Tag Archives: Age Standardised Mortality Rate

On Employment and Support Allowance, Ms Patel isn’t sitting pretty

Ignorant: Priti Patel will need to work a lot harder if she thinks she's going to convince anybody about the Conservative Government's appalling record of deaths among people on incapacity benefits.

Ignorant: Priti Patel will need to work a lot harder if she thinks she’s going to convince anybody about the Conservative Government’s appalling record of deaths among people on incapacity benefits.

The new Parliamentary session is going to be very hard on Iain Duncan Smith and his team (if you can call it that) at the Department for Work and Pensions. His skiving employment minister Priti Patel discovered this on her very first day back.

Ms Patel, who had the hypocrisy to criticise the UK’s workforce as lazy at a time when her own Parliamentary attendance record was among the lowest in the House of Commons, faced an inevitable series of questions on the government’s botched release of figures relating to the deaths of people claiming incapacity benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance – and of course messed up her answers ridiculously.

“It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit,” she stated. Oh, really?

Didn’t the DWP do just that in its statistical releases of August 27? Among the incapacity benefits population alone, the number of deaths recorded – by the DWP – between 2003 and 2013 was 444,620… or 448,300, depending on whether you’ve accepted the DWP’s accumulated death figure or checked them by adding together the separate totals for IB/SDA and ESA. As you can tell, they don’t add up – casting doubt on the reliability of any of the figures the DWP has released.

“It is impossible and completely wrong to draw any causality from the statistics,” continued Ms Patel, tragically. “Any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond those figures is wrong.” My word, she was keen to make sure we knew what the Conservative Party thinks is wrong, wasn’t she!

What a shame for Ms Patel that she was in the wrong. While the figures themselves do not – necessarily – damn the DWP’s activities since the Tories took over, they do provide enough information to support some serious questions about Conservative Government policy and its effects on people with long-term illnesses.

If all is well in the assessment of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, then why did the DWP deliberately mislead This Writer, by falsely claiming it could not answer my Freedom of Information request on the incapacity benefit deaths because those facts were to be published in the future? In fact, the DWP was planning to publish a set of ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’ – about which we’ll learn more in a moment. By using this tactic, the DWP successfully evaded answering my question for more than two years. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?

According to Ms Patel, when the ASMRs were finally published, they were “in line with Office for National Statistics requirements and to national statistics standard”. That’s all very well, but the ONS provides information on how to create ASMRs that means the figures published on August 27 are, at most, a single day’s work for one person at the DWP. I submitted an FoI request on May 28, 2014, meaning they were published almost one year and three months later, with no reason provided for the delay. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?

Ms Patel said: “Specifically with regard to the statistics, the trend is that the number of people dying, as a proportion of the population, is going down.” What clever phrasing (she no doubt thought)! That is, indeed, what the ASMR statistics show. But the population of the UK is increasing rapidly, and this affects per-head-of-population figures like ASMRs – perhaps Ms Patel should have liaised with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister before passing her comment.

The numbers paint a different story. For the sake of transparency, This Writer has been using the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and the number of people who have died after being declared fit for work in order to demonstrate this. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of people in the WRAG increased by nine per cent. The number of deaths increased by 24 per cent – from 2,990 people to 3,720. Increased. This does not indicate a downward trend. This is in a group where the Conservative Government expects – no, demands – that people will be ready to return to work within a year. This means members of the group should have no worse life expectancy than anyone in the general population, but if you apply the death rate among the general population to the WRAG, then the number of deaths in 2012 should have been 1,037, and in 2013 the total should have been 1,132 – in both cases, that’s around one-third of the actual figure. Priti Patel wants us to think that is no reason to question whether the work capability assessment – the procedure used to decide if a person should receive ESA and whether they deserve to go into the support group for people with severe illnesses or the WRAG – is fit for purpose. What do you think?

Let’s look at the number of people who have died after being assessed as fit for work. The media – and the Conservative Government – have been using this figure of 2,380 deaths from December 2011 to February 2014 (inclusive). But those are only people who died within two weeks of having their claim stopped (on the grounds that they were fit for work)! What about people like Mark Wood, who died of starvation, several months after the DWP decided he was fit for work? What about people who were moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were told they were fit for work? Did they all find jobs and live happily ever after? This seems unlikely. How many of them were sanctioned because they could not fulfil the requirements of their Jobseekers’ Agreement’? How often? How many of them died? How many people were pushed off benefits altogether, and what happened to them? We may accept the claim that it is wrong to extrapolate anything from the figures, but isn’t that because the figures have been deliberately phrased in order to make it so?

If you disagree, take a look at This Writer’s Freedom of Information request. The part requiring the DWP to state the number of people who died after being found fit for work calls for information covering the period between December 2011 and May 2014 (inclusive), covering everybody who had been claiming ESA but died within that period. The DWP has complied with neither of those parts of the request, despite having withdrawn its appeal against answering the FoI request, and is in danger of being in contempt of court. Do you think that is acceptable behaviour for a government department?

