So you thought Mary Hassall was the only British coroner to have blamed a benefit claimant’s death on the DWP? Think again.
To This Writer’s shame, the case of Julia Kelly was reported in This Blog, earlier this year – but I did not recall that Northamptonshire County Coroner Anne Pember’s report had conferred responsibility for her death on the Department for Work and Pensions after the case of Michael O’Sullivan was reported last month.
Mr O’Sullivan committed suicide in late 2013. North London coroner Mary Hassall, at his inquest early the following year, recorded that his death occurred as a direct result of being declared “fit for work” in a DWP work capability assessment, made in response to his claim for Employment and Support Allowance.
Julia Kelly took her life in November 2014. At her inquest in March this year, according to the Northampton Chronicle, “Coroner Anne Pember, recording her verdict of suicide, said she also believed that the ‘upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life’.”
Ms Kelly had been forced to give up work in 2010 due to pain caused by a car crash (which was not her fault) five years previously. In 2013, she was involved in a second crash and had to undergo a six-hour operation on her spine as a result.
Together with her father, David Kelly, she formed a charity – Away With Pain – to help fellow sufferers of chronic back pain.
But then the Department for Work and Pensions told her she had to repay £4,000 in Employment and Support Allowance payments, saying she had failed to declare capital funds.
It seems the government department was referring to money held by the charity, rather than funds owned by Ms Kelly herself.
Ms Kelly, who had fought for every penny of her benefit at three tribunal hearings, was bombarded with a series of repayment demands. According to her father, it was this relentless stream of brown-envelope letters that pushed her to suicide.
He told Channel 4 News about it. Take a look at the report:
A few months later, the DWP started stridently claiming that no causal link had been shown between claims for incapacity benefits and the suicide of claimants, in response to demands from almost 250,000 petitioners – and more than 90 MPs including the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – to publish the number of claimants who have died on benefits.
We all know the DWP was lying, thanks to Ms Hassall’s report on Michael O’Sullivan.
The facts about Julia Kelly mean we must now question the magnitude of the lie.
We know the DWP examined the cases of around 60 people who committed suicide after their benefits were withdrawn or reduced – that fact was most recently mentioned in Prime Minister’s Questions, in the House of Commons on Wednesday (October 21) – but the Department has refused to publish its findings.
All Cameron would offer was that he would “look … at” the question asked about publication. He can look at it all day without doing anything about it, of course.
Meanwhile, serious questions are arising as we learn more about these deaths and the extent of the DWP cover-up.
How many people have died due to the reduction or withdrawal of incapacity benefits?
How many of these deaths happened long enough after their benefits were withdrawn that the DWP never bother to record them – on the grounds that it was none of the Department’s business (this is what happened with Mr O’Sullivan)?
How many more coroners’ verdicts have implicated the DWP in the deaths, but have been quietly swept under the carpet?
And – as the United Nations investigates possible grave and systematic violations of incapacity benefit claimants’ human rights – what can be done to secure the release of the facts?
Credit where it’s due: The vast majority of reasons for people being referred to food banks are attributable to the Department for Work and Pensions. Could that be why the DWP is so desperate to silence the food bank charities?
Tories – what are they like?
The answer is, of course, even they don’t know – as evidenced by their current confusion over food banks.
David Cameron has enthusiastically backed their work at a Christian faith group’s Easter reception (and so he should, having sent so much of it their way), and Treasury minister David Gauke also praised them in an interview on Channel 4 News last week.
But the DWP says leading food bank provider the Trussell Trust is guilty of “misleading and emotionally manipulative publicity seeking”, with the rise in food bank use being the result of the charity’s leaders “aggressively marketing their services” and “effectively running a business”.
At least one commenter on this blog has been completely taken in by the DWP’s prattling, claiming that demand for food banks has not risen at all since Cameron came to office. No, it’s clear to this demented individual that opening a food bank anywhere is like opening a supermarket – if there isn’t one nearby already, people will flock through your doors.
This, of course, completely misconstrues the way food banks are used and assumes that anyone can walk through their doors, claim food poverty and take away a packet of supplies whenever they want. It doesn’t work like that.
Food banks operate on a referral system. As Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould put it in an Observer report: “You can’t get free food from the Trussell Trust by walking through the door and asking for it; you must have a voucher. More than 24,000 professionals – half of whom work in the public sector and health service, the police, and in social services – ask us to give this food to clients of theirs because they’ve made the decision that this individual or family is in dire straits and needs help. We’re not drumming up demand.”
