Tag Archives: deaths

This unforgivable failure of judgement shows Priti Patel should not be a member of the government

Smug: Priti Patel seems to think she can say anything she likes about court cases and lawyers. Sadly, the failure of the authorities to punish her suggests that she is right. No wonder she often has that smug grin on her face.

An ill-advised tweet by Priti Patel – the UK’s Home Secretary, in charge of the country’s police service (but not, thankfully, justice) could have derailed a major criminal case, it has been revealed.

Four alleged people-smugglers have now been found guilty of manslaughter in the so-called Essex lorry deaths trial, after 39 people were found dead inside a lorry when it was inspected on its way into the UK from continental Europe.

On October 23, the anniversary of the tragedy, Priti Patel’s Twitter account posted: “One year ago today, 39 people lost their lives in horrific circumstances at the hands of ruthless criminals.

“My thoughts remain with everyone who was affected by that day, particularly the loved ones of the people who so tragically died.”

This public comment could have prejudiced the then-ongoing trial and for that reason was certainly in contempt of court.

Patel should have known this. In fact, This Writer finds it hard to believe that she didn’t.

Considering her other recent behaviour, it seems more likely that she thought she could get away with saying anything she liked – because she is a Conservative cabinet minister. Once again, it would be a case in which the Tories put themselves above the law.

According to The Mirror,

The post was retweeted and liked more than 300 times before it came to the attention of a defence lawyer and the trial was halted.

In the absence of the jury, Alisdair Williamson QC complained about the description of “ruthless criminals”, especially as she was a senior Government minister.

The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, did not authorise action against Patel but pointed out to jurors that many messages were likely to appear on the social media – and all should be ignored.

“It’s a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system that those on trial are presumed to be innocent until proven to be guilty and it is you and you alone who are going to decide whether they are guilty or not guilty.”

Quite right.

Patel had no right to suggest that anybody was a “ruthless criminal” until the jury came to a decision supporting such a claim.

But then, considering her other ill-advised tweets about “activist lawyers”, which led to at least one attack on a firm of solicitors, it seems clear that she believes herself to be above the rules that affect the rest of us.

Sadly, Mr Justice Sweeney’s lack of action against her, along with the failure of the police to act over the other matter, tends to prove her right.

Source: Priti Patel caused legal storm during Essex lorry migrant trial with ‘ill-advised’ tweet – Mirror Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

She also has arthritis and hip dysplasia.

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

How many times have we heard that before?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If it’s fear-mongering to say people will die because of Brexit, why is the government stockpiling body-bags?

A body-bag: No, it isn’t being modelled by Mr Rees-Mogg.

The Minister for the 18th Century, Jacob Rees-Mogg, caused a bit of a stir this week when he attacked a doctor who advised the government on “no deal” Brexit – in flagrant contradiction of the evidence.

Consultant neurologist Dr David Nicholl helped draft the Project Yellowhammer document that predicted shortages of medicines, food and fuel if “no deal” Brexit happens.

Dr Nicholl asked Mr Rees-Mogg, now Leader of the House of Commons, in an exchange on LBC radio, “What level of mortality rate are you willing to accept in the light of a no-deal Brexit?”

The cabinet member bit back hard: “I’m surprised that a doctor in your position would be fear-mongering in this way on public radio. I think it’s deeply irresponsible, Dr Nicholl, of you to call in and try to spread fear across the country. It’s typical of Remainer campaigners to try and you should be quite ashamed.”

Oh, really?

Then why has the National Health Service been stockpiling body-bags?

We knew this was happening back in February, when a letter from then-health minister Stephen Hammond identified body-bags as an important consumable being protected by health service bosses.

But now we know why.

This Independent article quotes Dr Paul Williams, a Labour supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, said: “This exchange shows how little regard the government has for those who rely on access to medicines. Their reckless pursuit of a no-deal Brexit is putting lives at risk.”

And it reported a revelation by The Sunday Times “that doctors had warned the NHS to brace itself for the “biggest threat it has ever faced” if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

“Confidential files seen by the newspaper revealed lists of drugs it has been impossible to stockpile, putting patients at potential risk.”

