The Disability News Service has reported Vox Political‘s victory over the DWP, whose officers have less than a month to report the total number of deaths involving people claiming Employment and Support Allowance between November 2011 and May 2014.
The article quotes John McArdle, co-founder of campaigning organisation Black Triangle, who said the updated statistics would be vital: “When the truth comes out about the devastation that this has caused, the whole of society will be absolutely appalled.”
Rick Burgess, co-founder of New Approach, which campaigns to scrap the fitness for work test, said: “People should know the cost of policies they are voting upon, especially when they are causing mass deaths.”
There is much more, and you are encouraged to visit the Disability News Service‘s website to read the full article.
If the Conservative Party forms the next government, the deaths will undoubtedly continue – no matter what the figures prove to be, or the public response to them.
Denied benefit: This is the late Karen Sherlock. Her illnesses included chronic kidney disease, a heart condition, vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, underactive thyroid, asthma, diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastropaeresis, and diabetic retinopathy. She died on June 8, 2012, of a suspected heart attack, after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her Employment and Support Allowance.
The Department for Work and Pensions has commented on this blog’s success in forcing it to reveal the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014.
Readers of this blog will recall that the DWP had refused a Freedom of Information request, made in May last year, but the Information Commissioner’s Office upheld an appeal that used its own rules to demonstrate that the Department had been wrong in law.
The comment appeared in an excellent article by Ros Wynne-Jones of the Daily Mirror. She had contacted the DWP after receiving a press release on the subject from Vox Political – and we should be grateful to her for doing so. Comments to the mainstream media are invariably delivered much more quickly than responses to members of the public.
It is more interesting in what it does not say than it what it does. There is no reference to the fact that the DWP had been found to be wrongly applying the law; no suggestion that it will abide by the Information Commissioner’s ruling; in fact no reference to the Vox Political appeal at all.
Instead, we are told: “It is irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim. Mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population.
“We’ll respond to the Information Commissioner in due course.”
Irresponsible, is it?
There are several ways to disprove this.
Firstly, let us consider the different elements of the Vox Political request. By definition, anybody in the work-related activity group of ESA is believed to be capable of recovering from their illness sufficiently to take a job within 12 months of making their claim. Between January and November 2011, the number of people in this group who died was 1,300; it should have been zero. It is therefore possible to claim that they were put in the wrong group (by a system that may have had targets to meet – but that is a different matter) and that their deaths may have been caused by the stress they faced in having to meet the conditions required by the DWP – or lose their benefit.
We can only say these deaths may have taken place for this reason, because the DWP has not carried out any research on the subject. This displays what many may conclude is a shocking carelessness on the part of the government department. Just one death, in this group, was one too many – but DWP officers, and Coalition Government ministers, allowed more than 1,000 to take place and have done nothing to research the cause and prevent more from happening.
For these reasons, it is simple to conclude that anyone who died while appealing against a DWP decision and those who died after being found fit for work should also be included in the statistics, although it seems likely the DWP will claim it has not researched the number of deaths taking place among those found fit for work. We have news stories covering some of these deaths, so the Department cannot claim ignorance that any deaths were taking place; therefore its omission of any investigation may be considered dereliction of duty on the DWP’s party.
It is possible for the DWP to claim that its comment is accurate regarding people in the support group of ESA – but only to a certain extent. This is why Vox Political initially left support group deaths off the original calculation of the average number of deaths taking place among claimants of ESA; this blog made it out to be around 60 people per week. But a commenter pointed out that being placed in the support group does not mean that a person with a long-term illness will be left alone, and that it is entirely possible that harassment by the DWP could have led to premature deaths in this group; people in the support group are subjected to periodical reassessments that not only cause extreme stress but may be called at random intervals, rather than at regular times. It is entirely possible for a person in the support group to be found fit for work, and have to appeal against the decision – causing more stress. And anyone winning an appeal is entirely likely to find a notice of reassessment in their letterbox the very next day – signalling a return to the beginning of that cycle of stress.
