Category Archives: Freedom of Information

Campaigner who embarrassed DWP was forced into 15-month benefit battle – with DWP

The worst aspect of this is that there probably isn’t a connection.

Gail Ward caused serious embarrassment to the Department for Work and Pensions in 2018 when in response to a Freedom of Information request, the government department had to admit 111,000 people had died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance.

Then Ms Ward, 63, was told by the same organisation that she didn’t qualify for Personal Independence Payments.

For clarity, she has Prinzmetal’s angina, a rare form of angina where attacks can occur even when resting. The rare heart condition means she can collapse at any moment.

It can cause arteries in the heart to spasm during times of stress or cold weather, which severely limits a person’s independence and can also be life-threatening.

She also has arthritis and hip dysplasia.

Ms Ward had been claiming Disability Living Allowance but, after she was ordered to attend a mandatory reassessment for PIP, she was told that her benefits would stop because she failed to meet the qualifying criteria.

How many times have we heard that before?

Look at her condition again. Of course she met the qualifying criteria. The DWP just wanted to cause her a bit of additional stress, and see if it aggravates her condition enough to kill her.

And if that happened, the people responsible would probably have had the nerve to say, at least she won’t be added to the death figures she uncovered, because she was claiming PIP, not ESA.

The cancellation of her benefit payments meant Ms Ward was unable to pay her bills and ended up in debt.

She was also stripped of her mobility car – which is common behaviour for the DWP.

It took her 15 months to get an appeal to the tribunal stage.

Now here’s the payoff: despite being unable to attend on the day, having been taken ill that morning, the tribunal still found in Ms Ward’s favour and awarded her the full amount of PIP.

Now she has criticised the assessment process and demanded answers about the way decisions are made.

Of course, we all know why the DWP’s assessors do what they do.

But with her record, Gail Ward might just be able to force them to confess it.

Source: Woman who can collapse at any moment due to a rare heart condition is denied benefits and Northumberland woman with rare heart condition that causes her to collapse denied benefits by DWP

What’s the REAL reason the DWP destroyed a report on Job Centre safety failings?

The person responsible for this image has asked me to signpost you to their current project. You can find it here.

It isn’t often I disagree with John Pring of the Disability News Service, but I think he’s being far too charitable to the Department for Work and Pensions.

A report on the DNS website has suggested that the DWP destroyed a report on failures by Job Centre staff to have proper regard for the safety of benefit claimants because the government doesn’t want the facts to get out.

I have a simpler suggestion: The Conservatives simply don’t want benefit claimants to benefit from important information that could save them from serious harm or even death.

Failure to provide this information indicates a serious breach of the government’s duty of care to people claiming benefits.

The DNS report shows that the DWP illegally delayed its response to a Freedom of Information request demanding copies of all reports written by “Community Partners” in London in 2017 and 2018.

The report in question had been created by three disabled people who had joined the “Community Partners” initiative that had been set up to improve relations between the DWP and local communities.

They wrote it only weeks after joining, after becoming increasingly alarmed by the failure of 18 Job Centres to take basic actions that would protect people claiming benefits such as universal credit, employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.

DNS described some of the incidents, as recorded by one of the “Community Partners” going under the pseudonym “Rachel”:

On one occasion, Rachel heard a member of staff explain that a claimant with cancer of the spine, who needed his dressing changed every day, should be found fit for work “so he’s looking forward to the future”.

She also remembers sitting in on an interview with a universal credit claimant, who was 55 and not disabled and had just been made redundant.

He had been hit by the bedroom tax and said repeatedly that he was hungry because he was so short of money, but the DWP civil servant failed to tell him that he could request foodbank vouchers.

When Rachel asked the civil servant after the interview why she had not told him he could ask for vouchers, she was told: “Because he didn’t ask.”

Rachel said: “He said four times that he was hungry and couldn’t afford to go shopping and didn’t have enough money for food.

“That is just dangerous. That person is going to end up with malnutrition and depression.

“It was just a regular guy who was doing his best and did not know how the system worked, let alone that the magic word was ‘foodbank’.”

