Tag Archives: Maggie Zolobajluk

The increasing death toll due to the loss of benefits

The following article is set to appear as an update to the latest petition on Change.org by This Writer, Maggie Zolobajluk and Gill Thompson, for the government to implement the recommendations put to it, ensuring that no benefit claimants are left unable to support themselves due to withdrawal of payments, and that a broad, independent review of the system should be enacted.

In support of the petition, Maggie has written the following:

141216pregnantwomansanctionedThe Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) published guidance to job centre officials who decide whether claimants should have their payments stopped.

The guidance says: “It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without:
1. essential items such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation, or
2. sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks.

“The Decision Maker must decide if the health of the person with the medical condition would decline more than a normal healthy adult.”

As if it wouldn’t!

I have compiled a list of the deceased using the information here, here, here and here.

I fully agree with the assertion of Welfare Tales that these are the deaths that we know of because a friend, relative or the coroner has commented. Sadly, there are probably many more.

Many of our supporters have left distressing replies about their experiences on our petition.

If you feel able to share your experience please post them as comments; if you wish to remain anonymous please put a note on your comment and you will be anonymised.

Please let us know if:

  • You have had a JSA or ESA sanction, or
  • You have received a JSA sanction and/or you have been left without funds while awaiting a Mandatory Reconsideration decision.

Please also let us know why and how long you have been without funds and the effect on your health.

If you are feeling suicidal, please speak to your doctor and/or someone close to you. Or contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

The list Maggie compiled follows.

On a personal note, This Writer recalls recent attempts to claim that the vast majority of deaths were likely to happen anyway, due to the fact that (among other elements) the vast majority of the dead were aged over 50. Among the 72 people named on this list, 33 of those whose ages are known were younger than 50 when they died – nearly half the total.

Conor Cribbin, 25 years old. The student suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and his medical card was stopped in the period leading up to his suicide. He had also learned just days prior that he had failed to secure a college grant. According to his father, Conor was in low spirits in the days beforehand. He added: “He couldn’t get his medication for his ADHD.”

Mark Cotton, 54 years old. Lost both his legs due to a medical condition. Died in an apparent suicide fewer than 48 hours after being told an allowance to pay his carer was being cut from nine hours a week to only three.

Terry McGarvey, 48 years old. Dangerously ill from polycytheamia, Terry asked for an ambulance to be called during his Work Capability Assessment. He knew that he wasn’t well enough to attend his WCA but feared that his benefits would be stopped if he did not.
He died the following day.

Elaine Lowe, 53 years old. Suffering from COPD and fearful of losing her benefits. In desperation, Elaine chose to commit suicide.

Mark Wood, 44 years old. Found fit for work by Atos, against his Doctors advice and assertions that he had complex mental health problems. Starved to death after benefits stopped, weighing only 5st 8lb when he died.

Paul Reekie, 48 years old, the Leith based Poet and Author. Suffered from severe depression. Committed suicide after DWP stopped his benefits due to an Atos ‘fit for work’ decision.

Leanne Chambers, 30 years old. Suffered depression for many years which took a turn for the worst when she was called in for a WCA. Leanne committed suicide soon after.

Karen Sherlock, 44 years old. Multiple health issues. Found fit for work by Atos and denied benefits. Fought a long battle to get placed into the support group of ESA. Karen died the following month of a heart attack.

Carl Payne, 42 years old. Fears of losing his lifeline benefits due to welfare reform led this Father of two to take his own life.

Tim Salter, 53 years old. Blind and suffering from Agoraphobia. Tim hanged himself after Atos found him fit for work and stopped his benefits.

Edward Jacques, 47 years old. years old and suffering from HIV and Hepatitis C. Edward had a history of severe depression and self-harm. He took a fatal overdose after Atos found him fit for work and stopped his benefits.

Linda Wootton, 49 years old. years old. A double heart and lung transplant patient. Died just nine days after the government found her fit for work, their refusal letter arriving as she lay desperately ill in her hospital bed.

Steven Cawthra, 55 years old. His benefits stopped by the DWP and with rising debts, he saw suicide as the only way out of a desperate situation

Elenore Tatton, 39 years old. Died just weeks after the government found her fit for work.