Dr Nicholl was reported to have used the exchange with Mr Rees-Mogg to argue that people would die because of problems with access to drugs and radioisotopes.

And all the cabinet minister could do was moan that the Yellowhammer report had been written by “Remoaners”.

Who do you believe? The cabinet minister – or the expert with a doctorate?

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Jeremy Hunt has talked himself into a hole – and is digging for all he’s worth

Here’s what “most doctors” think of Jeremy Hunt, I reckon [Image: Sean Hansford/MEN].

Everybody reading this will be familiar with the expression, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” If only Jeremy Hunt would take that advice!

In the latest round of his ongoing dispute with Professor Stephen Hawking, Mr Hunt has tried to defend his claims about NHS spending – and failed.

He has also tried to defend his claims about falling numbers of people taking out private medical insurance – and failed.

Worst of all, he has tried to say he has not cherry-picked evidence in order to make a false claim about weekend deaths – by devising a new definition of cherry-picking.

Take a look at his words, taken from his own latest Guardian article:

He does not deny that it has record funding or record numbers of doctors and nurses, but describes these as a “distraction”. Such figures surely are crucial evidence if he is arguing, as he did last weekend in a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine, that the direction of the NHS is heading towards a US-style insurance system. Such systems – which he seems to now concede are not government policy – rely on individuals, and not the state, paying for their healthcare. If that was the direction of travel, the state would be spending less, not more, on the NHS.

But Professor Hawking has already stated that “record funding is not the same thing as adequate funding”.

We are all aware of Noam Chomsky’s description of the standard technique of privatisation, aren’t we? “Defund” – meaning, fail to provide enough funding – “make sure things don’t work” – and Mr Hunt has admitted he does not “think everything is working well in the NHS” – “people get angry” – like Professor Hawking – “you hand it over to private capital”.

How much of that “record” funding is going towards private companies? Some of that money will be handed out to shareholders as profit, meaning it serves no useful purpose in the provision of care. But it all counts as privatisation of health care.

So: Mr Hunt’s “record” funding isn’t enough, especially as a large proportion of it is funding the profits of private health – and the service is suffering, which means it is well on the way to privatisation according to Mr Chomsky’s pattern.

Likewise, more individuals would be taking out private medical insurance – again, the opposite is the case. Although there was indeed a small rise last year, overall there has been a dramatic drop in private medical insurance since 2009.

If there was a rise in the number of individuals taking out private medical insurance last year, then Professor Hawking is right to say that more individuals are taking out private medical insurance. Anybody can make figures say what they want by choosing an arbitrary starting date. Why not say, “There has been a rise in private health insurance since 2015”?

I do not accept his comments about the misuse of statistics, although inevitably in the heat of an industrial relations dispute there will be many such accusations hurled from both sides. To decide that one piece of research is the most credible is not “cherrypicking”, as Hawking suggested – it is doing what you have to do when researchers disagree.

If researchers disagree, then the evidence is not conclusive and no decision can be made. “To decide that one piece of research is the most credible” is exactly “cherrypicking” – it is citing one study but suppressing others in order to support a political policy, as Professor Hawking stated in his original Guardian article.

Finally, we have this:

But regardless of which research you back, none of us can bury our heads in the sand on the issues surrounding weekend care in hospitals. Most doctors in their hearts would rather a loved one was admitted mid-week than at the weekend.

And who said Jeremy Hunt could speak for “most doctors”?

The last time This Writer checked, “most doctors” had spent most of a year holding industrial action against Mr Hunt because of his attempts to speak for them on the subject of their pay and conditions of work.

And what research has Mr Hunt carried out? Since we’re discussing scientific evidence, with how many doctors did he discuss this matter?

Or, returning to the fact that he has dug himself into a hole, is Mr Hunt pulling his claim from another hole that he happens to have on his person?


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After Hunt attacked over NHS privatisation, we all knew Hawking wouldn’t let it lie

[Image: @Rachael_Swindon on Twitter.]