On another occasion, a man in extreme mental distress who had previously self-harmed in the Brixton jobcentre after being found fit for work, returned to the jobcentre and again began self-harming by banging his head against a window.

Staff were standing around watching, said Rachel, who had to take control, find a manager and tell them to contact the council’s social services department.

Despite her intervention, no report on the incident was written, despite her repeatedly asking for an incident report form.

She believes her insistence that the incident needed to be written up was one of the reasons she was eventually sacked, although DWP claimed it was because she had retweeted a social media post criticising Iain Duncan Smith, even though she believes the tweet was sent before she started working for DWP.

She said: “They all know they are putting people at risk but all they are concerned about is ticking boxes.”

Note the claim that “Rachel” was sacked for criticising Iain Duncan Smith – tacit confirmation that the Conservatives coerce employees into silence about their harmful policies and practices.

According to DNS, the DWP illegally delayed releasing the documents that had been requested, then said the report by “Rachel” and the other two “Community Partners” had been destroyed under a rule that such documents should not be kept longer than 12 months.

This is an unconvincing argument because the DNS Freedom of Information request had been made four months before that period had expired.

The evidence is clear: The Department for Work and Pensions will never willingly help benefit claimants whose safety is in danger.

There are moves to force the department support its own safeguarding rules: The Justice for Jodey Whiting petition demands an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP.

The petition was set up because the department failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017.

It has been signed 25,000 times in three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it may be debated in Parliament.


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What’s the REAL motive behind the Tories’ racist ‘EU Settlement Scheme’?

Oh yes you are: The Conservative government could have granted EU citizens in the UK a continuation of all the rights they enjoy now but it didn’t. Now they face a future of persecution by the most overtly racist administration the UK has had in decades.

The UK’s Conservative government is creating a central register for one minority in the UK – EU citizens – holding data it can share freely and in secret with undisclosed private and public organisation in the UK and across the world. Why?

Bear in mind that the current Tory administration is well-known as a persecutor of minorities. Consider its treatment of the Windrush generation, of people with disabilities, and of those with long-term illnesses.

I’ve already explored the basics of this horrible idea.

Here’s the3million Twitter account – the largest grassroots organisation of EU27 citizens in the UK, campaigning to protect citizens’ rights – to explain the rest:

The thread concludes: “In summary, the UK Govt is creating a central register just for one minority in the UK, EU citizens, holding data it can share freely & in secret with undisclosed private & public organisation in the UK & across the world. This is truly shocking. /end https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/settled_status_app_data_privacy#outgoing-838331 

Professor Tanja Bueltmann has made a video clip explaining the implications:

In response to the latest revelations, she has added: “This is a *much bigger* scandal than the Home Office clip about settled status. Make sure you read this. Herein also lies to answer to a question many have asked me about what you can do to help: support @The3Million! One direct route to do so is here.

The link encourages you to become an “EU Citizens Champion”, donating funds to support the campaign for a legal immigration status that will protect all EU citizens and their families after Brexit and for the rest of their lives.

And if you need another incentive to visit the page and donate, consider this:

Will you really stand aside and let the Tories launch another Windrush scandal? Are you really the kind of person who’ll let a criminal government persecute anyone else, until there’s nobody left to help when they come for you?

I don’t think so.

Please prove me right.

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Freedom of Information challenge to Israel’s effort to undermine Jeremy Corbyn

This is an interesting development that may cast light on efforts to undermine the UK Labour Party, who has been targeted and the links between those behind the attacks.

But I wouldn’t get my hopes up just yet.

The Israeli government may block this, in much the same way the Department for Work and Pensions in the UK has been blocking attempts to bring reports on its behaviour – by disabled people – into public knowledge.

But if the information does come out, it will be interesting to see if my name is mentioned, along with a few prominent others.

Human rights activists have lodged a freedom of information request under Israeli law seeking documents about the state’s ongoing disinformation campaign against UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Israeli lawyer Eitay Mack on Sunday sent a letter on behalf of 18 Israeli citizens to the ministries of foreign affairs and strategic affairs.

Corbyn is a “thorn in the side” of Israel’s government, Mack’s letter tells the two ministries.

