Tag Archives: cause

Universal Credit causes mental illness – but won’t get you a new job, study finds

A study of Universal Credit has found that it increases mental illness in claimants while failing to get them into new employment.

The finding should cause huge concern among the two million people who are said to have signed up for the benefit after the Conservative government imposed its coronavirus-prompted lockdown, forcing them to sign onto the benefit when their incomes disappeared.

The study of able-bodied people (those with disabilities have already been shown to suffer adverse effects due to changes in their benefits) found a 6.57 per cent increase in psychological distress.

This led the study’s authors to estimate that an extra 63,674 people suffered psychological distress between 2013 and 2018, as a result of being put on Universal Credit.

They estimated that 21,760 might reach the diagnostic threshold for depression.

They believe that, although the effect sizes identified are moderate, the potential for psychological impact is substantial owing to the widespread national policy implementation.

Levels of distress remained constant for people who were not put on the new benefit.

The study revealed that there was no increase in the transition into employment amongst those on Universal Credit, compared with those who were not – despite this being the key rationale given for its introduction.

The Tory government has commissioned its own evaluation of Universal Credit – but this will focus on labour market outcomes and not assess the effect on health and wellbeing.

Won’t it be interesting to see whether this study finds an improvement in employment?

Source: Universal Credit mental health problems, but not employment

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Legal challenge threat to Tory government over death of NHS workers due to PPE shortage

PPE: The UK’s is on the bottom right. Now you know why it has been so diabolically awful.

As usual the Tories are ducking and covering, trotting out their usual excuse that there’s no proof of “any causal link” between the lack of PPE and the deaths of NHS staff.

It’s the excuse they use whenever anyone suggests that one of the disabled people they’ve persecuted to death might have died because of the way the Tory government treats them and it doesn’t stand up when they use it that way either.

The answer is obvious. Just turn around and say: “Okay – what do you think is the most likely reason: contact with NHS patients who have the coronavirus while wearing an apron and no face protection every single minute of their working lives, or accidentally standing 1.99m away from the nearest person on the way to and from that job?

Matt Hancock’s PPE (these days… I expect).

My personal opinion? We should throw Matt Hancock and all the other excuse-mongers into one of their own Covid-riddled prisons now, and throw away the keys.

The bereaved families of healthcare professionals are asking why their loved ones were sent to the medical front line without the personal protective equipment they need to protect themselves from COVID-19.

We would not expect a fire fighter to die because they were not provided with fire retardant clothing. In the same way, the death of a nurse because they had only a pinny, gloves and a paper mask is arbitrary and almost certainly unacceptable to the public.

The government’s … own influenza pandemic strategy states specifically, “the government has in place stockpiles of face masks and respirators for health and social care workers”.

The Department of Health rejected the government’s own specialist advisory body’s advice in 2017 to stockpile eye protection, reasoning: “The cost of the PPE component of the pandemic stockpile would increase four to six-fold with a very limited likelihood of cost benefits.”

Authorities have an obligation to take preventive operational measures to protect lives; this includes the lives of NHS workers so far as it doesn’t impose an “impossible or disproportionate burden” on the authorities.

Coroners’ inquests may become an important forum for determining whether the government has adequately safeguarded the lives of its health workers during this pandemic. A coroner can look at a death from COVID-19 in circumstances where the death was unexpected and there are allegations of culpable human failure.

Bereaved families may also be able to bring claims in the civil courts, under the Human Rights Act 1998, for breach of a loved one’s right to life – a group action on this would not be surprising.

Source: Coronavirus: could government face legal questions over the death of NHS workers during PPE shortage?

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NHS doctors were told not to list coronavirus on death certificates. Why?

False information: the NHS is fighting a deadly pandemic, so why would medical staff willingly record a false cause of death? That would be storing up trouble for themselves in the future. That doesn’t make sense so somebody else is responsible.

Coronavirus deaths could be going unreported after doctors at an NHS trust were told they don’t have to list it on patients’ death certificates.