John Walker, 57 years old. saddled with debt because of the bedroom tax, John took his own life.

Brian McArdle, 57 years old. Suffered a fatal heart attack the day after his disability benefits were stopped.

Stephen Hill, 53 years old. Died of a heart attack one month after being found fit for work, even though he was waiting for major heart surgery.

Jacqueline Harris, 53 years old. A former Nurse who could hardly walk was found fit for work by Atos and her benefits withdrawn. in desperation, she took her own life.

David Barr, 28 years old. Suffering from severe mental difficulties. Threw himself from a bridge after being found fit for work by Atos and failing his appeal.

David Groves, 56 years old. Died of a heart attack the night before taking his work capability assessment. His widow claimed that it was the stress that killed him.

Nicholas Peter Barker, 51 years old. Shot himself after being told his benefits were being stopped. He was unable to work after a brain haemorrhage left him paralysed down one side.

Mark and Helen Mullins, 48 and 59 years old. Forced to live on £57.50 a week and make 12 mile trips each week to get free vegetables to make soup. Mark and Helen both committed suicide.

Richard Sanderson, 44 years old. Unable to find a job and with his housing benefit cut forcing him to move, but with nowhere to go. Richard committed suicide.

Martin Rust, 36 years old. A schizophrenic man who killed himself two months after the government found him fit to work.

Craig Monk, 43 years old. A vulnerable gentleman and a partial amputee who slipped so far into poverty that he hanged himself.

Colin Traynor, 29 years old and suffering from epilepsy was stripped of his benefits. He appealed. Five weeks after his death his family found he had won his appeal.

Elaine Christian, 57 years old. Worried about her work capability assessment, she was subsequently found at Holderness drain, drowned and with ten self inflicted wrist wounds.

Christelle Pardoe, 32 years old and Kayjah Pardoe 5 month old. Pregnant, her benefits stopped, Christelle, clutching her baby son jumped from a third floor balcony.

Mark Scott, 46 years old. His DLA and housing benefit stopped and sinking into deep depression, Mark died six weeks later.

Cecilia Burns, 51 years old. Found fit for work while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She died just a few weeks after she won her appeal against the Atos decision.

Chris Cann, 57 years old. Found dead in his home just months after being told he had to undergo a medical assessment to prove he could not work.

Peter Hodgson, 49 years old. Called to JCP to see if he was suitable for volunteer work. Peter had suffered a stroke, a brain haemorrhage and had a fused leg. His appointment letter arrived a few days after he took his own life.

Paul Willcoxson, 33 years old. Suffered with mental health problems and worried about government cuts. Paul committed suicide by hanging himself.

Stephanie Bottrill, 53 years old. After paying £80 a month for bedroom tax, Stephanie could not afford heating in the winter, and lived on tinned custard. In desperation, she chose to walk in front of a lorry.

Larry Newman suffered from a degenerative lung condition, his weight dropping from 10 to 7 stone. Atos awarded him zero points, he died just three months after submitting his appeal.

Paul Turner, 52 years old. After suffering a heart attack, he was ordered to find a job in February. In April Paul died from ischaemic heart disease.

Christopher Charles Harkness, 39. After finding out that the funding for his care home was being withdrawn, this man who suffered with mental health issues, took his own life.

Sandra Louise Moon, 57 years old. Suffering from a degenerative back condition, depression and increasingly worried about losing her incapacity benefit. Sandra committed suicide by taking an overdose.

Lee Robinson, 39 years old. Took his own life after his housing benefit and council tax were taken away from him.

David Coupe, 57 years old. A Cancer sufferer found fit for work by Atos in 2012. David lost his sight, then his hearing, then his mobility, and then his life.

Michael McNicholas, 34 years old. Severely depressed and a recovering alcoholic. Michael committed suicide after being called in for a Work Capability Assessment by Atos.

Victor Cuff, 59 years old and suffering from severe depression. Victor hanged himself after the DWP stopped his benefits.

Charles Barden, 74 years old. Charles committed suicide by hanging due to fears that the Bedroom Tax would leave him destitute and unable to cope.