While these ministries “have been highly successful in their relations with regimes that are responsible for mass murder” and “that are infected with anti-Semitism,” Israel’s government has a major problem with “a pro-Palestinian leader who supports human and civil rights,” the letter observes.

As examples of Israel’s friendly relations with anti-Semitic governments, Mack cites Hungary, Poland and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, according to the letter, Corbyn has “thwarted attempts by the two ministries to silence any critique of the State of Israel and the Netanyahu government” by labeling such criticisms as anti-Semitism.

This is a reference to the current Israel lobby attack on Labour for refusing to adopt verbatim the controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Given this history, the activists demand public scrutiny of the Israeli government’s intervention in British politics, including all “information, documents and records as to correspondence by the two ministries with NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], groups, individuals and journalists in the UK, regarding the UK Labour Party and Mr. Corbyn.”

Source: New challenge to Israel’s effort to undermine Jeremy Corbyn | The Electronic Intifada</em

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The only way the Tory government has ‘lost’ controversial archive papers is DELIBERATELY

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett says the ‘loss’ of documents about controversial periods in history is unacceptable [Image: AFP].

This Writer would not believe for a single moment that the Conservative government has ‘lost’ important archive papers on some of the most controversial episodes of recent history – and nor should you.

The politics of the past seven years has shown very clearly that the Conservatives cannot be trusted – and Theresa May’s government least of all. They are trying to whitewash history, in my opinion.

The fact that the documents were borrowed from the National Archives by civil servants means nothing. Civil servants act on the orders of government ministers.

Some of these documents may be easily replaced, such as the Zinoviev letter, which was an attempt by MI6 officers to bring about the downfall of the first Labour government. There are plenty of copies of that item in circulation! So an attempt to whitewash this attempt at political meddling is unlikely to succeed – but you can understand why some might want to try. I wonder, do we know the names of those who ordered that attempt?

Consider this, from The Guardian:

“An entire file on the Zinoviev letter scandal is said to have been lost after Home Office civil servants took it away. The Home Office declined to say why it was taken or when or how it was lost. Nor would its say whether any copies had been made.”

That is unacceptable. Those documents are public property and the entire workforce of the Home Office are public servants. They answer to us – and that means they must provide answers to us when we demand them.

The material involved with the Troubles in Northern Ireland has already gathered attention because of the potential to hide human rights abuses by the UK government (or governments). Already, organisations have made their concerns clear:

“Theresa May must order a government-wide search for these ‘lost’ files and their restoration to their rightful place in the archives at Kew,” said Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland programme director.

“Victims of human rights abuses in Northern Ireland have a right to full disclosure of what happened to them and their loved ones at the hands of the state.

“Accountability and justice demand that these files are among the evidence available to families, judges and historians in determining the truth of what happened here during three decades of violence,” said Corrigan.

“Revelations that government departments are requisitioning and then misplacing crucial files strengthen our view that decisions on the disclosure of findings by the proposed Historical Investigations Unit in Northern Ireland cannot be left to UK government ministers, as currently demanded by the Northern Ireland Office.”

Reprieve – the human rights advocacy organisation – also condemned the government, fearing that future possible abuses may be hidden from the public eye.

“This is deeply troubling and unfortunately follows a pattern we have seen before,” said Maya Foa, director. “Ministers have previously blamed ‘water damage’ for destroying crucial files showing complicity in rendition and torture, and right now they are forcing legal cases seeking to expose the truth about UK involvement in George Bush’s ‘war on terror’ into secret courts where the public and press are denied access.”

Similar files held in the National Archives have previously been instrumental in exposing human rights violations committed by the UK in Northern Ireland.

A 1977 letter from the home secretary, Merlyn Rees, to the prime minister, Jim Callaghan, documented how ministers gave permission for the use of torture against internees in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, evidence that was reportedly withheld from the European court of human rights.

In total, more than 1,000 documents – all of which have been declassified and should be available for the public to access – have been removed from the National Archive and no copies are available.