Under these circumstances, This Writer had no choice but to include people in the support group among the death toll – pushing the average during the period covered in 2011 up to more than 220 per week. Although the DWP’s claim that “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher” is more likely to be correct when applied to people in this group, the Department simply has not done any research on the causes of death. Instead, we have news stories which make it very clear where responsibility lies.
That leaves people who are in the assessment phase of the process. Readers will be aware that the DWP has lengthened this part of the claim procedure hugely by adding a new “mandatory reconsideration” procedure – if a claim is refused, the claimant may not appeal against it until after “mandatory reconsideration” has taken place. There is no time limit in which it must take place and no benefit is paid during the “mandatory reconsideration” period. It is hard to believe this is not intended to place the lives of vulnerable people at risk. How are they supposed to pay the bills, with no money coming in? If they have a mental health condition, won’t this be worsened by the incessant money worries being forced on them by this DWP-enforced process? Of course it will.
Examples of ESA-related deaths (and suicides) are a running theme in Vox Political; this blog has recounted the stories of dozens of people who either died after their benefit was withdrawn or committed suicide because they could not see a way out. We have seen stories of people with terminal cancer being ordered to go to work; of people on their deathbeds being told to attend an interview for work-related activity or lose benefits; of one person with severe mental health problems who had been thrown off sickness benefit and sanctioned off of JSA, who froze to death in the street because he had nowhere else to go.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith lied on television yesterday (May 5), during a debate on the benefit system, when he said no such review had taken place. The Green Party subsequently demanded a formal apology from the minister, for misleading the public.
One final point: Duncan Smith’s, and the DWP’s, arguments would never stand up in a court of law. There is a wealth of evidence to show the connections between people losing benefit and their subsequent deaths. The DWP has supplied none to disprove those connections. Therefore, if this matter were being tried under jury conditions (as it may be, if allegations of corporate manslaughter are made after the information becomes available) then a jury would have no choice but to convict the representatives of the public organisation.
Duncan Smith labelled the allegations against him and his department “cheap”.
We’ll see how cheap they prove, when all the information is available to the public.
In the meantime, Vox Political‘s advice to readers is unchanged: The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have withheld the facts from you.
Almost a week after being ordered to reveal the number of sickness benefit claimants who have died between November 2011 (the last statistics published) and May 2014 (when This Writer submitted a Freedom of Information request for the facts) the Department for Work and Pensions has yet to furnish us with the figures.
Thanks to a delay of more than seven weeks before the Information Commissioner’s Office published its decision to uphold my appeal against the DWP and order officials to hand over the facts, the department does not – legally – have to deliver them until June 4, meaning people will have to vote in the general election without knowing how many of their fellow citizens have died while in the care of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition.
Some of us don’t think that is acceptable. Here’s why:
Feel free to copy the image and share it everywhere – or even print it off as a poster if you like.
Vox Political will keep you updated as further developments take place.
It grieves This Writer to report that today, Vox Political Towers has received no envelope from the Department for Work and Pensions containing details of sickness benefit-related deaths between November 2011 and May 2014 – nor has there been any email contact.
It seems the DWP intends to keep us waiting the full 35 days legally afforded to it before providing an answer to that question – meaning we may be waiting up to four weeks after the general election.
There is good news, though – certain members of the mainstream media have been in touch and we may see news stories on the subject later today – depending on the decisions of editors.
In the main, though, it’s still down to those of us in the social media to raise awareness of this.
So here’s the latest infographic. Please feel free to copy and share, everywhere:
Hopefully there will be another infographic tomorrow – along with more positive news of the campaign to get this information out.
Believe it or not, there may still be some people in the UK who don’t know the Department for Work and Pensions has been ordered to release details of the number of sickness benefit claimants who have died since November 2011.
People of good conscience across the country – including several celebrities – have been publicising Vox Political‘s article on the subject, on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets – but the mainstream media of TV, radio and the national newspapers have been quiet so far, despite having been alerted to the issue by This Writer.