Picture the scene if you can: Professor Stephen Hawking reading Jeremy Hunt’s smear piece against his concerns about the NHS and then, in calm, voice-synthesized tones, uttering: “So he wants to play hardball, does he? Fine.”

Professor Hawking has written a response in The Guardian, expanding on his original points:

That Mr Hunt misrepresented scientific research in order to claim that poorer hospital care and staffing at weekends cause excess deaths.

That Mr Hunt’s claim of record NHS funding is a distraction as it does not show that funding is adequate.

And that all the evidence shows a move towards a US-style, privatised, health insurance system, whether the minority Conservative government wants it or not.

It seems unlikely that Mr Hunt will back down. It also seems likely that he will face renewed calls to defend his claims, in person, on the floor of the House of Commons.

That will be comedy gold – although, considering the state of disrepair into which he has allowed the NHS to fall, it will be gallows humour.

Hunt doesn’t deny that he dismissed research contradicting his claim of excess deaths due to poorer hospital care and staffing at the weekend. He admits he relied on one paper by Professor Nick Freemantle and colleagues. But even if one accepts its disputed findings, the authors explicitly warn that “to assume these excess deaths are avoidable would be rash and misleading”. The editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, Fiona Godlee, wrote to Hunt to reprimand him for publicly misrepresenting the Freemantle et al paper. As a patient who has spent a lot of time in hospital, I would welcome improved services at the weekend. For this, we need a scientific assessment of the benefits of a seven-day service and of the resources required, not misrepresentation of research.

Hunt’s statement that funding and the number of doctors and nurses are at an all-time high is a distraction. Record funding is not the same thing as adequate funding. There is overwhelming evidence that NHS funding and the numbers of doctors and nurses are inadequate, and it is getting worse.

Hunt misquoted me, saying that I claimed the government wants a US-style insurance system. What I said was that the direction is towards a US-style insurance system, run by private companies. The increasing involvement of private health companies in the NHS is evidence for this. Hunt chose to highlight – dare I say, cherry-pick – the fact that private companies’ share of NHS contracts rose 0.1% over the last year. This is an anomaly among the data since 2006. The NHS private providers’ share was 2.8% in 2006-7 and rose steadily to 7.6% in 2015/16. The amount of private health insurance has fallen since 2009 as Hunt said, but that is because of the financial crash. We can conclude nothing about health policy from this and in any case, it is now increasing again. As waiting times increase, private companies report an increase in self-pay where patients pay directly for care such as hip and knee replacements.

Further evidence that the direction is towards a US-style system is that the NHS in England is undergoing a complete reorganisation into 44 regions with the aim of each being run as an “accountable care organisation” (Aco). An Aco is a variant of a type of US system called a health maintenance organisation in which all services are provided in a network of hospitals and clinics all run by the HMO company. It is reasonable to expect the powerful US HMO companies such as Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealth will be bidding for the huge contracts to run these ACOs when they go out to international tender. Hunt referenced Kaiser Permanente as a model for the future budgetary arrangements in the NHS at the Commons health select committee in May 2016.

Source: Jeremy Hunt can attack me all he wants – but he is wrong to say the NHS is working | Stephen Hawking | Opinion | The Guardian


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Jeremy Hunt challenged to take part in TV debate with Stephen Hawking over the NHS

Will Jeremy Hunt go into hiding to avoid appearing in a TV debate with Professor Hawking – as he once hid behind a tree to avoid being seen going to a meeting with Rupert Murdoch?

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been challenged to appear in a televised debate on NHS statistics and the future of the service.

He would be opposed by Professor Stephen Hawking, whose claims about the Conservative minority government’s plans for the NHS were attacked by Mr Hunt on Twitter over the weekend.

Here’s the challenge:

This Writer is particularly pleased that doctors are taking this step. As I stated in my article on the subject, on Saturday (August 19):

“Let’s see the Health Secretary prove his claims against the kind of forensic examination that the world’s greatest living physicist can provide.