So, serious questions need to be answered:

  • Why are there no backup copies of these documents? We live in a computer age, and digital copies would provide at least a modicum of assurance that the documents are available, especially if the originals are loaned out on the orders of government ministers.
  • And who took them? Any ordinary lending library provides material only to people who are valid members of that library and, when they do take items, the library has a record showing who took them and when. This makes it easy to track those items and – if they are kept for longer than the specified time, or lost – fine the person responsible. Why does the National Archive not follow the same security procedures?

Labour’s Jon Trickett has already demanded action:

“The loss of documents about controversial periods in history is unacceptable.

“The British people deserve to know what the Government has done in their name and their loss will only fuel accusations of a cover-up.

“These important historical documents may be a great loss to history – and their disappearance must urgently be investigated.”

He’s right. Until all the documents are returned to the National Archive, until the names of those who withdrew them are known, and until the ministers who told them to take the documents and hide – or, worse, destroy – them are identified, we can only conclude that the current Conservative government has removed them in order to hide historical facts that are embarrassing to the Conservative Party or its members.

If the current government cannot – or will not – return the documents it has stolen, then it has betrayed the public trust and should resign.

And if you’re laughing at the thought, This Writer wouldn’t be at all surprised.

This is a story of corruption – and the corrupt will do anything to pretend they aren’t crooked.


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‘NHXit’ – privatisation fiasco worsens as bosses are told to keep quiet about cuts – and mess it up

[Image: Thinkstock.]

[Image: Thinkstock.]

This is all part of what This Writer reckons we should be calling ‘NHXit’.

The Conservatives have already cut real-terms funding to the English NHS.

Now they are ensuring that the service won’t work with secret plans to cut delivery in important areas.

The plans have to be secret because otherwise people will know that their publicly-funded health service is being deliberately sabotaged by their government – right?

That would not suit the Tories because they want to whip up a storm of protest at the failings of the publicly-funded service – so they can then hand it over to private hands.

Of course, the Tories didn’t really have a chance with this because the plans were always bound to come into the public domain before they were ready.

What is perhaps more disheartening is the fact that it won’t make a difference to many people – they will simply sit back and accept the destruction of the health service as they know it.

One wonders what it will take to motivate them – Jeremy Hunt driving a stake through an elderly relative’s heart while screaming, “Leaner, fitter, stronger,” perhaps?

NHS chiefs are trying to keep plans to cut hospital services in England secret, an investigation has found.

Full details of 44 reviews of services around the country – which involve closing some A&Es or, in one case, a whole hospital – are yet to emerge.

That is because NHS England told local managers to keep the plans “out of the public domain” and avoid requests for information, the King’s Fund suggested.

Managers were even told how to reject freedom of information requests.

The King’s Fund report did not include any details of cuts, but from the leaks and plans that have been published so far a partial picture is emerging of what is involved.

This includes:

  • Plans in south west London to close one of five hospitals – St George’s, Kingston, Croydon, St Helier or Epsom
  • The North Tees proposal to centralise specialist services, including A&E, on two sites. It would lead to services being downgraded at one of the three major hospitals in the area
  • In Devon bosses are looking at whether to close some A&E, maternity and stroke services at hospitals across the county so they can be centralised at bigger sites
  • In Merseyside there has been talk of merging four hospitals – the Royal Liverpool, Broadgreen, Aintree and Liverpool Women’s – to plug a £1bn shortfall, according to leaked documents
  • Plans in Birmingham and Solihull involve reorganising maternity services with fears this could result in fewer units
  • Bosses at North Central London have talked about a consolidation of services on fewer sites, leading to fears that the Whittington Hospital could lose its A&E

During its research, the King’s Fund carried out interviews with staff involved in four of the reviews, known as sustainability and transformation plans (STPs). These were done on an anonymised basis.

The local managers said they had been told to keep the process “private and confidential”, which one described as “ludicrous”, while another said the leadership had made the “wrong judgement call” in its approach to managing the process.

Source: NHS bosses ‘trying to keep cuts secret’ – BBC News

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

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

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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Tories should scrap Freedom of Information review, says Tom Watson


Tom Watson is making sense here; perhaps that is his biggest handicap.