Quelle surprise, as the French might say.
It was never really likely that the right-wing press was going to publish material that is as critical of the last government as this undoubtedly is. It seems, if the message is to get out to the wider electorate, then we must get it there ourselves.
Here’s a handy infographic, for that very purpose:
Feel free to copy it and paste it onto your own Facebook page, Twitter messages, and emails to friends/family/local newspapers and anyone else you believe would benefit from the information.
This is a major issue. The mainstream media want to sideline it because it isn’t convenient for them. They find matters involving the sick and disabled very awkward as it might cast their moral stance in a bad light when they support right-wing political parties.
Don’t let it be sidelined.
Many Vox Political readers are doing their bit to inform the public. We all need to keep up the pressure, right up to polling day (Thursday).
Do it for the sick and disabled. Do it for the sake of your conscience. Do it for the UK.
Brian McArdle. On the BBC’s Question Time in November 2012, Iain Duncan Smith flew into a rage when Owen Jones challenged him about what happened to Mr McArdle, “57 years old, paralysed down one side, blind in one eye; he couldn’t speak. He died one day after being found ‘fit for work’.”
The Department for Work and Pensions has been ordered to disclose the number of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014.
The ruling comes from the Information Commissioner after an appeal by Vox Political‘s Mike Sivier.
But it seems likely to have been delayed – possibly for political reasons. If the number of deaths has been high, then it would generate a backlash against the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties that presided over them in the Coalition Government.
Mr Sivier said: “The decision notice was ready in March, but the Information Commissioner’s Office delayed its release for reasons that have not been given. Suppose a large number of deaths have taken place – I have heard suggestions that 60,000 people or more may have died as a result of government policy.
“It seems clear that the revelation of many deaths may turn voters away from supporting the Conservatives or Lib Dems – so it seems appropriate to question that delay. Will the election result be valid if the number of deaths is not known on May 7?”
The DWP had refused a Freedom of Information request on the grounds that the information would be published in the future (a section 22 exemption) – but the Information Commisioner found that officials had been wrong to do so.
The ruling means the DWP must disclose – within 35 calendar days of April 30 – the number of IB and ESA claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014, broken down into the following categories:
Those in the assessment phase,
Those who were found fit for work,
Those who were placed in the work-related activity group,
Those who were placed in the support group, and
Those who had an appeal pending.
In his ruling, the Commissioner states: “It appears … that the DWP has had reasonable time to prepare for publishing [the] information and that disclosure was not so novel or unusual given the previous requests and disclosures made.
“DWP have not supplied any detailed or convincing evidence about the time needed and what preparation would need to be undertaken during this time or what the specific impact of disclosure would be… The DWP has previously published similar information.
The decision notice continued: “It is not reasonable for the DWP, having had enough time to extract the information and prepare internally for publication, to seek further time to provide the information requested.
“The Commissioner also finds that delaying publication is not reasonable in light of the requests DWP have received from the public and the fact that the previous statistics published were around two years old at the time of the request.”
Mr Sivier said he had first asked for information on benefit-related deaths in the summer of 2013: “It was almost a year after the DWP had published an ‘ad hoc’ report entitled Incapacity Benefits (Deaths of Claimants).
“That document stated that 10,600 people had died between January and November 2011, while claiming benefits that should have helped them survive with a reasonable quality of life. Some of those people may have died because of their conditions but evidence that has become available since suggests that many died due to the stress of constant reassessment by an unsympathetic government department that was determined to clear as many people off its books as possible, no matter what the health risks might be.”
He said: “I knew that other FOI requests had been made in November 2012 – a year after the last date covered in the ‘ad hoc’ report – but they had been refused. When I made my request in June 2013, I publicised it via my website, Vox Political, and asked for others to submit a similar request in the hope that weight of numbers might sway the DWP. This was a mistake as the department was able to use FOI rules to dismiss my request as being ‘vexatious’.