Now, why on Earth would anybody want to falsify coronavirus deaths? Who on Earth would want to create misleading figures? Who would benefit?

Well… doctors don’t take orders from lower-ranking members of their profession, so they were told to do it by someone above them.

As it was trust-wide, we may conclude that somebody outside it issued the order; nobody within it would falsify records of their own free will, in This Writer’s opinion. Why would it occur to them?

The Tories have claimed the guidance was the responsibility of the trust. But why would they do that without a good reason? What I’m saying is…

Realistically, and tell me if I’m jumping the gun here, the only people who are going to ask a National Health Service trust to record an inaccurate cause of death is the Conservative government.

So it seems the Tories wanted to force doctors to pretend the number of deaths – in hospital – is dropping.

This suggests they want to pretend the pandemic is easing off.

And this suggests they want us to think it will soon be over and we can all go back to work.

But if we do, and it isn’t over… then more of us will catch the disease and for many of them, it will be all over, very soon thereafter.

So it seems the government may be deliberately trying to bring about the deaths of some of us.

Isn’t there a word for that?

The Good Law Project said it has obtained a leaked document telling medics that recording “pneumonia or community-acquired pneumonia” as the direct cause of death was acceptable.

The unnamed trust’s guidance contradicts that issued by the Government, which says Covid-19 is an “acceptable direct or underlying cause of death” on a death certificate.

The group claims the guidance from the trust states: “‘Doctors are asked to use the standard MCCD (Medical Certificate of Cause of Death) form to certify death. ‘Pneumonia ‘or ‘community acquired pneumonia’ are acceptable at 1(a) on the MCCD.

“There is no requirement to write COVID 19 as part of the MCCD. It may be mentioned at 1(b) on the form, should the doctor wish.’”

The Good Law Project said the document states Covid-19 may be mentioned in a different section of the form relating to indirect causes of death “should the doctor wish”.

Whoever is responsible, the legerdemain has been discovered and the damage will be stopped.

This time.

What next?

Source: NHS doctors ‘told they don’t need to list coronavirus on death certificates’ – Mirror Online

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Yes, Iain Duncan Smith – Vox Political HAS accused you of ‘outrageous action’. PROVE US WRONG

Iain Duncan Smith can’t prove us wrong. He deliberately refuses to collect the statistics that would confirm his claims – or ours.

Instead, he has claimed that This Blog (and presumably others) has accused him of “outrageous action”, without providing a scrap of evidence against the allegation.

This Writer is delighted that the Gentleman Ranker has tried to defend himself. I am currently working on a book covering this subject and his words may provide an excellent introduction.

The man we like to call RTU (Return To Unit – a Forces description of someone who trained to be an officer but was a washout) was responding to a request for information from Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee.

Mr Field had asked what data the DWP collects on the deaths of benefit claimants, in an attempt to find out whether there is any link between the work capability assessment (WCA) – carried out on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance and the Personal Independent Payment – and suicide, self-harm and mental ill-health.

The issue had been raised in research by Oxford University and Liverpool University entitled First Do No Harm.

This Blog reported on that document’s findings here – and you would be well-advised to refresh your memory of that article before you see the Secretary-in-a-State’s comments.

You should also read Vox Political‘s follow-up article in which a response from the Department for Work and Pensions – attempting to deny the research findings – is comprehensively disproved.

Iain Duncan Smith started writing his letter without a leg to stand on. Here it is – read it for yourself and see if you have any sympathy for his attitude.

Note that he admits the DWP has a “duty of care” to benefit claimants. It has taken years to get him to admit this and it will be very important if – for example – corporate manslaughter charges arise in the future.

Where he says the report’s authors admitted there was no evidence of a “causal link” between the WCA and suicide, he is of course being disingenuous. Iain Duncan Smith would not be satisfied with any evidence other than coroners’ findings that all 590 suicides mentioned by the report were attributed by the perpetrators to the work capability assessment. That was never going to happen.

But the report did examine other causes and eliminated them. While it states there is no direct evidence of a causal link between the WCA and suicide, the deaths certainly aren’t linked to any other cause.

