Bring out your dead: This is how it has felt under the Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) governments since 2010. The death toll has been colossal. It is long past time the authorities who inflicted an early death on vulnerable, sick and disabled people were brought to justice. Labour has announced an intention to do so.
At least 130,000 people have died as a result of victimisation by the Department for Work and Pensions – on the orders of the Conservative government (helped by the Liberal Democrats during the Coalition).
That is the bare minimum as the Conservatives no longer respond to Freedom of Information requests on the subject and those responses we have are incomplete.
I have been writing about the deaths incurred as a result of Tory/DWP benefit denial, practically since I started This Site nearly eight years ago.
I knew there was never any prospect of an inquiry under a Conservative government – and to be honest, I despaired of seeing Labour promise it until Jeremy Corbyn was installed as leader. Remember when Rachel Reeves was shadow Work and Pensions secretary? Dark days!
It must be obvious that I’m leading up to this:
“A Labour government would set up an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled benefit claimants linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its private sector contractors.”
The details are on the Disability News Service website and, by all means visit and read them.
But they don’t really matter.
Under Labour, we may finally find out the real death toll – although I warn you now, it will probably be horrifying.
Under Labour, we might just be able to see those responsible for this years-long atrocity brought to justice.
So if you don’t have any other reason to support Labour, do it for this.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
“I am writing to request information regarding people on benefit and under sanction. If the information is available, please indicate where I may find it. If the information is not currently available to the public, please consider this a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
“Is it possible to see month-by-month details (from May 2010 onwards, where applicable) of the number of people on Jobseekers’ Allowance, Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit (until it was discontinued), Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment, satisfying the following criteria:
The total number of people on the individual benefits in each month?
The number who have died during each month?
The number under sanction during each month?
The number who died while under sanction during each month?
“I shall look forward to your response.”
I sent the above FoI request today (September 10), so we can probably expect the first evasion attempt in early October.
No doubt any answer will be accompanied by a claim that correlation between a sanction and a death does not imply causation.
Perhaps not, but any such correlation does imply that investigation is required to ascertain the exact cause.
So, depending on the reply, you can tell what my next step will be.
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We don’t know how many thousands have died after being cut off from benefit, but several coroners have blamed the DWP for such deaths and there’s no reason to believe many, many more haven’t been overlooked.
My own researches have revealed that the work capability assessment pushes people to their deaths – in three months after repeat assessments for ESA claimants were suspended, 156 fewer people died than the average over the years before.
It’s true – the DWP suspended repeat work capability assessments of Employment and Support Allowance claimants on January 20, 2014 and – thanks to figures This Writer received from the Department last week, Vox Political can reveal that the number of people who died while claiming incapacity benefit started to drop shortly afterwards.
Unfortunately, the numbers revealed are low – meaning that This Writer cannot claim they are statistically significant – that the results we have are not from random chance. There could be several reasons for that, though.
I won’t tell this story from the beginning because, by now, many of you will know it by heart. My freedom of information request on the number of incapacity benefit claimants who died after November 2011 was answered in part on August 27, when the DWP released figures up to the end of February 2014. As my request was for figures to May 28 that year, I demanded the rest. The DWP countered with a claim that I should send in another FoI request for those figures, but I disagreed strongly and the Information Commissioner’s Office sided with me. I had those figures last Friday.
The headline figure was that, between March 1 and May 28, 2014, a total of 8,640 incapacity benefits (ESA, IB and SDA) claimants died. That’s 97.08 per day, compared with 98.83 per day for the period December 1, 2011-February 28, 2014.
This means 156 fewer people died between March 1 and May 28, 2014 than between any equivalent period from December 2011 – February 2014.
In percentage terms, it’s a drop from 0.36 per cent of the incapacity benefits population to 0.35 per cent – as I mentioned, statistically insignificant.
It does seem reasonable, though, to take this as an indication that the work capability assessment has contributed to the deaths of claimants.
And there are mitigating factors. The average number of deaths and percentage from the 2011-14 cohort refers to a much longer period of time, during which the incapacity benefits population fell by more than 100,000 before starting to rise again – significantly, in figures relating to February 2014, after the moratorium on repeat assessments began.
The DWP stopped referring repeat assessments to Atos (for it was that company) on January 20, 2014, meaning that some of the drop in the number of deaths is likely to have occurred between then and the end of February, lowering the average number of deaths in that period.
But the result of some repeat assessments may not have been known until the March-May period, raising the average number of deaths that happened then.