“I made a new request last May, and the DWP illegally delayed its response by several months. When ministers finally denied me the information, claiming they would be publishing it at an unspecified date in the future, I checked the rules and found that they were wrong. That is why I appealed to the Information Commissioner – and I am delighted that the Commissioner has upheld my appeal.”
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the DWP may appeal to the Information Rights Tribunal, but Mr Sivier said he doubted any such appeal would succeed: “I took my first request to a tribunal and, although the decision was upheld, the judges stated that they were extremely sympathetic to my cause.
“They said they did not see any reason why another FOI request, properly made out, should not be successful. That is why I tried again.”
It seems Yr Obdt Srvt has become the victim of DWP game-playing that shows contempt for sick and disabled benefit claimants whose lives are threatened by poor decision-making.
You may be familiar with the following saying (or at least with the fact that George W Bush wasn’t): “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
I mention this as a precursor to the following story, for reasons that should become clear.
Back in May, I sent another Freedom of Information request to the Department for Work and Pensions, again asking for an update of the ad-hoc statistical release Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients from mid-2012 (long-term readers will be aware a previous request was refused as “vexatious”).
In it, I pointed out: “A response to a previous Freedom of Information request (FOI 2013-IR665) stated that ‘Whilst we currently have no plans to directly update the ad hoc report on “Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients” published on 9th July 2012, the Department does monitor requests we receive for new statistics and consider whether we can produce and release analysis that will helpfully inform public debate. The Department is therefore looking at this issue with a view to seeing what statistics could be produced on a regular basis.’
“It went on to state that ‘the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As I have explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.’
“I have studied DWP release schedules extensively and in the 11 months since I made my request, I have found no publication of statistics on this issue… Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue… will be published in due course’ made in error?
“If this is the case, then there can be no public interest argument against disclosure of this information in response to either my previous request or any future request, as it is not set to be published as part of the DWP’s current schedule. I remind you that this is time-sensitive information; it is important that the data becomes public knowledge as soon as it is available, in order to inform government policy and avoid preventable fatalities in the future.”
If this was not the case, I continued, then – as at midday on May 28 this year, what was the date on which it is planned that the DWP will be publishing figures from November 2011 to those which are most up-to-date?
If no date of publication was set down, I concluded, then the DWP had a duty to provide an update, to me, immediately.
I reminded the Department’s FOI officers that an email from the DWP to the Information Commissioner’s office, dated October 21, 2013, stated that “we can confirm that the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit… the information requested.”
The substantive issue: A DWP statistical release in 2012 showed that more than 200 people were dying every week as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s changes to assessment procedures for incapacity benefits – either they were put into groups where unreasonable demands were placed on them or the stress and anxiety of constant re-assessment was too much for their bodies to take. Many were driven to suicide.
Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my request. I therefore invoked my right to have it reconsidered, immediately after the legally-prescribed period ran out. By this time the DWP was already breaking the law.
Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my reconsideration request. Are you getting angry about this yet? Remember, it is about deaths caused by government policy. I therefore notified the Information Commissioner and requested a ruling on this matter.
The Commission responded late last month, saying the DWP had 10 working days to get a response back to me. Tomorrow was the deadline and the response arrived today.
You’re really not going to like it.
“Unfortunately there was a mistake in the response you were sent for FOI 2013-IR665. Due to an administrative error an Annex A (about the Public Interest Test) appeared at the very end of the letter. It was not intended for this response and as such there is no mention of it anywhere in the main letter.
“So the answer to your first question ‘Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue [incapacity benefits: deaths of recipients] will be published in due course’ made in error?’ with respect to the reply you received is yes. That statement was not intended to be part of the response and was therefore made in error. We therefore attach a corrected copy of the reply to FOI 2013-IR665 and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
That is not good enough. There was no way I could have read that response without believing that I was being told updated statistics were to be published in the future; any other interpretation would have defied common sense.
Also, it makes a nonsense of what was said in the body of the response – that the DWP was working on releasing figures on a regular basis.