In a later exchange, Louise Haigh MP said: “Contrary to the Minister’s earlier remarks, figures finally released by the Department over the summer showed that 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work—more than four times the death rate of the general population. In a harrowing case, a constituent of mine reported to me that she frequently considered committing suicide, both before and after being found fit for work. Does the Minister not feel that it is therefore high time to review the work capability assessment and that thousands of people are being wrongly defined as fit for work?”

In response, Ms Patel said: “Organisations have commented on this and Full Fact, which is widely known, has said that similar comments to those made by the hon. Lady, which have been widely reported, are simply wrong.”

So Ms Haigh was wrong to say that her constituent had considered suicide due to the DWP’s treatment of her? Ms Patel had no right to make such a claim; she did not have any experience of the case.

As for Full Fact, the fact that the Conservative Government was using that website’s worthless article about the death statistics to justify its behaviour speaks volumes about the relationship between the two. We may not be able to draw conclusions about causality from the DWP’s death figures, but we may certainly draw conclusions about the DWP and Full Fact, it seems. This Writer’s advice is that any further comment on this subject from that website may be dismissed.

We should not have to wait too long for that fate to claim Ms Patel, also…

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More drivel, less fact from the BBC on incapacity benefit deaths

Mark Wood: He died of starvation several months after his ESA was stopped without warning by the DWP. The BBC's More or Less report ignores the fate of people like Mr Wood - their deaths are considered to be of no interest when evaluating the performance of the Conservative Government.

Mark Wood: He died of starvation several months after his ESA was stopped without warning by the DWP. The BBC’s More or Less report ignores the fate of people like Mr Wood – their deaths are considered to be of no interest when evaluating the performance of the Conservative Government.

If its reports on the deaths of state benefit claimants are any yardstick, nobody should trust the BBC’s More or Less programme as anything other than a propaganda wing of the Conservative Government.

“Tim Harford explains – and sometimes debunks – the numbers and statistics used in political debate, the news and everyday life”, states the blurb on the radio programme’s web page. But More or Less has form for broadcasting drivel and, sadly, the reality of last Friday’s report on the DWP’s recent statistical releases fell far short of acceptable journalistic standards.

Mr Harford started by saying the programme’s inbox “nearly exploded” after The Guardian announced that thousands had died after being found fit for work – then set the tone for the whole report by saying “thousands of people die after breakfast but that doesn’t mean that breakfast is to blame”.

This is a false argument – a bad analogy. People die all the time, for any number of reasons; it is whether they became more likely to die after being wrongly classified as fit for work that concerned the people who so overburdened the More or Less inbox.

“But The Guardian clearly thought it was on to something here,” continued Mr Harford, implying that it wasn’t. Who pays this man’s wages?

Quoting the lower-bound statistic of 2,380 people being found fit for work, and mentioning that the story had been picked up by many newspapers and websites, Mr Harford turned to Wesley Stephenson for an expert opinion. I’m not sure what credentials Mr Stephenson has for doing so – they don’t seem to have been mentioned in the piece.

This gentleman admitted that the facts were correct – as provided by the DWP in response to my now-infamous FoI request of May 2014 – adding that being found fit for work disqualifies a claimant from Employment and Support Allowance.

Mr Harford tried to fog the issue by relating it to a previous report in which people were said to have died after being kicked off-benefit when in fact (in fact? It was a claim by the DWP that was not supported by factual evidence) they had died and their claim had ended. But to his credit, Mr Stephenson said, “In this case, these 2,380 people were declared fit for work, and then they died.”

Now the report goes off-track. Mr Harford asked: “Did they die shortly after being declared fit for work, because that’s what The Guardian said?”

The response – “We don’t know” – is entirely wrong. Stephenson continued: “Originally The Guardian said these people died within two weeks of assessment but it has since published a correction. The DWP release, having looked at that, it doesn’t contain that information.”

He was making a mistake. The DWP release states quite clearly that 2,380 people with a WCA decision of “fit for work” flowed off-benefit with a date of death at the same time, meaning (if one checks the small print) “those whose date of death is up to 14 days after the claim end date for ESA”. We have already established that claims are ended when people are found “fit for work”, and it seems unlikely that anyone would argue that any time within two weeks of that isn’t “shortly after”. Therefore they did, indeed, die shortly after being declared fit for work.

Mr Harford then goes into what he describes as a “subtext” that the claim is unfair – “that the people who are being tested and then pronounced fit to work are either so ill that they promptly die or perhaps the strain of being forced into work has hastened their deaths”. Forced into work? Sloppy reporting; they were being forced to seek work that, the evidence indicates, they weren’t fit enough to carry out.

“Do we know anything about why these people died?”

While the answer is correct: “No… It could have nothing to do with the fit for work decision. They could be accidents, they could be unrelated illnesses – or they could be directly related, but there is no way of knowing, just by looking at the 2,380 deaths figure,” this seems to be making a false claim about my Freedom of Information request. There was nothing in it to suggest that I thought the figure that the DWP provided would prove its responsibility for any deaths that took place.

However, the fact that these people had been claiming a state benefit on the grounds that they were too ill to work and then died shortly after being refused that benefit, coupled with the fact that the DWP tried to hide the fact of these deaths for more than three years after the start of the period they cover, indicates that ministers have serious questions to answer regarding the causes of these deaths. Doesn’t it?