Note also, Duncan Smith’s claim that the lack of a causal link was not reported in the media is not true.

The comment that there is no evidence the people with mental health problems underwent a WCA is covered in This Blog’s follow-up article, but for clarity I’ll repeat it here:

“Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) told This Writer that… the DWP’s response ‘reflects a basic misunderstanding of how you do this sort of analysis! Looking at WCA cases would be precisely wrong. You need to be able to control for selection – to do that here, [you] need to look at [the] whole population.

“’Let’s try [an] example. Does Coke make you fat? You can’t just look at people who drink coke & ask if they’re fatter, but if in areas where Coke [is]cheap, [and] people [are] on average fatter, *controlling for everything else*, that does tell you something.’

“So, in order to ensure that the correct cause is ascribed to any particular effect, those who carried out the study had to examine the health of the population as a whole, and eliminate elements that could relate to everybody, rather than just those who took the work capability assessment. They needed to rule out “unobserved confounding” – unseen elements contributing to the results.”

And that is precisely what they did.

Duncan Smith’s assertion that being sent back to work can “promote and protect health, and also reverse the harmful effects of long-term unemployment or prolonged sickness absence” is only accurate if the person doing the work is healthy enough for it – and, by definition, may not be applied to those whose mental ill-health has driven them to suicide.

Inaccurate WCA findings that claimants are “fit for work” or may be “fit for work” within a year of their assessment also mean that many ESA claimants will be sent back into the job market before they are healthy enough. In these cases, there can only be one result: Being sent back to work will make their health worse.

Of course it will; there is a reason they stopped working and claimed ESA in the first place. If that reason still applies, then sending them back to work can only have one result.

Anyone wanting to suggest that a large number of ESA claimants are committing fraud in order to avoid work should remind themselves of the facts: While a TUC survey has shown people think 27 per cent of the ‘welfare’ budget is claimed fraudulently, the government’s own figure is just 0.7 per cent. For ESA claimants it reduces even further, to 0.4 per cent. That’s one person out of 250, rather than roughly one in four – a big difference, especially when one considers the effect on their health of sending an ill person back to work prematurely, as Iain Duncan Smith appears to be advocating.

And then there is this:

160211IDSnote-outrageousaction

The handwriting is appalling so This Writer will try to translate: “NB: There are some out there in the media and social media who have used raw figures to accuse the govt of outrageous [sic] action. I would hope that the committee would not seek to follow suit. I note that having introduced the ESA and the WCA, the Labour Party now seeks to attack it as though they had nothing to do with it. Surely the committee should seek to recognise the good intent of those engaged in this difficult area.”

Those engaged in this area have no good intent whatsoever – let’s get that clear from the start. Their intentions are well-covered in previous articles on This Blog, which I will forward to Frank Field and his committee.

As for “some out there in the media and social media who… accuse the government of outrageous action” – I think he means me.

How nice to have official recognition and how clever of him to describe his own behaviour accurately.

Outrageous action? That’s exactly right.

Iain Duncan Smith’s department practises ‘chequebook euthanasia’ – WCA assessors use psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill towards suicide in order to reduce the “burden” on society caused by these “useless eaters”.

Even Frank Field – chairman of the work and pensions committee who contacted Iain Duncan Smith over the Oxford University and Liverpool University allegations – has raised concerns about this behaviour:

zTerminal

It is outrageous.

Even more outrageous is the fact that Iain Duncan Smith is trying to deny it.

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Government knew about rise in mental illness long before this week’s study – but won’t talk about it

[Image: Black Triangle Campaign]

[Image: Black Triangle Campaign]


Yesterday (Wednesday), This Writer learned two new things about the new university study that has found 590 people committed suicide between 2010-13 after taking work capability assessments (actually, one was a reminder of something I’d forgotten):

The study found that, for every 10,000 people undergoing a work capability assessment for sickness or disability benefits in those years, 7,020 were prescribed anti-depressant drugs afterwards, 2,700 reported to their GPs with mental health issues, and six committed suicide.