Ian Caress, 43 years old. Suffered multiple health issues and deteriorating eyesight. Ian was found fit for work by Atos, he died ten months later having lost so much weight that his family said that he resembled a concentration camp victim.

Iain Hodge, 30 years old. Suffered from the life threatening illness, Hughes Syndrome. Found fit for work by Atos and benefits stopped, Iain took his own life.

Wayne Grew, 37 years old. Severely depressed due to government cuts and the fear of losing his job, Wayne committed suicide by hanging.

Kevin Bennett, 40 years old. Kevin a sufferer of schizophrenia and mental illness became so depressed after his JSA was stopped that he became a virtual recluse. Kevin was found dead in his flat several months later.

David Elwyn Hughs Harries, 48 years old. A disabled man who could no longer cope after his parents died, could find no help from the government via benefits. David took an overdose as a way out of his solitude.

Denis Jones, 58 years old. A disabled man crushed by the pressures of government cuts, in particular the Bedroom Tax, and unable to survive by himself. Denis was found dead in his flat.

Shaun Pilkington, 58 years old. Unable to cope any more, Shaun shot himself dead after receiving a letter from the DWP informing him that his ESA was being stopped.

Paul ?, 51 years old .Died in a freezing cold flat after his ESA was stopped. Paul appealed the decision and won on the day that he lost his battle to live.

Chris MaGuire, 61 years old. Deeply depressed and incapable of work, Chris was summonsed by Atos for a Work Capability Assessment and deemed fit for work. On appeal, a judge overturned the Atos decision and ordered them to leave him alone for at least a year, which they did not do. In desperation, Chris took his own life, unable to cope anymore.

Peter Duut, a Dutch national with terminal cancer living in the UK for many years found that he was not entitled to benefits unless he was active in the labour market. Peter died leaving his wife destitute, and unable to pay for his funeral.

George Scollen, age unknown. Took his own life after the government closed the Remploy factory he had worked in for 40 years.

Julian Little, 47 years old. Wheelchair bound and suffering from kidney failure, Julian faced the harsh restrictions of the Bedroom Tax and the loss of his essential dialysis room. He died shortly after being ordered to downgrade.

Miss DE, Early 50’s. Suffering from mental illness, this lady committed suicide less than a month after an Atos assessor gave her zero points and declared her fit for work.

Robert Barlow, 47 years old. Suffering from a brain tumour, a heart defect and awaiting a transplant, Robert was deemed fit for work by Atos and his benefits were withdrawn. He died penniless less than two years later.

Carl Joseph Foster-Brown, 58 years old. As a direct consequence of the wholly unjustifiable actions of the Job centre and DWP, this man took his own life.

Martin Hadfield, 20 years old. Disillusioned with the lack of jobs available in this country but too proud to claim benefits. Utterly demoralised, Martin took his own life by hanging himself.

Annette Francis, 30 years old. A mum-of-one suffering from severe mental illness, found dead after her disability benefits were ceased.

Ian Jordan, 60 years old. His benefits slashed after Atos and the DWP declared Ian, a sufferer of Barratt’s Oesophagus, fit for work, caused him to run up massive debts in order to survive. Ian was found dead in his flat after taking an overdose.

Janet McCall, 53 years old. Terminally ill with pulmonary fibrosis and declared ‘Fit for Work’ by Atos and the DWP, this lady died 5 months after her benefits were stopped.

Stuart Holley, 23 years old. A man driven to suicide by the DWP’s incessant pressure and threat of sanctions for not being able to find a job.

Graham Shawcross, 63 years old. A sufferer of the debilitating disease, Addison’s. Died of a heart attack due to the stress of an Atos ‘Fit for Work’ decision.

David Clapson, 59 years old. A diabetic ex-soldier deprived of the means to survive by the DWP and the governments harsh welfare reforms, David died all but penniless, starving and alone, his electricity run out.

Chris Smith 59 years old.While he lay in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. The Jobcentre bombarded him with texts telling him he had to apply for jobs, and letters urging him to come to ‘job workshops.’

Nathan Hartwell, 36 years old, died of heart failure after an 18-month battle with the ­Department for Works and Pensions.