Mr Harford moved on to what he calls “the first rule of More or Less: Is 2,380 people a big number – bigger than we would expect?”

“Well, maybe, but it’s far from obvious. Over the same period, 80,000 people died while they were still on incapacity benefits, and in England and Wales as a whole, about a million people died.” This is another bad analogy – they’re deliberately not comparing like-for-like. Many of the people who died while they were still on benefits were likely to die because – of course – they were seriously ill. They cannot be compared with people who had been refused benefit and then died because – by the DWP’s standards – they were not in the same situation.

If these reporters had looked at the work-related activity group – ESA claimants who are expected to recover enough to return to work within a year of claiming, the number of people in that group over the calendar years 2012-13 rose by nine per cent, from 545,000-596,000 people, but the number of deaths in that group rose by 24 per cent, from 2,990 to 3,720. These were people who were supposed to be getting better, remember. Over the period covered by the FoI request, these 6,710 were joined by another 490 to total 7,200.

Looking at the population as a whole, the chance of anybody dying within the years covered was 0.19 per cent so, to take the work-related activity group in 2013 as an example, of 596,010 people, the expected death rate would be 1,081. In fact it was 3,720. That’s a statistically significant amount that the presenter of More or Less was trying to hide.

Even more to-the-point is the fact that the 2,380 deaths only includes those who passed away within the DWP’s two-week ‘scan’ period after their benefit claim was closed and ignores anyone who died even one day after the end of that period. Mark Wood, for example, died of starvation several months after the DWP stopped his ESA claim. How many more died in similar circumstances? It seems likely that the 2,380 known deaths may be just the tip of a very large proverbial iceberg.

As it happens, my FoI request posed exactly this question; it asked for the number of people who had died after being found fit for work between the beginning of December 2011 and the end of May 2014 – the whole period, not just two weeks around the closure of their claim. As the DWP has now withdrawn its objection to my request, it now stands liable to provide the full figures or be in contempt of court.

Moving on, Mr Harford asked whether people who had been found fit for work have been dying at a higher rate than the rest of the working-age population, “ooh – or even better, if these data were standardised to take account of people’s age and sex”. What a crawler. He knows the DWP has put out Age-Standardised Mortality Rates covering incapacity benefit claimants and he wanted to make it clear that he thinks they are a good idea, even though the rest of us know that they were only put together in order to make it seem that fewer deaths have been happening, when in fact they have been increasing.

“That would be absolutely marvellous, wouldn’t it?” enthused Mr Stephenson slimily, before going on to mention the DWP’s ASMR release, along with the fact that such figures have not been prepared for the group under discussion. This is hardly surprising – the ASMR release was created to convince people of a lie that deaths are decreasing, while ASMRs for people found fit for work would require the DWP to tell us the full number of deaths that have taken place, rather than just those that happened within a couple of weeks of the fit for work decision.

Stephenson did mention that the death rate for people on every type of incapacity benefit was four times higher than the rate among the population at large, but qualified his comment by saying: “That’s not really surprising, because these people are too ill or too disabled to work.” Does this lack of surprise include those in the work-related activity group, who are expected to get better? Does it include people in the assessment phase, many of whom may be denied the benefit or put into the WRAG? Does it include those in the mysterious ‘Unknown’ phase of ESA – for people who are only receiving NI credits – where the death rate has skyrocketed while the population has plummeted? Perhaps it’s more surprising than he – or the programme’s makers – want us to believe!

At least he had the decency to admit that “we don’t have the data we need to say whether something alarming is happening to people who are seeking some kind of disability assistance and then get declared fit for work.”

He also, rightly, admits that part of the reason for this is that the death figure doesn’t include people who have been moved onto, for example, Jobseekers’ Allowance.

But he said: “Even if we could, we would expect the ‘fit for work’ group to have a higher death rate than the working population, even if the government’s test is scrupulously fair and accurate. These people have other characteristics that are correlated with a higher mortality rate – they’re older, more likely to have low qualifications, more likely to be men, and more likely to have had low-paid jobs in the past, and of course, they’re making a claim for assistance, so even if they are fit for work, that doesn’t mean they’re in perfect health.”

There is so much wrong with this that it seems likely he was reading from a DWP press statement. Why would we expect somebody marked ‘fit for work’ to be more likely to die? The government has said they should be grouped with the wider population that has a much lower average death rate – that’s the whole thrust of the report up until this point. The claim that their other characteristics make them more likely to die is utterly unfounded for the reason that had just been reported: The DWP has not provided any information on the characteristics of that group.

Take, for example, the claim that they are more likely to die because they are more likely to be men. The average age at which a male UK citizen dies is in his seventies – not while he is working-age at all. Similarly, the comment that they are making a claim for assistance, and therefore aren’t likely to be in perfect health, also runs against a narrative we’ve been hearing from the government and its supporters for the past five years or more – that people who claim these benefits but fail are shirkers and skivers who are perfectly fit and healthy but just want something for nothing. Remember when the Tories were tubthumping about ending the “something for nothing” culture?