And the DWP would have us believe that it has altered the work capability assessment in response to criticism. Its own figures show that, between December 2013 and December 2014, the percentage of claimants qualifying for ESA rose from 73 to 75, during a time when the number of claims has been increasing.
Undoubtedly there may be other influences which This Writer has not identified.
It seems unlikely that the DWP will volunteer any more accurate information – especially if the figures support critics of the Department. And, with the current plan to charge an exorbitant amount for ‘Freedom’ of Information requests – a contradiction in terms that the Conservative Party seems only too willing to overlook – it seems unlikely we will see any numbers for the rest of 2014 (after the number of repeat assessments flatlined completely).
The Conservative Government has been challenged to let experts analyse the effects of its policies on benefit claimants, following the publication of – extremely limited – mortality figures in August.
Disability studies specialist and disability activist Samuel Miller has written to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, and employment minister Priti Patel, asking whether they would co-operate if epidemiologists – experts in studying the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations such as benefit claimants – requested permission to conduct a thorough investigation of government policy.
In 2013, Duncan Smith turned down Mr Miller’s request to have his department hire an epidemiologist to conduct an independent study of the impact of the welfare reforms on the mortality of claimants on Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance.
“The professionals most qualified to analyse the recent DWP statistical releases on benefit deaths are Professor David Stuckler and Dr Sanjay Basu, the co-authors of The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. Why haven’t you asked them to analyze the mortality releases?” wrote Mr Miller.
“In my opinion, thousands of sick and disabled benefit claimants died needlessly because of the benefits backlog, long waits for mandatory reconsideration decisions, and the failure of the DWP to implement a sensible Work and Pensions Committee recommendation: In 2014, that Committee called on the Government to pay sick and disabled people benefits while they appealed against incorrect ‘fit for work’ decisions.
“Why didn’t you implement that recommendation, and if you would do so, how much more would it have cost your department in additional benefit expenditures?
“It’s a hard truth, but it must be stated: The purpose of a benefits backlog is to ensure that people die waiting for their claims to be processed, thus saving the Government money. The Government failed to set a reasonable timescale for the mandatory reconsideration process, leaving it open-ended. The human cost was enormous and thousands died.
“Why is your department so unwilling to implement sensible and humane mortality avoidance measures?”
Distortion With Prejudice: Will we ever get FACTS from the Department for Work and Pensions – or just more spin and spiel?
Problems in interpreting the DWP’s August 27 release of mortality statistics for claimants of incapacity benefit may be due to the government department’s failure to record its information in any reasonable manner, according to the Information Commission.
A solicitor for the Information Commissioner’s Office said this could be the case in response to concerns raised by Yr Obdt Srvt about the fudged statistics the DWP offered in response to my Freedom of Information request, sent on May 28 last year.
The comment raises serious concerns about the usefulness of the Freedom of Information Act, as it implies that any public authorities could discharge its duties by recording nonsense and publishing it as fact.
In her email, the solicitor (who will go unnamed to prevent embarrassment) wrote: “The [FOI] Act is only concerned with recorded information and not whether the information which is recorded is accurate, logical or consistent with other information.
“Where any recorded information appears to be inaccurate, illogical or inconsistent with other published information, it may be desirable for a public authority to provide an explanatory not to accompany the disclosure but neither the Act nor the material decision notice compel the DWP to provide such accompanying explanation.”
In other words, anything that has been published by the Department for Work and Pensions – regarding this or any other statistical information – may be untrue.
A prime example of this is in the DWP’s claims regarding the total number of deaths in its document Mortality Statistics: Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance’, in which death figures per year for 2009-2013 are provided for the total incapacity benefits population but also separately for the ESA and IB/SDA populations. If the separate totals are added together, than the sum is greater – every year – than the number claimed for the population as a whole.
This writer does not accept that any benefit claimant can die twice.
Ignorant: Priti Patel will need to work a lot harder if she thinks she’s going to convince anybody about the Conservative Government’s appalling record of deaths among people on incapacity benefits.
The new Parliamentary session is going to be very hard on Iain Duncan Smith and his team (if you can call it that) at the Department for Work and Pensions. His skiving employment minister Priti Patel discovered this on her very first day back.
Ms Patel, who had the hypocrisy to criticise the UK’s workforce as lazy at a time when her own Parliamentary attendance record was among the lowest in the House of Commons, faced an inevitable series of questions on the government’s botched release of figures relating to the deaths of people claiming incapacity benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance – and of course messed up her answers ridiculously.