“And let’s have it televised. How about it, BBC?”

Well? How about it, Mr Hunt?

Of course we don’t believe him! Jeremy Hunt is a liar – and a fool, if he thinks anybody else is stupid enough to be persuaded by his lies.

His “weekend effect” argument is particularly weak because – as has already been proved, he really did cherry-pick his evidence, as Stephen Hawking stated in his Guardian article.

Professor Hawking, who has Motor Neurone Disease and has, therefore, enjoyed considerable experience of the NHS since 1962, makes the point that it is unscientific to base an argument for anything on only part of the evidence that is available; science demands a solution that encompasses all the evidence.

Mr Hunt’s response was to make an evidenceless claim about the 2015 Fremantle study.

Source: Hunt v Hawking on the future of the NHS: Who do you believe? | Vox Political


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Hunt v Hawking on the future of the NHS: Who do you believe?

You’ve got to believe Jeremy Hunt, right?

He is the Health Secretary, after all. He’s the man responsible for planning the future of the National Health Service. He should know whether the NHS is being run down to make way for a US-style health insurance system.

And we all know he takes his responsibility as a Conservative cabinet minister extremely seriously and would never lie to the public – right?

So when he says more money is being spent on the NHS than ever before, we believe him – right?

When he says he was right about the number of deaths increasing because of a so-called “weekend effect”, we believe him – right?

And when he says there are no plans to replace the NHS with a privately-run health system in which the public relies on private health insurance to pay for their treatment, we believe him on that as well – right?

NO!

Of course we don’t believe him! Jeremy Hunt is a liar – and a fool, if he thinks anybody else is stupid enough to be persuaded by his lies.

His “weekend effect” argument is particularly weak because – as has already been proved, he really did cherry-pick his evidence, as Stephen Hawking stated in his Guardian article.

Professor Hawking, who has Motor Neurone Disease and has, therefore, enjoyed considerable experience of the NHS since 1962, makes the point that it is unscientific to base an argument for anything on only part of the evidence that is available; science demands a solution that encompasses all the evidence.

Mr Hunt’s response was to make an evidenceless claim about the 2015 Fremantle study. This will be the report rubbished in an article referenced above.

Professor Hawking added: “This problem goes beyond the weekend effect. The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions. These political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on junior doctors, and removal of the student nurses’ bursary. Political decisions such as these cause reductions in care quality, longer waiting lists, anxiety for patients and staff, and dangerous staff shortages. Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people have placed an additional burden on the NHS.”

Mr Hunt, who co-authored a book demanding that the NHS must be privatised, provided this response:

Guess what? Nobody believed him.

Peter Stefanovic, author of the put-down above, sums it up very well in this video:

But let’s hammer the point home with a few more comments:

This Writer hopes someone on the Opposition benches has the presence of mind to call Mr Hunt to account for his lies in the Commons chamber.

Let’s see the Health Secretary prove his claims against the kind of forensic examination that the world’s greatest living physicist can provide.

And let’s have it televised. How about it, BBC?

Jeremy Hunt has accused Stephen Hawking of a “pernicious” lie after the physicist said it seemed the Tories were steering the UK towards a US-style health insurance system.

Hours after the health secretary was criticised for claiming Hawking was wrong in the row about the government’s seven-day NHS plan, he leapt back into the fray with two tweets defending the Conservative party’s record on the health service.

Hunt was responding to criticism from the renowned 75-year-old physicist and author of A Brief History of Time ahead of a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine on Saturday.

In the speech, Hawking will accuse the health secretary of “cherrypicking” favourable evidence while suppressing contradictory research to suit his argument.

In a Guardian opinion piece published on Friday, Hawking also criticised the power of profit-seeking multinationals, which he said had contributed to the inequalities rife in the US healthcare system.

“We see the balance of power in the UK is with private healthcare companies, and the direction of change is towards a US-style insurance system,” he wrote.

Source: Jeremy Hunt accuses Stephen Hawking of ‘pernicious falsehood’ in NHS row | Politics | The Guardian


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FOI? Or just FU?