Now we’re being told that these skivers are actually more likely to die because they’re ill – in which case they should be on benefit after all. Which is it, DWP?

All those involved in this mockery of a report should apologise ashamedly for this travesty; this attempt to cover up the facts – not just to those of us who had to listen to their tripe but also to the many thousands of people who have died while claiming, or having been cut off from, social security benefits. Reports such as this are an insult to their memory.

The BBC may expect a strongly-worded complaint from me in the very near future. If you wish to do the same, the More or Less website provides a feedback form here.

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Why the delay, DWP? The ONS has templates on calculating death rates

incapacitydeathsAAV

Not strictly true: Many of the deceased had already completed appeals at the time of their death. We don’t know how many, though, because we don’t know how many of them lost. Even after giving up and releasing some figures, the DWP has been extremely vague with them.

Did you know that the Department for Work and Pensions spent two years delaying the publication of death figures for incapacity benefit claimants when they could have been completed in a week?

The Office for National Statistics provides information on how to calculate Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, including information on the size of the general population and the death rates for particular age ranges within it. You can download the templates yourself from this site.

This means that the Department for Work and Pensions could have used its own figures to complete this work within a single day – and could have had it verified within a week at the most.

Yet ministers chose to dawdle for more than a year – more than two years if you don’t believe the excuse that their 2013 claim to be publishing the figures in the future was a mistake.

Why?

Does it come down to the fact that 2,890 people died in December 2012, while claiming Employment and Support Allowance – a tripling of the average death rate for the previous 11 months?

Did ministers want to hide the fact that the policies of Iain Duncan Smith were causing more and more people to die while claiming the payments that should have helped them to live? And was this not happening when they should have been using the figures to prevent such deaths?

Does the law not state – explicitly – that anyone, in a corporate body such as the DWP, whose negligence causes the deaths of others, should face prosecution for corporate manslaughter?

When will we see justice done?

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Full Fact’s ‘fit for work’ coverage is unfit for use as toilet paper

falsefacts

Here’s a slimy little article for you: Sam Ashworth-Hayes’ piece on the benefit deaths at Full Fact.

The fact-checking website set him to respond to reporting of the DWP’s statistical release on incapacity benefit-related deaths, and he’s done a proper little cover-up job.

“It was widely reported that thousands of people died within weeks of being found ‘fit for work’ and losing their benefits,” he scribbled.

“This is wrong.

“Within weeks of ending a claim, not within weeks of an assessment.”

Not true – unless Sam is saying the DWP has failed to answer my Freedom of Information request properly.

If Sam had bothered to check the FoI request to which the DWP was responding, he would have seen that it demanded the number of ESA claimants who had died since November 2011, broken down into categories including those who had been found fit for work and those who had had an appeal completed after a ‘fit for work’ decision.

The date the claim ended is irrelevant; the fact that they were found fit for work and then died is the important part.

If the DWP finds someone fit for work, then it ends the claim anyway, you see. Obviously.

But Sam continues: “If someone is found fit for work, they can appeal the decision, and continue to receive ESA during the appeal process. There is no way of telling how long after the start of the appeal process those claims ended.”

Not true.

The statistical release covers those who had had such an appeal completed and then died – 1,360 of them. The release does not state that they should be considered separately from those who had a fit for work decision, meaning that this is one of several areas in which the release is not clear. In order to err on the side of caution, This Writer has chosen not to add them to the 2,650 total of those found fit for work. Any who were still deemed to be fit for work after their appeal ended, I have deemed to be among the 2,650.

The release most emphatically does not mention those who had appealed against a fit for work decision, but the appeal was continuing when they died, as Sam implies. The DWP asked me to alter my request to exclude them, and I agreed to do so. Therefore Sam’s claim is false. Nobody included in these figures died mid-appeal. Some died after being found fit for work again. Some died after winning their appeal and while they were continuing to receive their benefit – but they do not skew the figures because they aren’t added onto the number we already had (we don’t know how many of them succeeded because the DWP has chosen to follow the letter of the FoI request and has not provided that information). The outcome of the appeal is, therefore, irrelevant.

The point is, the decision that they were fit for work was wrong, because they died.

Let’s move on. Under a section entitled Mortality rates matter, Sam burbles:

“If 2,380 people were found fit for work from late 2011 to early 2014, and all 2,380 subsequently died in the process of challenging that decision, that would indicate that something was almost certainly going wrong in the assessment process.”

2,380? He means 2,650! For a person supposedly checking the facts, this was an elemental mistake to make.

“But if 2 million people were found to be fit for work, there would be less concern that the assessment process was going wrong; one in 1,000 dying could just be the result of the ‘normal’ level of accident, misfortune and sudden illness.

“If we want to know if people found fit for work are more likely to die than the general population, then age-standardised mortality rates would let us make that comparison while adjusting for differences in age and gender.

“Unfortunately, the DWP has not published an age-standardised mortality rate for those found ‘fit for work’.”