The reminder came from a Vox Political commenter and was that the DWP already knew there had been a huge increase in the number of benefit claimants with mental health disorders.

According to the Express, of all places: “In 2010 just 221,000 with mental disorders were in receipt of out of work benefits. But official statistics show the figure leapt to 861,000 last year [2013] – a rise of 289 per cent.

“Those with conditions like bipolar disorder, severe depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia now account for 46 per cent of those paid Employment and Support Allowance.”

So the increase of 279,000 people with mental health problems, added to the 221,000 who were on benefit in 2010, gives us half a million people – easily within the 861,000 total for ESA alone.

So figures that were published by the DWP itself totally support the new study.

The second new thing was that the Conservative Government doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

Debbie Abrahams, shadow minister for the disabled, tried to ask an urgent question about the new study in the House of Commons on Tuesday (November 17) but was refused permission. So she made a point of order, asking the Speaker, John Bercow, how she could get the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to make an early statement on the subject.

Again, she was rebuffed – Bercow told her to table a written question and “if she remains unhappy with the answers—or, as she sees it, the lack of answers—she can try again to deploy the mechanism of an urgent question”.

There might be a justification for not answering if the study had only revealed the extent of mental illnesses, which was known.

But there is the matter of the 590 suicides. Is the work capability assessment driving people to their deaths?

People killing themselves as a direct result of the work capability assessment – as the study indicates – is a serious issue, especially for a government that is still – increasingly desperately – clinging to claims that it is not possible to show that the WCA causes people to die, in any way.

And nobody at the DWP wants to talk about it.

Thomas More once stated: “The maxim is ‘Qui tacet consentit’: the maxim of the law is ‘Silence gives consent’. If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented.”

Let’s have that question again: Is the work capability assessment driving people to their deaths?

The DWP is silent.

Silence gives consent.

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590 suicides: DWP denial is wrong – or an attempt to hide the facts

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

Nobody should have been surprised by the Department for Work and Pensions’ response to the revelation that suicide and mental illness soared in roughly equal measure to the amount of work capability assessments taking place, between 2010 and 2013.

As predicted on This Blog yesterday evening, a spokesperson said: “The authors themselves caution that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.”

But this is interesting: “It is concerning that they provide no evidence that the people with mental health problems highlighted in the report even underwent a Work Capability Assessment.”

No, they didn’t – but there were several factors affecting this: Firstly, the availability of accurate information, and secondly, whether this was a study that needed to focus exclusively on benefit claimants.

Professor Louis Appleby, a government adviser on suicide and mental health, thinks it was. He tweeted: “True figure for suicide linked to WCA likely to be less than in today’s study: could work out exact number if DWP gave access to individual cases.”

But we don’t have access to individual cases. The DWP has made it abundantly clear that Conservative Government ministers have deliberately chosen not to record medical information such as the cause of a claimant’s death – and in any case (again by deliberate choice), no effort has been made to keep track of claimants whose benefit claim has been halted.

It would, therefore, be pointless to rely on information from the DWP!

But Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) told This Writer that, in any case, the DWP’s response “reflects a basic misunderstanding of how you do this sort of analysis! Looking at WCA cases would be precisely wrong. You need to be able to control for selection – to do that here, [you] need to look at [the] whole population.

“Let’s try [an] example. Does Coke make you fat? You can’t just look at people who drink coke & ask if they’re fatter, but if in areas where Coke [is]cheap, [and] people [are] on average fatter, *controlling for everything else*, that does tell you something.”

So, in order to ensure that the correct cause is ascribed to any particular effect, those who carried out the study had to examine the health of the population as a whole, and eliminate elements that could relate to everybody, rather than just those who took the work capability assessment. They needed to rule out “unobserved confounding” – unseen elements contributing to the results.

Is that what happened?

Here’s what the study’s authors had to say: “We found no significant association between the reassessment rate and trends in self-reported mental health problems and suicides in the over 65-year-old population, (ie, people over retirement age and therefore not subject to the WCA reassessment process).