“It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit,” she stated. Oh, really?
Didn’t the DWP do just that in its statistical releases of August 27? Among the incapacity benefits population alone, the number of deaths recorded – by the DWP – between 2003 and 2013 was 444,620… or 448,300, depending on whether you’ve accepted the DWP’s accumulated death figure or checked them by adding together the separate totals for IB/SDA and ESA. As you can tell, they don’t add up – casting doubt on the reliability of any of the figures the DWP has released.
“It is impossible and completely wrong to draw any causality from the statistics,” continued Ms Patel, tragically. “Any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond those figures is wrong.” My word, she was keen to make sure we knew what the Conservative Party thinks is wrong, wasn’t she!
What a shame for Ms Patel that she was in the wrong. While the figures themselves do not – necessarily – damn the DWP’s activities since the Tories took over, they do provide enough information to support some serious questions about Conservative Government policy and its effects on people with long-term illnesses.
If all is well in the assessment of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, then why did the DWP deliberately mislead This Writer, by falsely claiming it could not answer my Freedom of Information request on the incapacity benefit deaths because those facts were to be published in the future? In fact, the DWP was planning to publish a set of ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’ – about which we’ll learn more in a moment. By using this tactic, the DWP successfully evaded answering my question for more than two years. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?
According to Ms Patel, when the ASMRs were finally published, they were “in line with Office for National Statistics requirements and to national statistics standard”. That’s all very well, but the ONS provides information on how to create ASMRs that means the figures published on August 27 are, at most, a single day’s work for one person at the DWP. I submitted an FoI request on May 28, 2014, meaning they were published almost one year and three months later, with no reason provided for the delay. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?
Ms Patel said: “Specifically with regard to the statistics, the trend is that the number of people dying, as a proportion of the population, is going down.” What clever phrasing (she no doubt thought)! That is, indeed, what the ASMR statistics show. But the population of the UK is increasing rapidly, and this affects per-head-of-population figures like ASMRs – perhaps Ms Patel should have liaised with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister before passing her comment.
The numbers paint a different story. For the sake of transparency, This Writer has been using the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and the number of people who have died after being declared fit for work in order to demonstrate this. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of people in the WRAG increased by nine per cent. The number of deaths increased by 24 per cent – from 2,990 people to 3,720. Increased. This does not indicate a downward trend. This is in a group where the Conservative Government expects – no, demands – that people will be ready to return to work within a year. This means members of the group should have no worse life expectancy than anyone in the general population, but if you apply the death rate among the general population to the WRAG, then the number of deaths in 2012 should have been 1,037, and in 2013 the total should have been 1,132 – in both cases, that’s around one-third of the actual figure. Priti Patel wants us to think that is no reason to question whether the work capability assessment – the procedure used to decide if a person should receive ESA and whether they deserve to go into the support group for people with severe illnesses or the WRAG – is fit for purpose. What do you think?
Let’s look at the number of people who have died after being assessed as fit for work. The media – and the Conservative Government – have been using this figure of 2,380 deaths from December 2011 to February 2014 (inclusive). But those are only people who died within two weeks of having their claim stopped (on the grounds that they were fit for work)! What about people like Mark Wood, who died of starvation, several months after the DWP decided he was fit for work? What about people who were moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were told they were fit for work? Did they all find jobs and live happily ever after? This seems unlikely. How many of them were sanctioned because they could not fulfil the requirements of their Jobseekers’ Agreement’? How often? How many of them died? How many people were pushed off benefits altogether, and what happened to them? We may accept the claim that it is wrong to extrapolate anything from the figures, but isn’t that because the figures have been deliberately phrased in order to make it so?
If you disagree, take a look at This Writer’s Freedom of Information request. The part requiring the DWP to state the number of people who died after being found fit for work calls for information covering the period between December 2011 and May 2014 (inclusive), covering everybody who had been claiming ESA but died within that period. The DWP has complied with neither of those parts of the request, despite having withdrawn its appeal against answering the FoI request, and is in danger of being in contempt of court. Do you think that is acceptable behaviour for a government department?
In a later exchange, Louise Haigh MP said: “Contrary to the Minister’s earlier remarks, figures finally released by the Department over the summer showed that 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work—more than four times the death rate of the general population. In a harrowing case, a constituent of mine reported to me that she frequently considered committing suicide, both before and after being found fit for work. Does the Minister not feel that it is therefore high time to review the work capability assessment and that thousands of people are being wrongly defined as fit for work?”