Fortunately, This Writer has been directed to a site whose author has attempted just that. This person states that the problem is that we don’t know how many people were found fit for work in total – only that there were 742,000 such decisions during the period in question. This would suggest that the number of people dying within the two-week period used by the DWP is 0.35 per cent of the total. We know that there were 74,600 deaths among the general working-age population in 2013 – a population totalling around 39 million – meaning the chance of dying within any two-week period was 0.007 per cent. So, using these crude figures, the probability of an incapacity benefits claimant dying after being found fit for work is no less than 50 times higher than for the working-age population as a whole, and probably much higher.

So sure, if Sam thinks mortality rates matter, let him look at that.

His article isn’t fit to be toilet paper, though.

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Known number of deaths while claiming incapacity benefits nears 100,000

[Picture: Skwawkbox blog]

[Picture: Skwawkbox blog]

The Department for Work and Pensions has admitted defeat in its attempt to hide the number of people who have died while claiming incapacity benefits since November 2011 – and has announced that the number who died between January that year and February 2014 is a shocking 91,740.

This represents an increase to an average of 99 deaths per day or 692 per week, between the start of December 2011 and the end of February 2014 – compared with 32 deaths per day/222 per week between January and November 2011.

The DWP has strenuously asserted that “any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics”.

It is correct to make this point.

The DWP has also claimed that “these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment”.

However, the increase in the frequency of these deaths is enough to raise questions about the way the incapacity benefit system is being run – questions that demand full, frank and immediate answers.

For example, the work-related activity group is composed entirely of people who are expected to recover from their illnesses and be well enough to return to work within a year. In that group, there should be no deaths at all – barring accidents. Why have nearly 10,000 people lost their lives after being assigned there?

Deaths in the support group and the assessment phase are more problematic because they involve people who do have serious illnesses, many of whom may be expected to die while claiming. But are these deaths being hastened artificially by the DWP’s treatment of them?

A statistical release published today (August 27) in response to my Freedom of Information request dating back to May 28, 2014, states that the total number of deaths involving claimants of Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance and Severe Disablement Allowance – between the start of December 2011 and the end of February 2014 is 81,140, including 50,580 (ESA claimants) and 30,560 (IB/SDA claimants). All figures are rounded up to the nearest 10.

Add this to the 10,600 deaths that were already known between January and November 2011 and you have 91,740.

Information for ESA claimants shows:

  • 7,540 deaths while claims were being assessed, bringing the known total to 9,740.
  • 7,200 deaths in the work-related activity group, bringing the known total to 8,500.
  • 32,530 deaths in the support group, bringing the known total to 39,630.
  • And 3,320 deaths in which the claimant was not in receipt of any benefit payment and is therefore marked as “unknown”.

The total number of claimants who flowed off ESA, IB or SDA whose date of death was at the same time and of those the number with a WCA decision of “fit for work”, between December 2011 to February 2014 was 2,650 (2,380 ESA, 270 IB/SDA).

And the total number of individuals who flowed off ESA, IB or SDA whose date of death was at the same time with a completed appeal following a WCA decision of “fit for work”, Great Britain: December 2011 to February 2014 was 1,360 (1,340 ESA, 20 IB/SDA).

The new numbers suggest the average number of deaths per day between January 2011 and February 2014 was around 79.5 – 556 per week.

This compares with an average between January and November 2011 of around 32 per day – 222 per week.

This Writer has not yet examined the DWP’s accompanying statistical release – providing the fudged Age-Standardised Mortality Rates between 2003 and 2014. The information in this one states that mortality dropped from 1,111 deaths per 100,000 (across all three benefits) to 1,032.

But claims for Incapacity Benefit (ESA didn’t exist at the time) were at an all-time high in 2003 – of nearly three million throughout the year. The numbers claiming this kind of benefit have both fallen and risen since then.

So what are we to conclude?

Firstly, the figures released today demand more considered, in-depth study than can be managed by This Writer within an hour or so of their release.

Second, that the DWP should drop its appeal against publishing them (for obvious reasons).

Third, that the Age-Standardised Mortality Rates give a false picture of the number of deaths – as predicted on this blog.

Finally, that serious questions must now be asked about the way incapacity benefits are being administered by the Department for Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith.

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Unrepentant IDS will persecute the sick no matter what the death statistics say

ids-auschwitz-meme

The publication of the DWP’s damped-down death statistics (we’ll be given ratios because the actual number of deaths is too inflammatory, we’re told) will be a victory for those of us who have campaigned for the facts, no matter what they actually say.

If you didn’t know already, the DWP only announced that it would publish these figures on Thursday (August 27) after This Writer supplied his submission to the Information Tribunal on the DWP’s appeal against providing the actual numbers – a submission which included a request to have the appeal struck out on the grounds that it is an abuse of process.

Suddenly the date of publication went from being “before the end of autumn” (according to Priti Patel) to August 27. Clearly the DWP was terrified that it would lose control of events and the public would get accurate information, and acted accordingly.

In short: IDS and his department fell apart like a paper bag in a thunderstorm.

It is impossible to say what the statistics will reveal, when they are finally published (at 9.30am on Thursday, it seems). Perhaps they will provide exhaustive information on the deaths that have taken place, broken down into the groups requested by This Writer and others (it is said to be in response to FoI requests), and also providing information on the causes of the deaths, with appendices containing the raw data used to produce the report.