Let’s face it: Since returning to office in 2010, the last thing to concern the Conservative Party has been making any kind of sense at all!

We’ve had ideological display after ideological display, doing nothing for the good of the nation and much for the interests of a very few, very rich, Conservative Party donors.

Yet somehow, enough of the voting public have seen fit to continue supporting the Conservatives in their crazy, ill-conceived and short-sighted schemes.

If you know any of these people, please ask them why they are so keen to divest themselves – and the rest of us – of all the freedoms that we have managed to gain over the last two or three hundred years.

Some of us really want to know their reasons.

Since returning to power as a majority government, free of the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives have introduced a battery of measures to weaken the opposition and to limit accountability: the freedom of information act review, the planned reduction in the House of Lords’ powers, the 19 per cent cut in public funding for opposition parties and the trade union bill.

In a speech [this] morning, Tom Watson, Labour’s most vigorous champion of civil liberties, [was set to] take aim at this agenda. He [was to] call on the Tories to abandon their FoI review, describing it as “a particularly egregious example of their determination to reverse the transparency Labour introduced.”

“It doesn’t have the support of the public,” he [was expected to] say, “it is opposed by many of the organisations that are covered by FoI; it has been condemned by the Information Commissioner and slammed by a former head of the civil service. It’s a waste of taxpayers money and it’s time it was scrapped. The Freedom of Information Act works well. Labour would strengthen and extend it.”

Watson [was set to] highlight the disparity between the Tories’ actions and their past words in opposition and coalition.

Source: Tom Watson bids to reclaim personal liberty for the left

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Freedom of Information Act consultation a ‘full frontal attack’, says actor Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen is another celebrity who is a hero of Vox Political.

He supported This Writer’s Freedom of Information request on the DWP deaths and now he is supporting our right to know.

We need more high-profile people speaking out against the Conservative Government’s plans, but for now, let’s all be grateful for Mr Sheen and his words.

The independent Commission on Freedom of Information launched a call for evidence on the government’s proposals to restrict freedom of information requests, on October 9. You may not have heard of it because it does not appear to have been publicised widely at all.

Only 16,000 responses have been received and the deadline to submit evidence is midnight today (November 20).

You can make your response heard:

  • online
  • by email: [email protected]
  • in writing: Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, 9.54, 9th Floor, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ

Actor Michael Sheen has added his voice to calls for the Freedom of Information Act to be protected, warning it is under “full frontal attack” by the Government.

The Welsh star said the public’s right to know should “transcend the political rivalries and jostling that make up the daily cut and thrust of the Westminster bubble”.

The comments come as a cross-party commission considers changes to the legislation, potentially including more charges for access to material.

Sheen, who has portrayed former Prime Minister Tony Blair on screen, said: “The public right to know is a principle that transcends the political rivalries and jostling that make up the daily cut and thrust of the Westminster bubble.

“You don’t need to look too far afield to find examples of nations where citizens are denied this right, and to see the consequences for those people.

“When the public right to know is not upheld, government, at both a national and local level, becomes opaque and removed from the very people it is meant to serve …

“The consultation on the Freedom of Information Act, currently being undertaken by an ‘independent commission’ appointed by the Government, is nothing short of a full frontal attack on these principles.

“If the politicians and civil servants behind this assault get their way, then the right of you and I to understand the workings of our democracy will be seriously damaged.

“Newspaper journalism, whether local or national, has used FOI to hold the government to account on everything from MPs’ expenses to staff shortages in the NHS.

“It is an essential medium for making sense of the wealth of information which the Freedom of Information Act provides access to.”

Sheen said he was a “passionate” campaigner, and “a strong NHS with the ability to provide excellent healthcare to citizens is particularly close to my heart”.

“Without a strong FOI Act, it would be much harder for me and those like me to see and understand the effects of Government policy on this vital service,” he said.

“That’s why I am voicing my support for a strong FOI Act which should be extended and strengthened rather than weakened.”

Source: Freedom of Information Act consultation a ‘full frontal attack’ – Michael Sheen – BT

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Incapacity: Fewer claimants died after DWP suspended repeat assessments

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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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