Michael Connolly, 60 years old. A Father of One, increasingly worried about finances after his benefits were cut. Committed suicide by taking 13 times the fatal dose of prescription medicine on the 30th October – His Birthday.

Jan Mandeville, 52 years old, A lady suffering from Fibromyalgia, driven to the point of mental and physical breakdown by this governments welfare reforms. Jan was found dead in her home after battling the DWP for ESA and DLA.

Trevor Drakard, 50 years old. A shy and reserved, severe epileptic who suffered regular and terrifying fits almost his entire life, hounded to suicide by the DWP who threatened to stop his life-line benefits.

Unnamed, death of a severely disabled Dorset resident, who took her own life while battling the bedroom tax.

Aaron Lane, 31 years old. A talented musician battling mental health problems took his own life after he was ruled fit to work.

Glen Harris, 55 years old. Killed himself with an electric saw because he feared his benefits would be changed after being found fit for work.

Peter Kelleher, 44 years old. Found in his flat with a ligature around his neck and in a state of decomposition after the pressure of mounting debt and no benefit at all became too much to bear.

Malcolm Burge, 66 years old. A retired gardener who killed himself after being hounded for £800 after changes to his benefits left him unable to cope.

Julia Kelly, 39 years old. Suffering with chronic back pain and hounded constantly by the DWP, Julia commited suicide after receiving a letter demanding that she pay back over £4000.

Benjamin Del McDonald, 34 years old. A doting Father of three children suffering from depression due to removal of his lifeline benefits, Benjamin committed suicide by hanging.

Mark William Jacka, 26 years old. Stressed to the point of suicide, Mark was found hanged at his home the day after a visit to his local Job Centre to apply for JSA.

David O’Mar, 58 years old. Suffering from Pneumonia in a hospital bed. Found ‘Fit for Work’ by the DWP only to die two weeks later.

Moira Drury, 61 years old. Suffering from limited mobility, mini-strokes, epilepsy and depression. Her daughter believes that a seven-month delay in processing her benefit claim hastened her death.

Gordon Lang, 62 years old, A marine veteran who died from cancer while battling the state over benefits.

Nick Barker, a former sheep farmer, had a brain haemorrhage which left him struggling to walk. The father of two shot himself after the DWP claimed he was fit to work. Recording a suicide verdict, coroner Michael Oakley said the benefits assessment was key to the tragedy.

Found Fit for work

David Waite, 60 years old, suffers from a string of health problems including brain, damage neck pain, diabetes and depression.

The Peoples review of the WCA published this report. There is a long depressing list of other people whose health has deteriorated after being “found fit for work”.

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Release the Death Statistics on Benefit Cuts to Show Their Full Impact | Maggie Zolobajluk

Please follow the link to the Huffington Post article by Maggie Zolobajluk (with a little assistance from This Writer).

Undoubtedly most – if not all – of you have already signed the petition on Change.org (and if not, why not?) but the tribunal on the DWP’s appeal against providing the benefit-related death statistics is unlikely to take place until late September or early October and it is important to keep this issue in the public eye until then.

Following last week’s budget announcement of £12billion in benefit cuts, how many people will die as a result? Dramatic as it may sound, there is already solid evidence that deaths directly correlate to the harsh family benefits caps like those the government plans to introduce. But that evidence is being hushed up. And you can help it become public by signing the petition I’ve set up on Change.org, which appeals for its release.

I’m asking Iain Duncan Smith to stop blocking the publication of these death statistics from the past four years, which reveal how many people have died within six weeks of their benefits being stopped.

Source: Release the Death Statistics on Benefit Cuts to Show Their Full Impact | Maggie Zolobajluk

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The sneaky cut to Tax Credits for the disabled – Telling It As It Is

A disabled person working 16hours a week and earning £8 per hour by my calculations will be £24 a week worse off.

Tax Credits are not easy to calculate and most people will check to see that the information they have sent in is correct and the Tax Credit Office will calculate the rest. A main factor in calculating Tax Credits is the level of money that can be earned before being reductions are made.