Alternatively, we could get a dumbed-down piece of fluff that provides as little as possible that can be used to find out the extent of the carnage, but can be waved at us by Iain Duncan Smith as evidence that he has given us what we wanted… and as evidence that any figures demanded by the Information Tribunal are of little consequence.

That is the aim – damage limitation. To make it seem that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Plausible deniability.

The DWP already believes it has plausible deniability for every dodgy death on its books; no DWP representative can be said to be directly responsible for any of the deaths – they were a consequence of claimants’ illnesses, right? Even the suicides can be claimed as indicative of claimants’ poor mental health – except we know that anyone confessing suicidal thoughts at a work capability assessment is immediately asked why they haven’t already killed themselves.

Not conclusive? Maybe not. But then, that isn’t the only evidence available. It’s all part of a bigger picture.

In December last year, This Blog published a series of articles (here’s one) explaining how the DWP’s behaviour may be equated with the Nazi ‘chequebook euthanasia’ programme that eventually became known as Aktion T4 – a programme that caused the deaths of 70,000 German people with (among other problems) mental illnesses, before its methods were used against entire races the Nazis considered undesirable, in the extermination camps.

“It could be argued that the Coalition Government doesn’t have any blood on its hands. Nobody goes around the United Kingdom subjecting the sick and disabled to so-called ‘mercy’ killings, after all,” I wrote.

“They just subject people – who are already in an unstable frame of mind – to a highly pressurised ‘fitness’ test and then demand to know why, considering their condition, they haven’t killed themselves yet. Then they let those people do all the work themselves.”

On Thursday, it’s just possible that we might find out how successful they’ve been. If there have been more than 70,273 deaths in the last few years, the Conservative Party will have beaten the Nazis.

And Iain Duncan Smith intends to continue. Only this week, he announced a new plan to purge the Employment and Support Allowance benefit bill of mentally ill claimants. He told us “Work is good for your health”.

In fact, if you have a mental illness, work can drive you to an early death via a combination of (among others) stress, anxiety, depression and paranoia.

Duncan Smith’s claim that “Work is good for your health” may therefore be seen as a lie – almost as great a lie as the slogan from which it was adapted.

You’ll be familiar with it: “Work makes you free” – it hangs in its more familiar form of “Arbeit macht frei” over the gates of the Auschwitz extermination camp that Duncan Smith visited in 2009.

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Zac and Sarah don’t exist – why should we believe anything from the DWP?

'Sarah' - she doesn't exist and her story is a fake.

‘Sarah’ – she doesn’t exist and her story is a fake.

How can we trust the Department for Work and Pensions’ figures on incapacity benefit claimants’ deaths when we’ve had scandal after scandal from it over falsified evidence?

The Department for Work and Pensions has been caught out in another lie – this time over the existence of people in two fake ‘case studies’ used to promote its cruel, unfair and vindictive sanctions regime.

‘Sarah’ was quoted praising the DWP for threatening to withdraw benefits if she refused to complete her CV, while ‘Zac’ praised the new benefit rules, which had allowed him to continue receiving his money because he had offered proof of a hospital appointment.

'Zac' - he doesn't exist either and his story has also been faked by the DWP.

‘Zac’ – he doesn’t exist either and his story has also been faked by the DWP.

There’s only one problem – neither ‘Sarah’ nor ‘Zac’ exist.

The woman posing as ‘Sarah’ was also pictured in another government blog, The Daily Job Seeker, which offers advice on interview tips along with techniques and information about Universal Credit.

The DWP has been forced to admit that their comments were among a series of quotes on leaflets that were “fabricated” for “illustrative purposes”. All references to ‘Zac’ and ‘Sarah’ have now been removed from the various DWP information outlets.

The revelation that the DWP has been lying about its policies, using fake identities, has aroused yet another storm of protest against the Department and its Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Army bag-carrier who, This Blog maintains, should be removed from office as SNLR – ‘Services No Longer Required’.

It seems the DWP is claiming this blockhead had no knowledge of the deception, but it is impossible to accept this claim. The fictional accounts are intended to justify his failing policies and it is impossible to believe that civil servants would have created them if he had not demanded it.

Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn was quoted saying: “It is a damning indictment that civil servants are now being forced to make up quotes to cover for the failed political agendas of ministers, after the numerous debacles of Universal Credit, the work capability assessment, and the delays facing disabled people trying to get personal independence payments.”

Further embarrassment is in store for the DWP, after the industry body responsible for regulating the behaviour of organisations producing public relations material, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), launched an investigation into whether any of its members were involved.

CIPR president Sarah Pinch said: “Falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support is a naive and opaque technique which blatantly disregards the CIPR’s standards of ethical conduct. It is deeply disappointing if public relations professionals allowed it to be published.”

“A naïve and opaque technique which blatantly disregards… standards of ethical conduct.”

Let’s look at the DWP’s planned publication of Age-Standardised Mortality Rates for claimants of benefits including Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, and Several Disablement Allowance.