“We also found no association with trends in heart conditions in the working age population, or trends in prescribing of cardiovascular drugs (ie, health conditions that would not plausibly be affected by the WCA reassessment process, in the short term at least).

“These test results suggest that the observed association between the reassessment process and mental health outcomes in the working-age population is not due to unobserved confounding.”

That comment would not have been possible if the study had focused on benefit claimants exclusively, and not the general population.

The study was subjected to further tests, though: “As our main analysis was based on aggregate data, it is possible that changes in composition of these populations could explain the results. To explore this further we analysed individual level data from the Labour Force Survey in a multilevel model, further controlling for a number of individual characteristics including age and sex, labour market status (employed, unemployed and inactive), number of physical chronic illnesses and level of education. This analysis gave very similar results as that based on aggregate data.

“In additional analysis we also controlled for differential trends by the level of rurality in each area and trends in initial assessments for out-of-work disability benefits and found these did not change our results.”

So – in the words of Mr Portes, “controlling for everything else” – the study produced the same increase in antidepressant prescribing, mental illness and suicide, indicating that the significance of these rises was that they coincided with the imposition of the work capability assessment on benefit claimants.

In This Writer’s opinion, the DWP comment was a rather desperate attempt at ass-covering. Ministers had believed they had eliminated any way of relating their flawed, tick-box assessment – which takes no account of medical conditions in establishing whether a person is fit for work, remember – with the deaths or suicides of claimants. Now they have discovered that they were mistaken.

Again we come back to the issue of freedom of information. All the way down the line, the facts about the effects of these tests have been deliberately hidden from the public by a government that is happy to remove our privacy and tell us, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

What is the Conservative Government afraid we’ll discover?

Perhaps now is the time to demand a full inquiry into the practical results of the work capability assessment regime…

An inquiry to be followed by criminal prosecutions.

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Sickness benefit medical test caused massive increase in mental illness, research shows

sicknote
New research has indicated that the work capability assessment – used by the government to decide whether a claimant should receive incapacity or disability benefits – may be causing mental illness among its patients.

The finding that the process is potentially harming its recipients has raised “major ethical issues” for all those involved, according to the report’s authors.

The research by Oxford University and Liverpool University shows that more than two-thirds of claimants who took the fake ‘medical’ test between 2010 and 2013 – 7,020 out of every 10,000 – received prescriptions for anti-depressant drugs afterwards.

There were 2,700 cases of mental ill-health and – most damning of all, six suicides per 10,000 assessments. If these were all separate cases, that would leave just 274 people who, after the assessment, were only suffering with the illnesses they took into it.

All the results were calculated after taking account of the impact of baseline deprivation, economic trends, and long-term trends in mental health.

More than a million people were reassessed for benefit using the WCA between 2010 and 2013 – in fact, using the figures from the study, around 1,306,670 people faced the assessment.

This means 590 of those people aren’t around anymore – they committed suicide and are dead.

If that doesn’t seem many, it should be remembered that suicide reached a 13-year high in 2013, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Of the others, 279,000 were diagnosed with mental ill-health and 725,000 were prescribed anti-depressants.

This is equivalent to 5 per cent of the total number of suicides, 11 per cent of prevalent cases of self-reported mental health problems and 0.5 per cent of the total number of antidepressant items prescribed in England. And yes, all of these phenomena increased between 2010 and 2013.

The research also found that people who were reassessed were more likely to live in deprived areas – and the areas with the greatest number of people taking the WCA medical test had seen the sharpest rises in suicides, mental health issues and anti-depressant prescribing.

There is so much in the report that raises serious concern about the entire work capability assessment process. For example, it states: “Health professionals are involved in carrying out a large number of these assessments every year with a further one million assessments planned for 2015. Given that doctors and other health professional have professional and statutory duties to protect and promote the health of patients and the public, our evidence that this process is potentially harming the recipients of these assessments raises major ethical issues for those involved.

“Regulators and other bodies representing health professionals should advocate for the benefits and harms of alternative disability assessment policies to be established though a well-designed trial.”

