The battleground: Field House, in London. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but it is where the DWP will try to slither out of its Freedom of Information oblligations – again.
The First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) has provided details of the venue for the ‘benefit-related deaths’ hearing at which the DWP will appeal for permission not to publish the exact number of people who have died while claiming incapacity benefits since November 2011.
It will be at Field House, 15 Bream’s Buildings, London EC4A 1DZ, starting at 10am on November 10 this year. Apparently it’s a five-minute walk from Chancery Lane tube station; those of you with disabilities will need to plan extra time to allow for your conditions (although obviously you don’t need This Writer to remind you of that).
All tribunal hearings of this kind are open to the public, so if you are able to attend, please make a note of the date and location in your diary and come along. If you can’t, tell all your friends to come in your place.
Here’s a map:
Any and all support on the day would be welcome. The Conservative Government, by rush-publishing its fudged ‘ASMR’ statistics on benefit-related deaths, is hoping to quiet public unrest about the number of deaths that have taken place after its “welfare reforms”.
It seems clear that ministers are terrified that this issue will continue to blow up in their face.
This is your chance to show that you are not going to let it lie down and die.
Campaigners (like Vox Political’s Mike Sivier) say Iain Duncan Smith is trying to fudge the figures.
View it as blowing my own trumpet if you like, but This Writer could not let the quiet announcement that the DWP will be publishing its doctored death statistics go by without a splash in the papers.
The Daily Mirror has been brilliant on this whole story and its latest article continues the run:
The department [of work and pensions] today announced a series of documents will be published on Thursday August 27th, detailing the number of deaths for people on out-of-work benefits, Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance.
But campaigners worry the Government intend to ‘fudge’ the figures – releasing them in a form that’s impossible to compare to previous releases.
Mike Sivier, the blogger whose Freedom of Information Request sparked the DWP’s panic, said the release is unlikely to include the actual number of deaths.
Instead, the department has signalled that they’ll publish “Age-Standardised Mortality Rates (ASMR)” – ratios of deaths of claimants when compared with the population as a whole.
Mike Sivier said: “It is remarkable that, after three years of inactivity, the Conservative Government has rushed these ‘fudged’ figures into publication so soon after I won an appeal against the Department for Work and Pensions, meaning the actual numbers – not the ASMR fudge – would have to be published.”
An appeal by the Department for Work and Pensions, against being forced to reveal the exact number of people who have died while claiming social security benefits, will be heard by a tribunal in November – if it gets that far.
The DWP appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) on May 28, after the Information Commissioner ruled that it should honour a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Vox Political writer Mike Sivier. The request demanded the exact number of deaths of people claiming Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance between November 2011 and May 2014.
The Department, currently run by the Conservative Government, initially claimed that the information was due to be published at an unspecified date in the future – but it was later revealed that the facts would be fudged into ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’, presenting the deaths as a ratio compared with the population as a whole. So the initial claim was a lie and the plan was not to provide the information at all.
According to the government, these fudged figures are being rushed into publication on August 27, so we will all be able to see whether they are any use, in good time before any hearing takes place.
The Information Tribunal has now set down the date on which it will hear evidence. This will happen on November 10, at a location in central London. Make a note of it in your diary if you are interested in attending.
A new development from the DWP, as part of the appeal, is an attempt to persuade the tribunal to use its ‘steps discretion’ if it rules against the government department.
The law allows the tribunal to dictate any steps necessary to honour a FoI request – and the DWP is asking for a ruling that, even if it is found to be breaking the law by refusing to publish the requested information, no steps should be taken to provide it.
The Conservative Government debases itself by falling to such depths. Not only that, but the attempt is likely to fail; the ‘steps discretion’ is only used in extraordinary circumstances and there are none in this case.
Furthermore, the tactic may become irrelevant if This Writer is successful in his bid for the Tribunal to strike out the case as an abuse of process. My claim is that the law is clearly against the DWP – it has a less-than-50-per-cent chance of success – so the appeal is a waste of the Tribunal’s time.
If the Tribunal agrees, then the DWP’s appeal will be cancelled and the Department will be ordered to provide the information immediately.
You may be aware that This Writer made his writing debut in the national news media today (June 25), discussing the struggle to get the DWP to update its statistics on the number of people who have died while claiming incapacity benefits.
It was appropriate that this should happen today, because it is the second anniversary of the launch of my first Freedom of Information request on the subject – you know, the vexatious one.
The article that appeared was, in fact, the second piece I sent in to The Independent. The first was considered – rightly – to be a little too involved for the casual reader, so I pulled back a little and wrote a new version.
Here’s what I originally wrote:
If percentages are the evasive politician’s favourite tool, what does this make ratios?