And it means one of two things: Either the DWP was lying then, when it said work was progressing on what could be published, or it is lying now, by saying the information about the public interest test was included in error.
Either way, it seems clear that the intention was to stop my request from progressing any further.
Let’s move on to the really insulting part. Today’s response states, and I quote verbatim:
“We can confirm that we do intend to publish further statistics on this topic and these will answer a majority of your questions. As the statistics are intended for future publication this information is exempt from disclosure under the terms of Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) of the FOIA. This exemption is qualified, and is therefore subject to a public interest test. The public interest test is where the Department considers whether the balance of the public interest falls in favour of withholding or disclosing the information requested.
“Arguments in favour of disclosure: There are public interest arguments in favour of disclosure of this information at the present time. Disclosure would for example improve transparency in the operations of the Department.
“Arguments against disclosure: There are public interest arguments against disclosure of this information at the present time. These arguments include that it is in the public interest to adhere to the existing publication process for official statistics, which includes time for the data to be collated and properly verified.
“It is also in the public interest to ensure that the publication of official information is a properly planned and managed process, to ensure that the data are accurate once placed into the public domain. It is also in the public interest to ensure that the information is available to all members of the public at the same time, and premature publication could undermine the principle of making the information available to all at the same time through the official publication process.
“On this occasion, the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.
“We do not have a planned publication date at this stage but we will pre-announce the agreed date.”
That’s right – having apologised for misleading me into believing that updated information was to be produced when it wasn’t, the DWP went on to say that updated information was to be produced, but it wasn’t going to provide that information to me – even though no publication date has been set – for precisely the same reasons, to the letter, for which it had just apologised.
I get the impression that someone in Caxton House is trying to be funny.
What a big joke – to put off a Freedom of Information request about thousands of needless deaths with an excuse that has already been used wrongly, on the basis that it was wrong then but it isn’t now.
No. Not funny.
Pants: Iain Duncan Smith
The situation is reminiscent of one mentioned in an article earlier today, wherein someone blew the whistle on Iain Duncan Smith’s expenses claim for underwear so he called her into a meeting and reduced her to tears with a show of belligerence. The substantive issue was of no interest to the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit); his only worry was that it should be hidden from the public. The same applies here.
As mentioned at the start: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t be fooled again.
The information is held by the DWP, and could be provided easily enough.
The public interest test cannot be applied to my request as the DWP has not proved that statistics on this issue will be published in due course. For this to apply, a publication date would have to have been provided in the response and none was forthcoming.
Therefore I conclude that the DWP’s response is false and will be appealing to the Information Commissioner again – and to the First-Tier Tribunal if necessary. The tribunal is likely to take a very dim view of this as, after a previous hearing, its members stated that “we have considerable sympathy for the appellant”.
We have to prove that these people are not above the law.
Picture the scene if you can: It’s shortly after 11.35pm on Thursday (June 5) and all my inboxes are suddenly overflowing – with the same message: Iain Duncan Smith will be on Question Time next week.
The implication was that there is an opportunity here – to show the public the homicidal – if not genocidal – nature of the changes to the benefit system this man mockingly describes as “welfare reforms”.
We were given the name of only one other panellist who will be appearing in the June 12 show, broadcast from King’s Lynn: Private Eye editor Ian Hislop. He is certainly the kind of man who should relish a chance to take the politician we call RTU (Returned To Unit) down a peg or two – in fact the Eye has run articles on DWP insanity fairly regularly over the past two decades at least.
Personally I’d like to see him joined by Michael Meacher and Owen Jones, at the very least. A rematch between Smith and Jones would be terrific television (but it is unlikely that the coward IDS would ever agree to it).
All such a panel would need to get started is a question about “welfare reform”. Then they could start at the beginning with the involvement of the criminal US insurance corporation Unum, which has been advising the British government since Peter Lilley was Secretary of State for Social Security. There appears to be a moratorium on even the mention of Unum in the British press so, if this is the first you’ve heard of it, now you know why.