140113FoI

It seems Yr Obdt Srvt has become the victim of DWP game-playing that shows contempt for sick and disabled benefit claimants whose lives are threatened by poor decision-making.

You may be familiar with the following saying (or at least with the fact that George W Bush wasn’t): “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

I mention this as a precursor to the following story, for reasons that should become clear.

Back in May, I sent another Freedom of Information request to the Department for Work and Pensions, again asking for an update of the ad-hoc statistical release Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients from mid-2012 (long-term readers will be aware a previous request was refused as “vexatious”).

In it, I pointed out: “A response to a previous Freedom of Information request (FOI 2013-IR665) stated that ‘Whilst we currently have no plans to directly update the ad hoc report on “Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients” published on 9th July 2012, the Department does monitor requests we receive for new statistics and consider whether we can produce and release analysis that will helpfully inform public debate. The Department is therefore looking at this issue with a view to seeing what statistics could be produced on a regular basis.’

“It went on to state that ‘the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As I have explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.’

“I have studied DWP release schedules extensively and in the 11 months since I made my request, I have found no publication of statistics on this issue… Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue… will be published in due course’ made in error?

“If this is the case, then there can be no public interest argument against disclosure of this information in response to either my previous request or any future request, as it is not set to be published as part of the DWP’s current schedule. I remind you that this is time-sensitive information; it is important that the data becomes public knowledge as soon as it is available, in order to inform government policy and avoid preventable fatalities in the future.”

If this was not the case, I continued, then – as at midday on May 28 this year, what was the date on which it is planned that the DWP will be publishing figures from November 2011 to those which are most up-to-date?

If no date of publication was set down, I concluded, then the DWP had a duty to provide an update, to me, immediately.

I reminded the Department’s FOI officers that an email from the DWP to the Information Commissioner’s office, dated October 21, 2013, stated that “we can confirm that the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit… the information requested.”

The substantive issue: A DWP statistical release in 2012 showed that more than 200 people were dying every week as a result of Iain Duncan Smith's changes to assessment procedures for incapacity benefits - either they were put into groups where unreasonable demands were placed on them or the stress and anxiety of constant re-assessment was too much for their bodies to take. Many were driven to suicide.

The substantive issue: A DWP statistical release in 2012 showed that more than 200 people were dying every week as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s changes to assessment procedures for incapacity benefits – either they were put into groups where unreasonable demands were placed on them or the stress and anxiety of constant re-assessment was too much for their bodies to take. Many were driven to suicide.

Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my request. I therefore invoked my right to have it reconsidered, immediately after the legally-prescribed period ran out. By this time the DWP was already breaking the law.

Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my reconsideration request. Are you getting angry about this yet? Remember, it is about deaths caused by government policy. I therefore notified the Information Commissioner and requested a ruling on this matter.

The Commission responded late last month, saying the DWP had 10 working days to get a response back to me. Tomorrow was the deadline and the response arrived today.

You’re really not going to like it.

“Unfortunately there was a mistake in the response you were sent for FOI 2013-IR665. Due to an administrative error an Annex A (about the Public Interest Test) appeared at the very end of the letter. It was not intended for this response and as such there is no mention of it anywhere in the main letter.

“So the answer to your first question ‘Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue [incapacity benefits: deaths of recipients] will be published in due course’ made in error?’ with respect to the reply you received is yes. That statement was not intended to be part of the response and was therefore made in error. We therefore attach a corrected copy of the reply to FOI 2013-IR665 and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

That is not good enough. There was no way I could have read that response without believing that I was being told updated statistics were to be published in the future; any other interpretation would have defied common sense.

Also, it makes a nonsense of what was said in the body of the response – that the DWP was working on releasing figures on a regular basis.

And it means one of two things: Either the DWP was lying then, when it said work was progressing on what could be published, or it is lying now, by saying the information about the public interest test was included in error.

Either way, it seems clear that the intention was to stop my request from progressing any further.