Ministers love to use percentages if the numbers don’t add up too well – but the Department for Work and Pensions has introduced an entirely new level of evasion.
In response to my Freedom of Information request for an updated number of deaths among sickness-related benefit claimants, the DWP has said it wants to publish the details as ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’ (ASMRs) – as a ratio compared with the population as a whole.
Apparently the DWP has been working on this for no less than two years – it was first mentioned in a refusal to honour a similar request in 2013.
At the time, we were told: “We can confirm that we do intend to publish further statistics on this topic and these will answer a majority of your questions. As the statistics are intended for future publication this information is exempt from disclosure.”
Not according to the Information Commissioner!
His guidance states that any details withheld by a public authority must either have a planned publication date or a deadline for publication. Alternatively, if an information-gathering exercise is under way or there are related matters, publication may be delayed.
None of those conditions apply. I have an email from the DWP, stating that the Department has most of the requested information and could publish it within cost limits.
When I appealed against the DWP, the Information Commissioner supported me. But the DWP is taking the matter to a tribunal because it insists on holding back the information – until it can be fudged in the form of ASMRs.
That is not what I wanted when I made my latest FoI request in May 2014 – nor is it wanted by more than 225,000 people who have signed a petition in support of my request.
We want to know how many people have died, to compare with what we were told in a DWP release from July 2012 stating that, between January and November 2011, 10,600 ESA claimants had lost their lives.
Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has labelled this demand “disgraceful”.
Challenged about his refusal to publish the figures by Labour MP Marie Rimmer on Monday, he said, “Opposition Members deliberately try to misrepresent what happens… I find it disgraceful that she is going round making such allegations.”
He added, “The Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance” – a lie. Labour’s Debbie Abrahams raised a point of order about it on Wednesday and the DWP has yet to respond.
It seems clear that any “disgraceful” behaviour is being carried out by Iain Duncan Smith and his department.
These are time-sensitive figures; they should be published regularly, so that policies may be modified – particularly if many people are dying. This means figures need to be published in a way that makes them easily comparable – which is exactly what Iain Duncan Smith is trying to avoid.
And how does the DWP justify its bid to fudge the figures? “Taken in isolation, the statistics… were likely to be misinterpreted. Specifically, incorrect conclusions were likely to be drawn as to causal links between assessment outcomes and mortality.”
Perhaps the DWP’s £49,000+ per year lawyer failed to notice that Freedom of Information requests are “motive-blind” – it does not matter why I or anyone else want the information, or why DWP representatives think we want it; all that matters is whether the DWP has it and can publish it within cost limits.
From reading Twitter tonight, it seems many, many people have become over-excited about Marie Rimmer’s achievement in getting David Cameron to say the Conservative Government will be publishing figures relating to people who have died while claiming benefit.
What are you all thinking?
David Cameron is a LIAR. You should all know that by know.
When he said, “The data will be published; they are being prepared for publication as we speak,” he was referring to a very particular version of this information which will be completely useless in working out the number of people who have died.
Only a week ago, This Blog revealed that the government plans to publish the figures as ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’.
I wrote: “Age-Standardised mortality rates are the number of deaths, usually expressed per 100,000, that would occur in that area if it had the same age structure as the standard population and the local age-specific rates of the area applied, according to Public Health England.
“The figures to be published by the DWP would not state the number of deaths which have taken place between November 2011 and May 2014. Instead we would be given a fudged figure showing the number of deaths among ESA claimants when compared with the average number among the population as a whole. That is not what I requested; it is not what anybody wants.”
My assessment is endorsed by Ms Rimmer in this Mirror Onlinearticle, which states: “Officials want to release ‘standardised’ figures which won’t show the actual number of deaths – even though they released actual death numbers in 2012.
“Instead of the real-life numbers they plan to release ‘Age Standardised Mortality Rates’, which present deaths as a ratio when compared to the population as a whole.”
Ms Rimmer is quoted as follows: “What is needed now from this disclosure is the full picture with information unadulterated.
“The Prime Minister must stick to his word by publishing the data unedited.”
This Writer’s opinion is that he wanted to take away people’s reason for signing the petition to force the DWP to reveal the exact number of people who have died since the Conservatives enacted their cruel ‘welfare reforms’ in the early years of the Coalition Government.
That petition currently has nearly a quarter of a million signatories and it seems likely that Cameron is terrified that he’ll be crushed by the weight of public opinion.
He should be.
It is important that people realise what David Cameron and his government are promising is not what the public has demanded.
Unfortunately, it is true that a lie can go around the world while the truth is still putting on its running shoes and This Blog cannot publicise the facts without help.
Please share this article as widely as you can and contact your local news media – papers, TV and radio – to let them know that the government has misled people.
It is important that we do everything we can to stop David Cameron from getting away with this.
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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