The report states: “These test results suggest that the observed association between the reassessment process and mental health outcomes in the working-age population is not due to unobserved confounding” – in other words, the researchers believed they had ruled out the possibility of other, unseen, elements contributing to the results.

It adds: “We found that the level of reassessment in the previous time period predicted future increases in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing.”

The experts concluded: “The programme of reassessing people on disability benefits using the Work Capability Assessment … may have had serious adverse consequences for mental health in England, which could outweigh any benefits that arise from moving people off disability benefits.”

They wrote: “We found that those local areas where a greater proportion of the population were exposed to the reassessment process experienced a greater increase in three adverse mental health outcomes—suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing.

“These associations were independent of baseline conditions in these areas, including baseline prevalence of benefit receipt, long-term time trends in these outcomes, economic trends and other characteristics associated with risk of mental ill-health.”

This is particularly damning: “These increases followed—rather than preceded—the reassessment process.”

You can imagine the DWP spokesperson’s response already, no doubt.

It will say that suicide and mental ill-health are due to multiple causes and should not be associated with a single element of a person’s life. It will also say that this evidence shows correlation, not causation – that is to say that there is no direct causal evidence linking the Conservative Government’s benefit policy with mental illness and suicide.

I say that is not true.

It is only a few days since This Blog revealed that the number of incapacity benefits claimants dying in mid-claim started to fall after the DWP suspended repeat work capability assessments for them in January 2014.

That data was released – reluctantly – in response to a freedom of information request I made almost a year and a half ago, under a threat that the DWP would be prosecuted for contempt of court if it did not comply. To use the government’s own rhetoric: If ministers had nothing to hide, why was this information not provided as soon as it became available?

And we have evidence from coroners, directly linking an increasing number of suicides with the work capability assessment and the DWP’s treatment of benefit claimants afterwards.

Circumstantial evidence, the DWP will say.

And that’s true.

But there are plenty of criminals serving long sentences behind bars because of circumstantial evidence like this.

I expect questions in Parliament. I would like to see a major police investigation into this entire policy area, looking at the cases of everybody who has died after being subjected to a WCA, the way they were treated by DWP representatives (including employees of the private companies that were hired to carry out the tests – Atos, between the dates used by the researchers), the politicians who put in place the policies that have been running between 2010 and the present and their reasons for ignoring the mountain of evidence against those policies, and the people who advocated the current regime in the first place, together with the evidence they used to support their case. Did they have any idea of the consequences?

But my inner pessimist believes all I’ll get are questions in Parliament.

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Benefit deaths: Man was crushed to death by refuse lorry while scavenging in bins

“One of our clients was sanctioned. He had
no money for seventeen weeks. He was
scavenging in a bin, the lorry came, picked
him up and he was crushed to death.”

The above is a statement by Vince Hessey, a member of the board of trustees at Birkenhead YMCA (listed as YMCA Wirral), given in evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom, printed in the section entitled The vulnerability of people relying on food banks.

The inquiry’s aims included investigating the underlying causes of hunger and food poverty in the UK, and considering ways of improving the situation.

The report’s central recommendation is for the creation of a new national network called Feeding Britain, composed of the food bank movement and other providers of food assistance, the voluntary organisations redistributing fresh surplus food, the food industry and representatives from ‘each of the eight government departments whose policy affects the numbers of people at risk of hunger’.

That’s all very well, but something isn’t right here.

What about the fact that a major cause of hunger and food poverty in the UK is the UK’s own government?

What about the fact that a decision by a UK government employee, following guidelines set down by UK government ministers, led to a man being crushed to death in a refuse collection lorry?

What about the fact that this was one of many incidents that would not have happened if UK government policy had been different?*

And what about the fact that the UK government clearly couldn’t care less?

Thanks are due to Ann McGauran, the blogging food bank helper, for raising this issue. Her own article on the Feeding Britain report goes into far greater detail and may be found here.