In response, Ms Patel said: “Organisations have commented on this and Full Fact, which is widely known, has said that similar comments to those made by the hon. Lady, which have been widely reported, are simply wrong.”
So Ms Haigh was wrong to say that her constituent had considered suicide due to the DWP’s treatment of her? Ms Patel had no right to make such a claim; she did not have any experience of the case.
As for Full Fact, the fact that the Conservative Government was using that website’s worthless article about the death statistics to justify its behaviour speaks volumes about the relationship between the two. We may not be able to draw conclusions about causality from the DWP’s death figures, but we may certainly draw conclusions about the DWP and Full Fact, it seems. This Writer’s advice is that any further comment on this subject from that website may be dismissed.
We should not have to wait too long for that fate to claim Ms Patel, also…
Not strictly true: Many of the deceased had already completed appeals at the time of their death. We don’t know how many, though, because we don’t know how many of them lost. Even after giving up and releasing some figures, the DWP has been extremely vague with them.
Did you know that the Department for Work and Pensions spent two years delaying the publication of death figures for incapacity benefit claimants when they could have been completed in a week?
The Office for National Statistics provides information on how to calculate Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, including information on the size of the general population and the death rates for particular age ranges within it. You can download the templates yourself from this site.
This means that the Department for Work and Pensions could have used its own figures to complete this work within a single day – and could have had it verified within a week at the most.
Yet ministers chose to dawdle for more than a year – more than two years if you don’t believe the excuse that their 2013 claim to be publishing the figures in the future was a mistake.
Does it come down to the fact that 2,890 people died in December 2012, while claiming Employment and Support Allowance – a tripling of the average death rate for the previous 11 months?
Did ministers want to hide the fact that the policies of Iain Duncan Smith were causing more and more people to die while claiming the payments that should have helped them to live? And was this not happening when they should have been using the figures to prevent such deaths?
Does the law not state – explicitly – that anyone, in a corporate body such as the DWP, whose negligence causes the deaths of others, should face prosecution for corporate manslaughter?
The publication of the DWP’s damped-down death statistics (we’ll be given ratios because the actual number of deaths is too inflammatory, we’re told) will be a victory for those of us who have campaigned for the facts, no matter what they actually say.
If you didn’t know already, the DWP only announced that it would publish these figures on Thursday (August 27) after This Writer supplied his submission to the Information Tribunal on the DWP’s appeal against providing the actual numbers – a submission which included a request to have the appeal struck out on the grounds that it is an abuse of process.
Suddenly the date of publication went from being “before the end of autumn” (according to Priti Patel) to August 27. Clearly the DWP was terrified that it would lose control of events and the public would get accurate information, and acted accordingly.
In short: IDS and his department fell apart like a paper bag in a thunderstorm.
It is impossible to say what the statistics will reveal, when they are finally published (at 9.30am on Thursday, it seems). Perhaps they will provide exhaustive information on the deaths that have taken place, broken down into the groups requested by This Writer and others (it is said to be in response to FoI requests), and also providing information on the causes of the deaths, with appendices containing the raw data used to produce the report.
Alternatively, we could get a dumbed-down piece of fluff that provides as little as possible that can be used to find out the extent of the carnage, but can be waved at us by Iain Duncan Smith as evidence that he has given us what we wanted… and as evidence that any figures demanded by the Information Tribunal are of little consequence.
That is the aim – damage limitation. To make it seem that nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Plausible deniability.
The DWP already believes it has plausible deniability for every dodgy death on its books; no DWP representative can be said to be directly responsible for any of the deaths – they were a consequence of claimants’ illnesses, right? Even the suicides can be claimed as indicative of claimants’ poor mental health – except we know that anyone confessing suicidal thoughts at a work capability assessment is immediately asked why they haven’t already killed themselves.
Not conclusive? Maybe not. But then, that isn’t the only evidence available. It’s all part of a bigger picture.
In December last year, This Blog published a series of articles (here’s one) explaining how the DWP’s behaviour may be equated with the Nazi ‘chequebook euthanasia’ programme that eventually became known as Aktion T4 – a programme that caused the deaths of 70,000 German people with (among other problems) mental illnesses, before its methods were used against entire races the Nazis considered undesirable, in the extermination camps.
“It could be argued that the Coalition Government doesn’t have any blood on its hands. Nobody goes around the United Kingdom subjecting the sick and disabled to so-called ‘mercy’ killings, after all,” I wrote.
