak world, I, Daniel Blake is nothing but a work of fiction, whereas those of us with any experience of the DWP at all know that its facts are accurate. I have been away too long.

I am not Daniel Blake. But it’s time I stood up for everybody like him – again.

Will you?

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29 thoughts on “Driven to fury by DWP’s attitude to the deaths it has caused

  1. Lorraine Hayton

    Am in tears here, what a brilliant light that shines on this, that all the likes of the ESA survivors, myself included still, have been trying to tell people about the system for so long. So glad Ken Loach was sickened enough to spread the word of a demoralised, demonised section of community. Humanity seems a very long way off from the enlightenment they need to see.
    Thanks for this article, from the bottom of my heart. Much love to all.

    1. Rusty

      DWP run by millionaires like ian Duncan Smith who have no empathy! These are the very people we vote for to govern for what we hope, a better run country! the tories like ids are very much the same as each other so do not expect compassion, a helping hand or understanding from people who live very different lives to us.

  2. jaynel62

    I totally understand your anger about this, the persistent range of mistruths, double-speak and downright lies by the staff of DWP, its Ministers and its partners is, as you know, a topic very close to my heart.
    The lack of media coverage to the damage the toxic misrepresentations and fag-packet policies have caused is astounding; from death to bare survival, the numbers whose lives have been blighted by politicians, civil servants and related private co staff must be innumerable.
    As a side point, the detrimental effects of campaigning on these issues is something I had not accounted for when I began, but the pressure has severely damaged both my mental & physical health; making it nigh impossible to continue pushing on.
    I welcome your return to the fight Mike x

  3. jeffrey davies

    The DWP is still treating people like stock to be culled aktion t4 rolling along without much of a ado

  4. Readerbythesea

    Sometimes you have to take a step back to preserve what remains of your health and sanity. You’ve done far far more than most for which I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Welcome back!

  5. wildswimmerpete

    Mike, a friend who considers himself a film buff assured me that “I, Daniel Blake” is of niche interest without any wide public appeal. Well, the film is being shown at one of the largest cinemas in my area: Liverpool ONE Odeon, and it’s getting rave reviews. Hopefully it’ll be shortly screened here out in the sticks.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I think there’s an article rebutting Mr Young’s piece on the Zelo Street blog, although I don’t have the web address for it handy.

  6. Roland Laycock

    Do’s any one think the tory party take any notice of what we think or do for me its time to roll out the guillotine or Mr Stalin to sort them out I always thought Stalin was nasty but I have changed my mind he just had to get rid of the scum

  7. Dez

    All of these deaths winding back to greedy unregulated overpaid bwankers gambling and losing the plot and the Government using our tax money to bail them out…..Dramatic austerity measures were then needed, and taken, not on those that created the financial mess, but on the working plebs and taken from the benefits pot of the needy.. Today bwankers still receive ludicrous salaries and bonus payments and carry as if nothing ever happened and the rich continue to salt away their money in tax havens and cruise on their luxury boats with immunity. No action was ever taken from the so called lessons learnt, recovering funds or putting anyone behind bars apart from the usual token minor fall guys. Yup we’re still all in it together apart from those poor lost souls who were taken from us as a direct result of this continuing untrustworthy broken austerity system.

  8. Beverley Livingthedream Matheson

    I moved from Lancashire to Norfolk in June to be closer to family for support, I’m closer to suicide now more than ever, has anyone had to transfer from. ESA to UC? Nightmare!! Iv been told ( by the most ignorant up her own arse ) work coach that what happened in Lancashire stays in Lancashire, I now have to go through their process to attain whether I’m fit for work r not, ignore my medical records that the new doctor has said on a fit note that I’m unfit for work, I still have to go to the jobcenter ever 2 weeks to look for work until I’m deemed unfit by them, 4 months later I’m still not been accesses by them, I’m disabled I have DLA a blue badge, fit notes off my doctor but according to them none of it counts until Iv been accessed ,, really am losing the will to live here,they make is so frustrating and demoralising for the genuine claimant,

  9. Katherine Carver

    In case people have not seen this short film by the Guardian designed to show that I Daniel Blake was not anecdotal. It was filmed with Tameside Against the Cuts who have undertaken weekly demonstrations outside Ashton Job Centre since Universal Credit was introduced as one of the first pilots more than 2 years ago. You only have to attend one of these demonstrations to hear of the horrors that are being perpetuated in our name.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Yes indeed, I’m very familiar with Charlotte’s work and everybody else should read it too.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I knew that. Shows how angry I was last night that I didn’t include appropriate words in the opening paragraph. Personally, I don’t like using they/their because they are plurals but I do try to find alternatives if I can.