Unum’s version of an unproven strand of psychology known as biopsychosocial theory informs the current work capability assessment, used by the coalition government to evaluate whether a claimant of sickness benefits (Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance or Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payment) should receive any money. The assessment leans heavily on the psycho part of the theory – seeking to find ways of telling claimants their illnesses are all in the mind and they are fit for work. This is how Unum wormed its way out of paying customers when their health insurance policies matured – and it is also how Unum received its criminal conviction in the States.
Members of the public have tried to use the Freedom of Information Act to pry updated figures from the DWP. I know of one man who was told that the 2011 figures were provided in an ‘ad hoc’ release and there was no plan for a follow-up; the figures are not collected and processed routinely. The last part of this was a lie, meaning the DWP had illegally failed to respond to a legitimate FoI request.
Having seen that individual attempts to use the FoI Act to get the information had failed, I put in a request of my own and suggested others do the same, resulting in (I am told) 23 identical requests to the DWP in June last year. Apparently this is vexatious behaviour and when I took the DWP to a tribunal earlier this year, it won.
But the case brought out useful information, such as a DWP employee’s admission that “the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit, some of the information requested”.
Now, why would the Department, and Iain Duncan Smith himself, want to withhold these figures – and lie to the public about having them? It seems to me that the death toll must have increased, year on year. That is the only explanation that makes sense.
The DWP, and its Secretary-in-a-State, have had their attention drawn to the deaths many times, if not in interviews then in Parliament. DWP representatives (if not Mr Duncan Smith himself) have taken pains to say they have been improving the system – but still they won’t say how many deaths have taken place since November 2011.
If it can be proved that DWP ministers were aware of the problem (and we know they are) but did not change the situation enough to slow the death rate (as seems to be the case), then it seems clear that there has been an intention to ignore the fact that people have been dying unnecessarily. This runs against Human Rights legislation, and a strong case could be made for the corporate manslaughter of thousands of people.
And that’s just ESA!
When we come to PIP, there’s the issue of the thousands of claimants who have been parked – without assessment – for months at a time, waiting to find out if they’ll receive any money.
Universal Credit currently has no budget, it seems, but the DWP is clearly still wasting millions of pounds on a project that will never work as it is currently conceived.
It would be nice to think that at least one member of Thursday’s panel might read this article and consider standing up for the people, but it’s a long shot.
Possibly a million-to-one chance, in fact.
According to Terry Pratchett, that makes it an absolute certainty!
I have just sent out a ‘diary marker’ to press organisations, notifying them of the Information Tribunal that will be held in Cardiff next week.
Inevitably, there will be organisations I have missed – and I also want as much of the social media as possible to be aware of this and to be spreading the word. For that reason, I’m publishing the text of the press release below.
If you have a Facebook page, blog site, Twitter account or whatever, please feel free to use what follows and make sure people know that this is going on.
Tribunal – Law Courts, Cathays Park, Cardiff, April 23, 2014 at 10am
Incapacity benefits – deaths of claimants
A tribunal will decide whether the Department for Work and Pensions should be ordered to release its statistics on the number of people who have died while claiming Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance, at a hearing next week.
The First-Tier Tribunal (formerly the Information Tribunal) will be hearing an appeal by Vox Political blogger Mike Sivier, against a decision by the Information Commissioner and the DWP to refuse a Freedom of Information request on the subject.
The DWP published an ‘ad hoc statistical release’ in July 2012, showing that 10,600 claimants died between January and November 2011. Of these, 3,500 – or 73 people every week – were either going through the assessment process or had been put in the work-related activity group, intended for people who were expected to recover within a year, when they died.
The revelation provoked outcry from people suffering from disabilities and long-term illnesses, and seems to have discouraged the DWP from continuing to publish the figures.
Mr Sivier made his request in June 2013, after learning that the DWP had refused previous requests. The department at first claimed there was no intention to release any further statistics, and the information would take a great deal of time and effort to gather and collate – this is not true. In fact, the DWP later admitted that it does hold the information, and could provide it within the cost limit.