This is absolutely correct and no amount of negative campaigning by the DWP can change it. In fact, Mr Gauke spent some time crowing about the fact the DWP rules have been altered to allow “signposting” to food banks by Job Centre advisors, in his Channel 4 News interview (although claiming credit for government employees sending people to someone else, rather than providing help themselves, is in itself a mean-spirited shot in the foot).
Once again, the Conservatives are getting stuck in the mire while trying to claim the moral high ground.
Not only have they created a poverty-driven starvation threat that organisations like the Trussell Trust have been forced to step in and fight, but the Tories have also tried to vilify those good people for laying the blame where it belongs.
It is a situation so twisted, there can be no wonder the Tories are tying themselves in knots.
Lest we forget: We know that, on average, 73 people died every week between January and November 2011 – after undergoing the DWP work capability assessment administered by Atos. Who knows how many are dying now?
Interestingly, the DWP story differs from that published by the BBC, even though the corporation must have used a version of the press release provided to it in advance.
In the BBC story, released on Saturday, “More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews” – but the DWP press notice, released today, claims “More than a million others withdrew their claims before reaching a face-to-face assessment”.
In addition, the DWP release features a long section on its Disability Confident roadshow, and there is another statistic which claims that the proportion of disabled people in work has reached 45 per cent.
Disability Confident, designed “to encourage more employers to hire disabled people”, “to showcase the talents of disabled people and highlight their tremendous value to the British economy” is, on the face of it, a good idea.
But I wonder if it isn’t a smokescreen to hide how the DWP is pushing thousands of disabled people into saying they are self-employed and taking tax credits rather than ESA, in order to fudge the figures and make it seem as though good work is being done.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive…
Of course, the best source of ESA-related statistics is on the iLegal site where the figures behind the press release have been picked apart by an expert who doesn’t have a vested interest in saving ministerial face.
They show that an average of 83 per cent of the 1,078,200 Incapacity claimants who were assessed qualified for ESA between October 2012 and May last year, while 88 per cent of the 1,332,300 ‘repeatedly assessed’ were re-qualifying.
While the DWP and the BBC have claimed 1.8 million people have magically disappeared from the Incapacity/ESA claimant count, the DWP’s own figures confirm that overall numbers have reduced by only 156,630 since May 2010.
The iLegal article makes it clear that “the claimant count is far from a static number; each month thousands of claimants come on and off all benefits”. But it seems clear that the BBC/DWP figure is a conflated total, simply adding up all new claims – rather than claimants – from 2008 onwards.
This is exactly why UK Statistics Authority chief Andrew Dilnot chastised the government after the Conservative Party released an almost-identical press release last year, using then-current (but still inaccurate) figures and not mentioning Disability Confident.
Let’s go back to the number of people found ‘fit for work’ after assessment. Has everybody forgotten the hammering that the government took during a debate on Atos’ handling of the Work Capability Assessment, exactly a year and a week ago today? If you have, don’t worry – you can read all about it here.
The debate demonstrated time after time that the work capability assessment, as devised by the DWP’s Conservative ministerial team and run by its employees at Atos, was not fit for purpose; that the overwhelming majority of those who had been found ‘fit for work’ were nothing of the sort; and that “this is a government that is perfectly happy with a system that is throwing thousands of sick and disabled people to the wolves”.
The government refused to listen. Then-Employment minister Mark Hoban (standing in, conspicuously, for Esther McVey, who was minister for the disabled at the time) said the independent reviews conducted by Professor Malcolm Harrington had identified areas of improvement and appropriate steps were being taken.
This claim was false. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his year one review alone, almost two thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.
The government also claimed, repeatedly, that Prof Harrington had supported the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to ESA. When fellow blogger Sue Marsh contacted him for confirmation, he responded: “I NEVER—repeat–NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast. I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews. The decision was political. I could not influence it. IS THAT CRYSTAL CLEAR?”
I’d say so – to everybody but the Coalition government.
A good reporter at the BBC would have had all this information to hand. They would have known that the work capability assessment was extremely controversial and had been shown, many times, to be unfit for purpose. They would have known that the government had been slapped down by the UK Statistics Authority after releasing an almost-identical press release last year. They absolutely should have known that other reporters in the same organisation had revealed that the DWP had been pushing disabled people into claiming they were self-employed in an effort to cook the books.
With all that information to hand, it begs the question: Why did they then go ahead with the propagandised misrepresentation of the facts that appeared on the BBC News website on Saturday?
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