  10. Martin Odoni

    Jim Hacker: “This government believes in reducing bureaucracy.”

    Ludovic Kennedy: “Well, figures that I have here say that your department’s staff has risen by 10 per cent.”

    Jim Hacker: “Certainly not.”

    Ludovic Kennedy: “No?”

    Jim Hacker: “I believe the figure is much more like 9.97.”

    And there was me thinking Yes, Minister was a parody…

  11. Dez

    Totally agree and it was my reaction as well ….especially after reading the latest blog on the 2500 rounded up deaths from this very same bent benefit system and biased establishment officials My apologies to all the good guy Tobys out there but having this Toby spouting such Cons crap just emphasised that Toby goes around with his head where the sun does not shine and has never experienced real time what being on benefits really means for the really vulnerable sections of our communities.. Would have been better if had got off his rounded bottom and dones some real background info checking and wrote a balance peice instead of this. He certainly stirred up a hornets nest with the number of responses he got both left and right… nearly equalled that other serious media event ie Brit Spears wardrobe malfunction! You could not make this stuff up.

  12. Jessie

    From the time the revised WCA, overseen by Atos, using the LIMA tickbox software, was introduced in October 2008, concerns were raised, following many very poorly people suddenly getting 0 points, and centres being nicknamed Lourdes, for their ability to cure so many of the sick and fix the disabled, just like that. The DWP it seemed were able to perform many more miraculous cures than Jesus Christ ever reputedly attempted.

    The test isn’t about the condition, but the person’s ability to perform various tasks, however unrelated to the reality of the workplace. Still, it found that the majority of applicants could do just about anything, whatever their condition. When people see their LIMA-produced reports they can’t believe how fabricated they are, with so much added that didn’t happen, and so much that was said not appearing, or twisted back-to-front.

    The concerns and comments about this started to appear online soon after October 2008, and many were placed in Guardian Comments. Some people did the investigative work for them, looking into the background and exposing the influences of Unum and their invention, so as to avoid giving financial support, that all conditions are the fault of the sufferer, for having faulty thinking, and most are simply an invention of the claimant. Thus the biopsychophysiological model of illness. Presumably when people then die, that is deserved for not having the right attitudes about their illness or incapacity.

    That then is Eight Years of it being known what was happening and very little of it formerly filtering through to the public. Eight Years of the Guardian generally ignoring most of the informative comments of their readers, and any articles produced about the subject far from hard hitting, and those mostly tucked away in the Opinion section. While nearly all of the rest of the press, controlled by a small number of very wealthy extreme right-wingers, whose avoided taxes could feed the hunger they are helping to cause; constantly producing headlines of invention about how all of those skivers and scroungers are being discovered. When we have had in clear sight the real abusers – a right-wing media coroborating with an increasingly vicious DWP to feed false facts to the public, while the DWP increasingly distances itself from any respionsibility for their actions.

    In parliament, a few lone voices attempted to challenge the government over the rising number of injustices. People like Meachen, Skinner, McDonnell, Corbyn… They would win motions, followed by the government not doing anything about it. At every exposure of unjust cruelties to the sick and disabled (many of which were met with laughter and jeers from the government benches, if they attended at all), the response was to tighten the screws. With too many people winning their appeals, it was decided to make it more difficult to appeal, not to do away with a WCA process so obviously flawed. After all, they had designed it to fail as many people as possible. So it’s the more honest appeal tribunals which are the problem.

    Now there’s a compulsory reconsideration period, which can be as long as they like, with no money paid until the appeal, over what can be long months. Those who are then signing on, often forced to lie about their ability to work, just for the sake of a few pounds for life; can be sanctioned at any time, for insignificant or invented reasons, and this is more likely to happen to them. Some disappear and the DWP do not care what happens to them. Some die, but then people do die. It’s not the fault of the DWP that they were unable successively to traverse an increasingly kafesque sucsession of hurdles, purposedly set up to make it increasingly difficult, if not nearly impossible, for them to get through it successfully.

    Still too many people have been gaining ESA, so now they are pushing to stop people going to the appeal tribunals at all, deciding who should be allowed to appeal, having the judgement made quietly away from the applicant or anyone, and having appilcations going entirely online or decisions by phone. This knowing that many people are not confident with these medias. That is, knowing even more people will not succeed in getting through it, however deserving their case. (While PIP is similiarily stripping many people of their disability benefits, and therefore many carers are losing their pitiful carer allowance, without any less need for the caring.)