From April 2016, the level at which a household’s tax credits are withdrawn for every extra pound earned will be reduced from £6,420 to £3,850.

The Taper which reduces amount of Tax Credits by 41pence for every £1 of income above a certain level) is increasing to 48%

Source: The sneaky cut to Tax Credits for the disabled (It’s hidden in the calculations) | Telling it as it is

Our sick and disabled are being stifled; we should give them space to breathe

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity will be holding a mass demonstration against the government’s austerity measures on Wednesday (July 8) – which is when George Osborne is set to deliver his benefits-bashing ’emergency’ budget.

They have invited Maggie Zolobajluk, who organised the petition in support of my bid to find out how many people have died while claiming sickness/disability benefits, to speak – but not me.

Maggie kindly asked me if I would be able to make it to London and speak instead of her – and I’d love to – but I don’t think it’s possible. The distance is too great, and I can’t justify being away from Mrs Mike – and also the blog, on a day that will affect the way the UK develops for the foreseeable future.

I started drafting out a few words for her to deliver on my behalf – but they turned into a full-blown speech instead. I ended up writing far too much – so, rather than ask her to say it, I’m publishing it here instead.

A previous demonstration, staged by the People's Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.

A previous demonstration, staged by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.

I am neither sick, nor disabled – but I choose to side with the sick and disabled against oppression.

It isn’t an entirely altruistic choice. Mrs Mike – as she is known on my blog, Vox Political – has been ill for many years, and we have fought battle after battle with the Department for Work and Pensions over the benefits to which she is entitled.

You’re probably sick of hearing the famous verse by Pastor Martin Niemoller, but he was right. Who’s going to stand up for me, if I don’t stand up for other people first?

Mrs Mike and I are used to winning those battles, and I wonder how much of that success is due to the fact that I am able-bodied. Think about it – if you are battling constant pain, or are a victim of depression, or your condition fluctuates so you simply don’t know if you’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning, or you have any number of the other maladies that may affect the sick or disabled – then the last thing you’ll want to do is argue over tiny details with a gang of suited pedants in Whitehall.

Additionally, these pedants have employed private contractors to make sure they judge the severity of a person’s sickness using information that is wrong.

If you’re sick, or disabled, the pressure can be too much to bear. And not every sick or disabled person has an able-bodied partner like me to take up the slack.

So, inevitably, the worst happens.

Only last weekend I learned about Graham Shawcross, of Manchester. Mr Shawcross had lived – and worked – with Addison’s Disease for 40 years before having to claim sickness benefit. It is a potentially fatal condition whose symptoms include exhaustion, muscle weakness, dizziness, fainting and cramps that can lead to adrenal crisis, which can be fatal. But that isn’t what killed him!

No – Mr Shawcross died of a heart attack in February, after being ruled “fit for work” by the DWP in November last year. He had been preparing to present an appeal against the decision – writing out the details several times a day, and talking about it constantly.

His widow said the stress of having to do this – stress that was created by, and only by, the DWP’s “fit for work” decision – was what killed him.

You should be aware that the DWP says it is “irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”, and “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population”. We’ve seen that comment in the newspapers very often over the last few weeks.

It’s a statement that falls flat when the DWP’s own position is that the individual was “fit for work” at the time of his death.

Months after Mr Shawcross passed away – and despite being told this had happened by his widow – the DWP initially invited him to an appeal hearing, and then admitted he was seriously ill and deserved Employment and Support Allowance.

It’s a bit late for that now!

How many other benefit denials have been reversed after the claimant has died?

We don’t know – but it’s the subject of my next Freedom of Information request!

The man responsible for this regime, Iain Duncan Smith, is said to be religious so he should understand me when I say people claiming benefit must feel as though they have been crucified by their physical or mental ill-health. Instead of offering relief, Mr Duncan Smith and his department complete the job with a ‘crown of forms’ that push them into an early grave.

One has to question the morality of a supposed Christian who approves of crucifixion!

But then, it seems even leading members of the Catholic Church to which he belongs have tried pleading with him to alter the fatal direction of his policies – there was an article to that effect in the most recent edition of Catholic newspaper The Tablet.