Let’s move on to the really insulting part. Today’s response states, and I quote verbatim:

We can confirm that we do intend to publish further statistics on this topic and these will answer a majority of your questions. As the statistics are intended for future publication this information is exempt from disclosure under the terms of Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) of the FOIA. This exemption is qualified, and is therefore subject to a public interest test. The public interest test is where the Department considers whether the balance of the public interest falls in favour of withholding or disclosing the information requested.

“Arguments in favour of disclosure: There are public interest arguments in favour of disclosure of this information at the present time. Disclosure would for example improve transparency in the operations of the Department.

“Arguments against disclosure: There are public interest arguments against disclosure of this information at the present time. These arguments include that it is in the public interest to adhere to the existing publication process for official statistics, which includes time for the data to be collated and properly verified.

“It is also in the public interest to ensure that the publication of official information is a properly planned and managed process, to ensure that the data are accurate once placed into the public domain. It is also in the public interest to ensure that the information is available to all members of the public at the same time, and premature publication could undermine the principle of making the information available to all at the same time through the official publication process.

“On this occasion, the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.

“We do not have a planned publication date at this stage but we will pre-announce the agreed date.”

That’s right – having apologised for misleading me into believing that updated information was to be produced when it wasn’t, the DWP went on to say that updated information was to be produced, but it wasn’t going to provide that information to me – even though no publication date has been set – for precisely the same reasons, to the letter, for which it had just apologised.

I get the impression that someone in Caxton House is trying to be funny.

What a big joke – to put off a Freedom of Information request about thousands of needless deaths with an excuse that has already been used wrongly, on the basis that it was wrong then but it isn’t now.

No. Not funny.

Pants: Iain Duncan Smith

Pants: Iain Duncan Smith

The situation is reminiscent of one mentioned in an article earlier today, wherein someone blew the whistle on Iain Duncan Smith’s expenses claim for underwear so he called her into a meeting and reduced her to tears with a show of belligerence. The substantive issue was of no interest to the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit); his only worry was that it should be hidden from the public. The same applies here.

As mentioned at the start: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t be fooled again.

The information is held by the DWP, and could be provided easily enough.

The public interest test cannot be applied to my request as the DWP has not proved that statistics on this issue will be published in due course. For this to apply, a publication date would have to have been provided in the response and none was forthcoming.

Therefore I conclude that the DWP’s response is false and will be appealing to the Information Commissioner again – and to the First-Tier Tribunal if necessary. The tribunal is likely to take a very dim view of this as, after a previous hearing, its members stated that “we have considerable sympathy for the appellant”.

We have to prove that these people are not above the law.

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How can the government’s new ESA specialist claim he knows nothing about all the deaths?

Dr Paul Litchfield, here pictured giving evidence at another committee meeting, so it's probably another load of tripe.

Dr Paul Litchfield, here pictured giving evidence at another committee meeting – so it’s probably another load of tripe.

An evidence session on Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments was held by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday – and was notable for the fact that the ‘expert’ hired to review the system claimed to know nothing about the thousands of deaths taking place because of the current system.

Dr Paul Litchfield OBE was hired to take over from Professor Malcolm Harrington to carry out the fourth annual independent review of the assessment process. It seems Prof Harrington was replaced amicably, but evidence has come to light that he was not happy with political decisions that ran against his findings.

A claim that the government was taking “appropriate steps” in areas singled out for improvement by Prof Harrington was disproved when it was revealed that almost two-thirds of the 25 recommendations he made in his year one review 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?”

The vehemence of his response suggests some friction with his former employers at the very least – and over “political” decisions.

Now we have Dr Litchfield, who claims to have no information about the staggering number of people who have died after going through the assessment system he is being paid to review. Doesn’t that seem – at the very least – a little odd?

He could have, at least, looked up the government’s own statistical release ‘Incapacity Benefits – Deaths of Recipients’ from July 2012. It is long out-of-date and pressure on the government for fresh figures has been stonewalled for two years, but it does show that 10,600 people died between January and November 2011 – including an average of 73 people every week, when the system claimed they were still being assessed or should be getting better. These figures are believed to be inaccurate measures as the government does not monitor deaths of people who have been refused the benefit – the vast majority of claimants.