The next excuse was that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, accepted that there was interest in the figures and was considering how to publish them. This was claimed in August 2013. Since no plan to publish these time-sensitive figures after nearly nine months, we must conclude that, like the previous claim, it is not true. The figures are time-sensitive because it is important that the system be improved to prevent unnecessary deaths. Delays in publication mean the figures are unlikely to be used in that way.
Seeing that the DWP had brushed aside privately-made requests, Mr Sivier ensured that his was public knowledge by writing an article about it in his blog (at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2013/06/25/dwp-refuses-to-provide-information-on-esaib-deaths-what-is-it-hiding/). As an afterthought, he included a line encouraging readers to follow his example, if they believed the issue was important, reasoning that the DWP may give more weight to it if it was known that there was general concern.
The DWP refused the request, claiming it was “vexatious” under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Officers had visited the blog and concluded that the last line, “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers,” constituted a co-ordinated campaign of harassment against the department.
Mr Sivier believes this is nonsense and appealed to the Information Commissioner on this basis. But the Commissioner was persuaded by the DWP and upheld the decision, forcing Mr Sivier to take the matter to the tribunal.
Confrontation: Let’s hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image: bradfordschools.net]
Vox Political is going to court.
A tribunal on April 23 – St George’s Day – will hear my appeal against the Information Commissioner’s (and the DWP’s) decision to refuse my Freedom of Information request for details of the number of people who died while claiming Incapacity Benefit or ESA during 2012.
The aim is to find out how many people died while going through the claim process, which is extremely stressful for people who are – by definition – ill or disabled; and also to find out how many have died after being put in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, as these are people who should be well enough to work within a year of their claim starting.
The Department for Work and Pensions has guarded these figures jealously, ever since an ‘ad hoc’ statistical release in 2012 revealed that, every week, an average of 73 people in the above two categories were dying.
According to the rules of the process, these were people who should not have come to the end of their lives while going through it. Clearly, something had been going wrong.
The DWP has strenuously denied this, and has made great efforts to promote its claim that it has improved the process.
But when at least two individuals asked for an update to the ‘ad hoc’ release at the end of 2012, all they received in return was delay and denial.
That’s what prompted me to make a very public FoI request in mid-2013. I published it on the blog and suggested that readers who felt the same way should follow my example.
The DWP claimed that this meant I had co-ordinated a campaign of harassment against it, and answering all the requests it received would create a severe burden on its already-taxed resources. It refused my request, claiming that it was “vexatious”.
In its own words, the DWP is an extremely-large, customer-facing government department with 104,000 employees. It is claiming that it received 23 requests that were similar or identical to mine in the period after my blog post – but I have not seen these and it is possible that this is inaccurate.
Severe burden? Campaign of harassment? It doesn’t seem realistic, does it?
I reckon I have a good chance of winning this – which brings me to the next issue: Winning is only part of this battle.
It won’t mean a thing if nobody hears about it.
Vox Political is a small blog. Agreed, some articles have been read by more than 100,000 people (presumably not all DWP employees) and hundreds of thousands more will have heard of them – but these are rare, and there are more than 60 million people in the United Kingdom.
If I win, I’m going to need help to get the information out to the public. I can’t rely on the mainstream media because they tend to support the government and may suppress the information. Having said that, I do intend to put out press releases and give them the opportunity to do the right thing.
But I also want to hear from people on the social media who want to help get this information out – either on blogs, organisations’ websites, personal websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. It doesn’t matter how many people follow you; if you want to help, please get in touch.
Please also feel free to suggest people or places that might help if contacted.
Reply using the ‘Comment’ box at the bottom of the article. I won’t publish your details but will use them to create a list of participants.
When I receive a verdict from the tribunal, I’ll put out an announcement and we’ll have to see how much noise we can make.
This is a chance for the social media to show what they can do.
Vox Political stands up for the vulnerable
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