    This process was planned, though since further honed, for some years before 2008, and to say it was created in three weeks is humbug. The only statement about it by Freud likely to be the truth is that he knew nothing about how social security worked. The proffered policies of Labour and Conservatives before 2008 were as good as the same. They were created in a time of fairly full employment, and enacted after the financial crash, when it was obvious that in a shrunken employment market many sick and disabled people wouldn’t have a chance of getting viable employment. They did not care. They went ahead with it anyway.

    Besides hardened right-wingers, often when people find out what is really happening, they are appalled. This usually happens when it effects themselves, or someone within their family or circle. It does not happen through the media. If our so-called balanced BBC, or any channel (instead of benefit-bashing programmes), had given accurate repeated reports about this at any time, then the nation would have rebelled. Instead for Eight Years we have had gross misinformation and obscurification, and for Eight Years people have been helplessly dying, out of sight, in more numbers than we will ever know. We do Know thousands have died after being found fit for work, or being put in the WRAG group, where they are officially getting better.

    A government that designs and then tightens policies that it knows are killing a part of its population is not a good government. It is a government that considers only those who are a financial success, however crookedly achieved, to have worth; and the rest to be disposable, if they will not sufficiently labour for them, often without a viable wage or any real chances of escaping from their poverty. As a nation we need to judge worth in another way. We can judge that we have a government that is far less fit than anyone who has been found fit by their designed trickery and not by honest processes.

    This is why this country needs a Corbyn-type government, with its right-wing element affectively challenged and exposed and negated.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      It’s the Biopsychosocial model of illness, although really they could abbreviate it to Psycho and be more accurate, as I have written previously.

  13. Laura

    Hi..think we should share a chat…my approach has been pretty full on in that ..I AM MAD…?? the facing of folks with reality ended in this summers journey in my only set of clothes at the passport office..being told NO! Too many nights outside in Exeter..forgive me but to place myself in harms way to get housing help…and aparently I am now being forced to become brain dead cause its not jail but if I go out …you know!! Laura Howe is my face book link..I am the one with an eye! Or my number is 07521047060 .good to know you alive! L x

  14. Brian

    Welcome back, you never left! Batteries charged and ready to empower the people with knowledge. Isn’t that what it’s all about. Attitudes change for anyone willing to listen, but slowly. One just cause is worth it.

  15. Krishna James

    I feel so sick after ESA being stopped I have been working fir 2 years and now due to Austerity council stopped service I was working for and transferred me to another provider, withi 3 days I had a relapse and have been off work for past 2 months! I had gone back to work aged 60 and after being on incapacity benefit for 20 years or so! These people want us Dead

  16. sandra bowes-rennox

    Can I point out that these health care professionals have a duty to abide by the code of conduct under the body that have them there licence to practice and I have contacted on this matter and they must answer all questions you may have I they don’t they are in breach of conduct..ask which they value the them the results they want or there licence..have it recorded and a witness present to take notes.

  17. PensionCredit60

    The Tories are the same aristocratic feudal mindset that left the poor to die throughout history. They have not changed.

    The welfare state created by socialist Labour government under Attlee has gone. The focus of the DWP and its private contractors is however much it costs in tens of billions of taxpayers’ money, they will focus on denying benefit to ever greater number.

    The Victorian workhouse that the Tories created ended up killing 5 million vulnerable people, so the Tories (together with the Liberals and again between 2010 and 2015 called Lib Dems of a merger with the Liberals and the right wing of the Labour party) have done this ensuring the poor are left to die from starvation and freezing to death, many times in history before.

    Henry the 8th abolished the monasteries that had been free infirmaries, free old people’s homes, and places to feed the poor.

    You keep going on back through history and the poor never got helped as a whole, but a happenchance of good fortune from some group or individual.

    The welfare state is dead as a dodo, yet the 1950s born ladies lost state pension AND pension credit AND winter fuel allowance from 60 til 66 since 2013, when UK has the highest winter excess deaths even for those in their 60s. The lifespan of poor women is back to the 1870s, just as much as the poorest men.

    It is the rich living 25 years longer, on average, than the rest of us.

    Pension poverty action group – pension credit back to 60 for men and women out of work / early retired on small works pensions far far below the breadline.

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