Firstly, we must ask why these figures are being prepared by the Department for Work and Pensions, and not by the Office for National Statistics (the organisation that has produced other age-standardised figures for the UK Government). Why?

The DWP and its representatives in Parliament have claimed that the creation of ASMRs has been undertaken by the Department, in order to meet “the high standards expected” by the UK Statistics Authority. Has anybody seen evidence that the UKSA has made any such demand?

Considering the ASMRs themselves, they provide a rate of deaths, per a certain number of the population, in comparison with the death rate among the population as a whole. It seems they are primarily used to predict future deaths. But the number of people on ESA is constantly fluctuating, meaning that a ‘standardised’ rate will be misleading – especially as we are led to believe the figures used will cover a 10-year period between 2004 and 2014.

Even if the DWP publishes a year-by-year analysis, the death rate per, say, 1,000 will not tell the whole story as a lower ratio in a year when more people were claiming may mask a higher number of deaths.

And that’s if the DWP is using reliable figures in the first place!

The only way to have factual accuracy from this lying tool of Conservative Party ideology is to have the data on which it is based – the genuine numbers of people who have died.

That’s what the Tribunal hearing on benefit-related deaths is all about.

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Listen to this, then try to say the government isn’t victimising the disabled

Disability rights campaigners protest outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London, after they had disrupted a session of Prime Minister's Questions.

Disability rights campaigners protest outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London, after they had disrupted a session of Prime Minister’s Questions.

In the same week David Cameron tried to put us off signing the petition on ESA deaths by saying mortality statistics would be published – but failed to mention that the numbers would be fudged into an ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rate’ ratio, rather than be a straight statement of the number of deaths…

In the same week that the Gentleman Ranker, Iain Duncan Smith, tried to tell MPs that his Department for Work and Pensions doesn’t collect those figures…

In the same week that the Labour Party told us the DWP’s flagship Universal Credit will take nearly 500 years to roll out across the UK at the current rate, while the cost has increased to £15.8 billion…

… a disabled pensioner named Susie called an LBC radio phone-in and spoke emotionally to Iain Dale about her worries over the forthcoming budget and its implication for another benefit, Disability Living Allowance. Here’s what she had to say:

It is abundantly clear that this poor lady is being driven out of her mind with anxiety about her future – a future which the Conservative Government is deliberately keeping uncertain by refusing to give any hints about its plans for sickness and disability benefits.

The DWP has stated – repeatedly – that it is “irresponsible” to connect the deaths of people claiming sickness and disability benefits with the stress that its ministers have gleefully encouraged, by making changes to the benefits assessment regime that mean no claimant can feel secure about their immediate future – let alone their long-term hopes.

Susie’s call shows that all this bluster is bunkum.

Whatever happens in the July budget, DLA claimants are being migrated onto PIP, a benefit with much harsher – some would say unreasonable – conditions. For a start, it employs the same brutal ‘work capability assessment’ medical test (in fact a tick-box computer questionnaire designed to put people off-benefit if at all possible) as Employment and Support Allowance.

Not only that, but the claim process – originally estimated by the government to take around 2.5 weeks per claimant – has left thousands waiting more than a year for a decision.

The best way to end this deliberate infliction of suffering on those who are already suffering enough is to join together and present a united front.

Protests against DLA/PIP aren’t currently gaining national media attention – but the petition for the government to tell us how many people have died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance has.

Cameron’s false claim that the government will publish those figures has slowed the number of people signing it – exactly as he hoped it would.

So let’s all get behind it. Tell everyone you know that they have been misled by this stranger to the truth – and let’s get more signatures on the petition!

It can be found here, on the Change.org website. If you haven’t signed already, please do so.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Are ratios the evasive politician’s new favourite tool?

You may be aware that This Writer made his writing debut in the national news media today (June 25), discussing the struggle to get the DWP to update its statistics on the number of people who have died while claiming incapacity benefits.

It was appropriate that this should happen today, because it is the second anniversary of the launch of my first Freedom of Information request on the subject – you know, the vexatious one.

The article that appeared was, in fact, the second piece I sent in to The Independent. The first was considered – rightly – to be a little too involved for the casual reader, so I pulled back a little and wrote a new version.

Here’s what I originally wrote:

IBelieve-IDS

If percentages are the evasive politician’s favourite tool, what does this make ratios?

Ministers love to use percentages if the numbers don’t add up too well – but the Department for Work and Pensions has introduced an entirely new level of evasion.

In response to my Freedom of Information request for an updated number of deaths among sickness-related benefit claimants, the DWP has said it wants to publish the details as ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’ (ASMRs) – as a ratio compared with the population as a whole.

Apparently the DWP has been working on this for no less than two years – it was first mentioned in a refusal to honour a similar request in 2013.
At the time, we were told: “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.”

Not according to the Information Commissioner!

His guidance states that any details withheld by a public authority must either have a planned publication date or a deadline for publication. Alternatively, if an information-gathering exercise is under way or there are related matters, publication may be delayed.

None of those conditions apply. I have an email from the DWP, stating that the Department has most of the requested information and could publish it within cost limits.