*See, for example:

Dying woman ordered onto the Work Programme

DWP urged to publish inquiries on benefit claimant suicides

Woman’s benefits sanctioned when she is 23 weeks pregnant

Claimant death: Job Centre staff say: “We are only following orders”

Too poor to eat; too long to wait

The work capability assessment and suicide – a.k.a. ‘chequebook euthanasia’

Work capability assessor asked why depressed claimant had not committed suicide

Inquiry to be launched into ex-soldier’s death after JSA stopped

Was Mark Wood the last stumbling-block for Atos?

Was Stephanie Bottrill a victim of corporate manslaughter?

Smith v Jones over benefits, the disabled and the truth about homelessness

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This Christmas, remember the hidden casualties of the Coalition years

Suffering: If fibromyalgia displayed visible signs, this is how a sufferer would look. Imagine how such a person would feel - physically and emotionally - if they were left alone this Christmas. Too much trouble for family; no fair-weather friends left; and a government that won't even investigate if they were found dead after the holidays.

Agony: If fibromyalgia displayed visible signs, this is how a sufferer would look. Imagine how such a person would feel – physically and emotionally – if they were left alone this Christmas. Too much trouble for family; no fair-weather friends left; and a government that won’t even investigate if they were found dead after the holidays.

Today I had a long chat with a Russia Today reporter, thanks to a recommendation from John McArdle of Black Triangle. It seems a foreign-owned news corporation is more interested in the plight of the UK’s most vulnerable than our home-grown media or – worse – our government.

She was asking about Vox Political‘s Freedom of Information requests, seeking information from the Department for Work and Pensions on the number of people who have died while going through the now-tortuous process of claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which includes the now-infamous work capability assessment (WCA).

As part of the dialogue she told me the government’s current line is that publicising the figures would not be instructive as they do not provide information on the causes of death and many of the deceased may have died because of their medical conditions, rather than due to government harassment or stress brought on by the assessment regime. This is, of course, nonsense.

The government cannot say that people in the Work-Related Activity Group have died because of their medical conditions without admitting that they should never have been put in that group in the first place. The WRAG is for people who are getting better, and who are expected to be healthy enough to seek employment within a year. If they die instead, then the work capability assessor (working for Atos, Maximus or whoever else) clearly missed an important point, or they, possibly together with the DWP decision-maker, disregarded it because regulations handed down from Conservative Party ministers told them to do so.

It is not quite as easy to accuse the government over people in the Support Group, because these have been judged to be in need of the maximum amount of help allowed by the law, due to the severity of their medical conditions. They are more likely to pass away. However, if fatality statistics had been published regularly and properly, it would have been possible to see whether the number of Support Group fatalities was increasing disproportionately; if it was, it follows that ministers should order an investigation into the causes of death. It does not follow that they only died because they had a medical condition. Was it worsened by the stress caused by the DWP’s regime of irregular re-assessments? What about the financial insecurity caused by benefit uprating caps? What about the personal insecurity caused by cuts in care services? With the figures hushed up, it is easy to ignore any such trends. Nobody knows about it, so why make a fuss? When politicians are in government, they have a vested interest in publicising only the information that makes them look good.

How does the government account for deaths in the assessment stage of ESA? These must be mushrooming due to well-publicised delays in processing claimants. Again, some may be due to claimants’ physical conditions but delays in assessment mean they have been deprived of the help they needed.

Then there are the suicides.

Some claimants take their own lives while on the benefit. This could be due to many reasons including the hopelessness of a situation where they foresee themselves being pushed off-benefit (this goes for people in both the WRAG and the Support Group because they are all under the threat of continual reassessment), or suffering more and more cuts to the amount received (in comparison with inflation) that their quality of life will suffer, or they’ll be kicked out of their homes, or they won’t be able to afford the necessities of their lives. The government does not record the number of people who do this and pays no attention to the verdicts of coroners performing inquests on them.

Then there are those who die after being refused the benefit. There is no information on these people at all because the government does not consider them to be its responsibility any more. They could die because of their medical condition; they could commit suicide – it won’t appear in government figures.