“They just subject people – who are already in an unstable frame of mind – to a highly pressurised ‘fitness’ test and then demand to know why, considering their condition, they haven’t killed themselves yet. Then they let those people do all the work themselves.”
On Thursday, it’s just possible that we might find out how successful they’ve been. If there have been more than 70,273 deaths in the last few years, the Conservative Party will have beaten the Nazis.
And Iain Duncan Smith intends to continue. Only this week, he announced a new plan to purge the Employment and Support Allowance benefit bill of mentally ill claimants. He told us “Work is good for your health”.
In fact, if you have a mental illness, work can drive you to an early death via a combination of (among others) stress, anxiety, depression and paranoia.
Duncan Smith’s claim that “Work is good for your health” may therefore be seen as a lie – almost as great a lie as the slogan from which it was adapted.
You’ll be familiar with it: “Work makes you free” – it hangs in its more familiar form of “Arbeit macht frei” over the gates of the Auschwitz extermination camp that Duncan Smith visited in 2009.
The inhumanity of Iain Duncan Smith: He is pictured laughing at the plight of a rape victim who, under his ‘reforms’, has to pay bedroom tax for the panic room she needs in order to be safe from her abusive, rapist ex-partner.
Iain Duncan Smith must resign after he disgraced himself yet again, with a leaflet containing fabricated comments from non-existent DWP benefit claimants, according to a leading Opposition MP.
Debbie Abrahams, who has been a leading light in the fight to force the Conservative Government to reveal the true number of people who have died following Duncan Smith’s “welfare reforms”, said the Work and Pensions secretary’s behaviour was a “disgrace” and his position was untenable.
But don’t take This Writer’s word for it – here’s Ms Abrahams herself (all boldings mine):
“As a member of the work and pensions select committee, I have called for Iain Duncan Smith to resign following revelations that his department created a leaflet about sanctions containing made-up quotes attributed to non-existent benefit claimants.
“I instigated an inquiry into the use of sanctions by the work and pensions committee, which reported in March this year, and I believe after being caught out so publicly it must be impossible for Iain Duncan Smith to continue as work and pensions secretary and he should do the honourable thing and resign.
“This is yet another example of not only his incompetence, but what can only be described as very shady and unscrupulous behaviour not befitting a Member of Parliament let alone a Secretary of State leading a Government Department.
“Once again, Duncan Smith is caught trying to paint a particular picture of social security claimants. He is a disgrace and should do the honourable thing and resign. When his own department have to resort to this sort of tactic, in a desperate attempt to make it appear as though the system is working, no-one can be left believing that his draconian social security sanctions regime is fit for purpose.
“Only Mr Duncan Smith seems to believe that unfair and inappropriate use of sanctions on vulnerable social security claimants is acceptable. And now he’s shown that he thinks it’s acceptable for his department to produce literature that is fabricated in a desperate attempt to make people believe his sanctions regime is working fairly.
“It beggars belief that David Cameron can, in the light of this embarrassing debacle, continue to back Mr Duncan Smith as a credible work and pensions secretary when he has presided over such a catalogue of errors.
“In the last few weeks alone, the independent Social Security Advisory Committee has produced a report which says that the Government’s sanctions regime should be given ‘an urgent and robust review’.
“And following the Government’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s ruling compelling the Government to publish figures on the number of people on Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance who have died between November 2011 and May 2014, including those found fit for work, a Tribunal has now been set for November 10to hear why Iain Duncan Smith has refused to publish these data.
“I will never forget the fact that not only did Iain Duncan Smith defy the Information Commissioner’s ruling to provide these data on deaths of people on social security, but that he stated to me, personally, in Parliament, it did not exist. But then, just two days later, the Prime Minister said to me, again in Parliament, the data would be published, only for the DWP’s appeal documents to defy him as well, stating publication was not in the public interest!
“The select committee inquiry which I instigated reported in March and the mountain of evidence that was put before the select committee by religious organisations, academics and charities, not to mention those actually affected by inappropriate sanctions themselves, pointed overwhelmingly to a system that is inhumane and deliberately created to skew unemployment figures.
“The sad truth is that Iain Duncan Smith is doing everything he can to cover up the mess he has created.
“This is a mess that is ruining innocent people’s lives and, as the evidence suggests, even killing some.
“The only credible reason he’s going to such lengths to hang on to his job is because he knows he has so much to hide.”
A petition on the Government website, calling for a vote of “no confidence” in Iain Duncan Smith and his removal from office, may be signed here.
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