It seems we are dealing with another Tory yes-man, hired not to improve ESA, but to make it and the government look good.

Dr Litchfield’s attitude is revealed on the video record of the meeting, which is available on the Parliament UK website, starting two hours, 11 minutes and 41 seconds into the recording.

Committee member Debbie Abrahams (Labour) had just received a Tweet stating: “Litchfield doesn’t want to come out and say scrap WCA because 10,600 dead or he’ll be out of a job, slime bag.”

Turning to Litchfield, she said: “I’ve just been contacted by someone who is commenting on the number of people that are dying every week as a result of being found fit for work after an assessment. I don’t know if you’d like to comment on that?”

The response – from the man who is supposed to have every scrap of information about ESA, let us remember – was as follows: “I don’t have any information of that type; I haven’t seen numbers on that. Clearly every case would be a tragedy.”

That is infuriating for campaigners – one of whom contacted Vox Political and stated: “The wicked toad said he had no knowledge of the deaths. What a lie, how evil – it’s common knowledge, it’s DWP’s own figure, it’s been brought up many times in House of Commons debates… They should sack him and not believe a word he says… no impartiality whatsoever.”

It seems the tragedy, in this case, is the hiring of Dr Litchfield.

Thanks to Katy Marchant for flagging this up.

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Have 230,000 sick and disabled people been wrongly knocked off-benefit and forgotten?

Claimants for inactive benefits and the economically inactive – inactivity benefits: This chart shows claimants of Employment and Support Allowance, and Incapacity Benefit (the red dots), compared with survey figures for the economically inactive owing to long-term sickness.

Claimants for inactive benefits and the economically inactive – inactivity benefits: This chart shows claimants of Employment and Support Allowance, and Incapacity Benefit (the red dots), compared with survey figures for the economically inactive owing to long-term sickness.

After all the government’s efforts to kick people off long-term sickness benefits, the number of claimants has risen – but statistics seem unable to account for nearly a quarter of a million people.

Even though Atos and now other private assessors are working hard to meet increased reassessment targets for Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance, the government is paying out more money on these benefits – to around two million claimants.

This is a surprise for an administration that has been merrily throwing people off-benefit since it came into office, but it raises an important question: What has happened to those people?

In its January labour market report, the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion said; “The number of the economically inactive who were long-term sick or disabled rose by 40,000… as did the benefit figure. The rise in the benefit figures shows ‘early estimates’ of benefit numbers.

“The rise in both ESA/IB claimants and in the comparable survey measure is a surprise given continued IB reassessment. The impact of IB reassessment on the total claimant numbers appears to be negligible as yet, although there remains some way to go with assessments and (particularly) appeals. This factor will need to be watched closely.”

You see, the expectation was for the figure to be much lower. We know from the DWP itself that benefit reassessments have been taking place at a rate of 11,000 per week, and the assessors have been finding 68 per cent of claimants ‘fit for work’.

This means that in the last year, the work capability assessment will have found 389,000 people ‘fit for work’ and kicked them off-benefit. Around 40 per cent of them – 155,600 – are likely to have appealed, in which case they will still be on the system.

So the number of claimants would have dropped to 1,806,600. We now have 2 million claimants. Some of them will be brand new; some of them may be re-claims. We don’t know how many.

The fraud rate is 0.7 per cent. Assuming all those people have given up pretending to be sick/disabled, that means 1,634 people correctly had their benefits cut off, while 231,766 were treated unfairly by the assessors

This suggests that a number between 191,766 and 231,766 people have been wrongly knocked off the books. Where are they?

Is there a fault in this logic? Or is this figure the reason the Coalition government, Department for Work and Pensions, and Iain Duncan Smith in particular will not release the mortality figures, showing the number of people who have died within six weeks of assessment/reassessment?

We don’t have enough information to know for sure, but the implications are terrifying.

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