But, the possibility of suicide indicates a mental imbalance which should be picked up by the ‘medical experts’ conducting work capability assessments – right? In fact Dr Litchfield, the independent assessor, pointed this out in his recent evaluation of the WCAs’ performance – commenting on how numbers of people in the Support Group had increased due to fears for the safety of the claimants or those near them – and in fact this indicates a grudging nod towards progress. Somewhere, someone noticed that something was going wrong – but while the figures are kept hidden, we know that this is not nearly enough.

And now we are nearly at Christmas. Suicide season.

More people take their own lives under Conservative governments than Labour. And more people do so at Christmas than at any other time of year.

The festive season is great when you are in fine health, surrounded by a family and friends who love you, and are wealthy enough to enjoy the season to the full (we shan’t go into whether your family and friends are only around because you are wealthy enough because there’s no reason to assume any such selfishness and it is, after all, the season of goodwill).

It’s a different proposition when you don’t have your health, when benefit dependency means you can hardly keep yourself, let alone think about presents for other people, and when the lack of both of these have driven away what friends and family you might have – for whatever reasons.

Back in the summer a Twitter acquaintance with fibromyalgia remarked on how lucky Mrs Mike was to have a partner who had stuck with her, because the pressures of the condition lead to partners who are also carers walking out, leaving the sick or disabled (or both) person on their own. Put yourself in that position and ask how you would feel.

Taking all this into consideration, why do you think the death statistics for 2011 – the only year for which we have any figures at all, courtesy of an ‘ad hoc’ DWP release – run from January to November, rather than for the whole year?

Interesting, that.

There’s nothing to be done about the government’s attitude at the moment. Because of it, people are going to die this month and in January.

But there is a way to minimise the situation.

If you know someone who has a long-term sickness or disability and who is going to be on their own this Christmas, why not see what you can do to make it brighter?

It could be the difference between life and death.

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Cameron’s terror tactics hold no fears for the fanatics

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So “British jihadists who travel abroad to fight could be prevented from returning under new powers” outlined by David Cameron, could they?

Whose stupid idea was that?

Not everybody who goes to the ‘danger’ countries is going to be a threat; they could have perfectly legitimate reasons for going. In fact, the vast majority have been proven to have no interest in violence at all.

But anyone who goes out could have their passports taken away for two years, unless they agree to be escorted back here and then undergo an extensive “de-radicalisation” programme – brainwashing, it seems.

The move puts the government on extremely dodgy ground because, legally, it can’t take away anybody’s passport while they’re abroad because that could leave them – effectively – stateless, or at least lead to them acting as if they are, and this is illegal under international agreements. Or is Cameron reneging on international – and indeed common – law?

It assumes guilt before trial. People who are suspected – take note of that: suspected – of being jihadists will be told they cannot return to their home country, despite having been found guilty of nothing, unless they submit to measures that some may describe as extreme. There appears to be no appeal mechanism.

And what are people going to do, if they’re being prevented from coming home? The proto-terrorists are more likely to spend their time seeking out the professional terrorists and learn all they can in order to become actual terrorists on their return – pro-Brit brainwashing or no. The innocents could fall into the hands of the terrorists and become radicalised.

Fundamental to all this is the fact that the new measures are attacking the symptoms of radicalisation, rather than the cause. They assume that people flying out to ‘danger’ countries are up to no good, and they facilitate action by the British state that is more likely to make that the case than achieve the opposite.

Is anything being done to stop the radicalisation of British citizens here in the UK – to prevent them from wanting to join some deranged terrorist cause, out in the desert? No.

It is as if our government – which some might describe as deranged itself – wanted to create an army of anti-British terrorists, composed of British citizens.

Cameron can’t even get Parliamentary procedure right these days. He has run foul of the Speaker, John Bercow, for announcing the new rules from Australia. The comedy prime minister’s claim that there was an urgent need is one that can’t be confirmed – who knows what secret plots are being hatched an foiled at any time? – leading to the obvious rejoinder that he could say that any time he liked, bypassing protocol whenever he feels like it.

Is he deliberately destroying British justice and the rule of law?

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