But government ministers say it is “irresponsible” to claim that the benefit assessment system had anything to do with the death.

I wonder if they’ll say that to Mrs Shawcross, who is adamant that the system is what killed her husband. That would be a conversation worth hearing!

I first became concerned about the number of people who were dying while claiming benefits when the DWP itself revealed that 10,600 deaths had occurred between January and November 2011. Note that the official figures did not include December, which is considered to be a season of increased suicides.

This concern became alarm after I learned that Freedom of Information requests by other individuals, calling for updated figures, had been refused for no reason other than that the 2011 statistics had been part of an ‘ad-hoc’, one-off, release.

So I sent off a request, and asked readers of the blog to support it with requests of their own – to show that it was a matter of wider public concern. Only 23 did, but that was enough for the DWP to refuse me on the grounds that I was being “vexatious” – trying to flood the Department with work.

I’m still not sure how that claim can be justified. It’s the same information – all they had to do was put it together and send it off to the people who wanted it. It seems that creating a mailing list of email addresses is too much for a government department with more than 100,000 employees.

The tribunal that turned down my appeal did express considerable sympathy for my position, and suggested that another FoI request should result in publication of the statistics. So I wrote another one.

I won’t go into the details – it’s enough for you to know that, after several months of fighting with the DWP, I won.

The DWP then chose to take the matter to a tribunal, employing an expensive Treasury barrister to make out the case. It seems that, while Freedom of Information requests cannot cost more than £600 – that’s the legal limit – the government can spend as much of your money as it likes, if it wants to withhold the facts.

That’s when Maggie Zolobajluk started her petition, calling on the tribunal to refuse the appeal.

Now, instead of 23 supporters, my request has 230,000.

So David Cameron told Parliament that the figures will be published. What he didn’t tell Parliament was that they would be homogenised, amortised, Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, that show the deaths as a ratio compared with the death rate amongst the wider population – and he certainly won’t tell anyone how many people have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits since November 2011.

And now the Justice Secretary is trying to make it harder for Freedom of Information requests to succeed. It seems the embarrassment they cause is just too much for the administration that once said it intended to be the most open government ever.

Michael Gove wants to include “thinking time” in the cost of handling FoI requests.

What does that even mean?

Parliament’s Justice Select Committee has already stated that including “thinking time” in FoI costs would introduce an unwelcome variable into the system, which relies on everyone having equal access to the facts. The cost of “thinking time” would depend on the abilities of the civil servant dealing with the request.

Not only that, but we should ask what “thinking” has to do with it in any case. When a request is made under the Freedom of Information Act, the only questions a public authority may ask are whether it has the information and can publish it within the £600 cost limit. Questions about – for example – the motives behind the request are immaterial.

What are we to conclude?

That we have a government that intentionally complicates benefit claims for the sick and disabled.

That people who might live decent and, in many ways, productive lives are having those lives cut short because of goverment policy.

That the government does not want the wider population of the UK to know the true number of deaths.

That the government wants to shut down the Freedom of Information system so inconvenient questions like this can no longer be asked.

In short, that the government wants to smother any attempt to question it.

Too many sick and disabled people have been smothered already.

They need space to breathe.

It is up to the rest of us to help them get it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Setting the record straight after the Independent’s error-ridden ‘sanctions’ story

The following article was written together with Maggie Zolobajluk, the creator of the Change.org petition in support of my Freedom of Information request on the subject of the ESA deaths.

Maggie thought this particular version was a little too confrontation for her taste and a toned-down version was sent to the organisation that commissioned it from her. I have no idea whether it was published.

I’m publishing this version in response to The Independent‘s garbled article that mistakenly claims the petition is about people who have been sanctioned off-benefit. As I’ll be saying in a letter/comment to that paper, people who died after sanctions may be included in the overall number but, in isolation, they would only tell part of the story.

It would be wrong to let that pass uncorrected as this would allow the DWP to comment on the mistake, rather than the substantive issue.

Here’s the article, with apologies to Maggie. This is all I have to hand, that I can use:

[Picture: Skwawkbox blog]

[Picture: Skwawkbox blog]

Facts are funny things. These simple statements of information are neither good nor bad in themselves, but the fear of them can drive some individuals – and organisations – to extremes.