When I appealed against the DWP, the Information Commissioner supported me. But the DWP is taking the matter to a tribunal because it insists on holding back the information – until it can be fudged in the form of ASMRs.

That is not what I wanted when I made my latest FoI request in May 2014 – nor is it wanted by more than 225,000 people who have signed a petition in support of my request.

We want to know how many people have died, to compare with what we were told in a DWP release from July 2012 stating that, between January and November 2011, 10,600 ESA claimants had lost their lives.

Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has labelled this demand “disgraceful”.

Challenged about his refusal to publish the figures by Labour MP Marie Rimmer on Monday, he said, “Opposition Members deliberately try to misrepresent what happens… I find it disgraceful that she is going round making such allegations.”

He added, “The Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance” – a lie. Labour’s Debbie Abrahams raised a point of order about it on Wednesday and the DWP has yet to respond.

It seems clear that any “disgraceful” behaviour is being carried out by Iain Duncan Smith and his department.

These are time-sensitive figures; they should be published regularly, so that policies may be modified – particularly if many people are dying. This means figures need to be published in a way that makes them easily comparable – which is exactly what Iain Duncan Smith is trying to avoid.

And how does the DWP justify its bid to fudge the figures? “Taken in isolation, the statistics… were likely to be misinterpreted. Specifically, incorrect conclusions were likely to be drawn as to causal links between assessment outcomes and mortality.”

Perhaps the DWP’s £49,000+ per year lawyer failed to notice that Freedom of Information requests are “motive-blind” – it does not matter why I or anyone else want the information, or why DWP representatives think we want it; all that matters is whether the DWP has it and can publish it within cost limits.

It does, and it can.

Let’s have it.

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How the DWP plans to hoodwink you over benefit deaths

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.

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.

 

News stories are proliferating about the increasing clamour for the Department for Work and Pensions to publish ESA death figures, so you are increasingly likely to read a comment similar to – or the same as – this:

“The Department for Work and Pensions insists it is irresponsible to suggest deaths which follow an assessment that claimants are fit to work were caused by the assessment.

“A spokeswoman said: ‘We have been clear that we intended to publish these statistics – but we need to make sure they meet the high standards expected by the UK Statistics Authority before we do so.'”

The above comment, from the Birmingham Mail, is particularly ironic when one considers the fact that the UK Statistics Authority has reprimanded Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith for playing fast and loose with the facts.

Also, of course, nobody is suggesting that the assessment itself causes deaths – although the medical is extremely stressful and may contribute to a worsening of health (Mrs Mike spent three days in agony on the sofa, hardly able to move, after hers). The deaths come after the DWP decision maker marks people ‘fit for work’ when they should be in the Support Group (for those with serious medical issues), or orders people who should be in the support group to do Work-Related Activity when this is beyond their capabilities.

The deaths come after people who fail to meet the requirements of the WRA group are sanctioned off-benefit and cannot afford to support themselves.

The deaths come after people who need to be in the Support Group but have been signed off-benefit, after going through a lengthy and deliberately stressful appeal process to get it back, arrive home to find an envelope on the mat saying they’re to be reassessed and will have to go through the process all over again. That’s how it happens.

Here’s how the DWP intends to fool you this time:

In her appeal to the Information Tribunal, £49,000-a-year Treasury barrister Marie Cayetano wrote: “At the time of Mr Sivier’s request, the DWP was working on a set of statistics on Age Standardised Mortality Rates (‘ASMR’) for publication at a future date which was yet to be determined. That remains the case. The DWP intends to publish those statistics.

“The ASMR statistics will include the categories of information within parts… of Mr Sivier’s request. The published statistical analysis would cover a ten-year period up to February 2014. Mr Sivier’s request was made on 28 May 2014, but it is important to note that, at that time, the DWP only held the data within the scope of his request up to November 2013. The ASMR statistics will therefore cover a longer period than Mr Sivier’s request.”

Age-Standardised mortality rates are the number of deaths, usually expressed per 100,000, that would occur in that area if it had the same age structure as the standard population and the local age-specific rates of the area applied, according to Public Health England.

Ms Cayetano is saying the figures to be published by the DWP would not state the number of deaths which have taken place between November 2011 and May 2014. Instead we would be given a fudged figure showing the number of deaths among ESA claimants when compared with the average number among the population as a whole. That is not what I requested; it is not what anybody wants.

Furthermore, the figures would cover 10 years from February 2004 to February 2014. ESA was not even operating until 2008. Any ESA death figures that are stretched to cover years when that benefit was not even being provided will be distorted.

Finally, it is nonsense to suggest that the ASMR statistics will cover a longer period than my request. If the DWP had figures to November 2013 it should have provided them. This Writer is quite happy to receive the remainder when they become available. As it is now more than a year since the request was made, all the requested statistics should be available now.

So the next time you read a comment from the DWP about the raw figures being misinterpretable, consider how that Department wishes to mislead you when it does finally release its doctored statistics – and ask yourself why ministers first claimed they were putting these – doctored – statistics together in August 2013 and still haven’t published them.

Then visit the petition site on Change.org, sign and say exactly what you think of the evil game they are playing.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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