Take the fact that, between January and November 2011, 10,600 people died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance. It was published by the Department for Work and Pensions, presumably in the belief that it was harmless; people are expected to die while claiming a sickness benefit.
Well, yes and no.

Analysis shows that 1,300 of those deaths were in the Work-Related Activity Group – people expected to be well enough to return to work within a year. Unless they all died by accident (unlikely), they were misdiagnosed. It is possible the pressures of work-focused tasks pushed them to their graves.

Then there are those in the Support Group, for people with serious conditions including – yes – some likely to die. How much more likely is it, when the government randomly reassesses them, throws them off-benefit, forces them to appeal or re-claim, makes them undergo the painful and humiliating Work Capability Assessment medical and then – if they regain their benefit – hits them with notice of another reassessment soon after?

The government says it does not keep details of the causes of ESA claimant deaths, so it would be unreasonable to assume that none of them were suspicious. It follows that it would be reasonable to consider all of them to be suspicious until evidence to the contrary is provided.

For me, this became clear after I learned that Freedom of Information requests to determine the number of deaths after November 2011 had been refused. I submitted a request of my own in June 2013. The DWP rejected it. The reason? I had asked others to submit similar requests, motivated by a determination to ensure the DWP took it seriously. This was defined as “vexatious” and the request was dismissed by an information tribunal.

But the tribunal did comment that it had “considerable sympathy” for my position and “the request did seem, on its face and in context, to be one which might well have resulted in disclosure of the information requested”.

So I submitted another. This time the DWP claimed it was already working to release the information. I had read this excuse in a response to another requester two years ago, so I appealed.

The government also claimed the request would create an undue burden on its time and resources – but this was nixed by the revelation, in an email from the DWP to the Information Commissioner, that “the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit (£600), some of the information requested”.

On April 30, I was told I had won my appeal. The Information Commissioner stated that the DWP “has had reasonable time to prepare for publishing such information and that disclosure was not so novel or unusual given the previous requests and disclosures made”.

The DWP’s response? Appeal to a higher authority to quash the decision. This is where Maggie Zolobajluk came in.

Both of us wanted to do something to about it so, learning of the DWP’s appeal against Mike, she started a petition in my support. Before this we had never heard of each other.

There are two very important issues: The impact of these deaths on the families of those affected and those who have assisted them, and the accountability of government departments and implications for future FOI requests.

Many people have stated that loved ones have died after being incorrectly assessed by the DWP. The government uses the unproven “biopsychosocial” theory to judge whether a person is fit – a method developed by the Unum insurance corporation in America specifically to find reasons not to accept that a person is ill.

In a January 2013 Commons debate, politicians from all parties gave accounts of very sick individuals who had been incorrectly assessed and told to return to work. Some of them later died. The government took no action.

We have a government that works very hard to hide the facts.

It seems unlikely the appeal will be heard by the Information Tribunal before October. The DWP wants a ‘paper’ hearing – all information provided in writing, with nobody appearing in person. I believe this would not be in the interests of justice; the DWP must send a representative to face cross-examination.

There is a strong case for overturning the appeal before it gets to a hearing – as an abuse of process. There must be at least a 50/50 chance of success and this seems unlikely, as the reasons for granting my request corresponded with the Information Commissioner’s own rules.

We need these statistics to be released, so that we can have an informed debate on what they really mean.

But if the DWP wins its appeal, it would become very difficult for any FoI request to succeed in the future – if the government wishes to conceal the information.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Petition for DWP to drop appeal against revealing benefit deaths tops 50,000

Mark Wood starved to death four months after a DWP medical assessment found him fit for work. He lived in David Cameron's Witney constituency.

Mark Wood starved to death four months after a DWP medical assessment found him fit for work. He lived in David Cameron’s Witney constituency.

There is a recent addition to Twitter which claims to offer a chance to catch up on relevant information, called “While you were away”, or some such. It seems events have transpired to create a similar effect for This Writer.

Yr Obdt Srvt has been helping Mrs Mike with family business that necessitated a trip to Hereford yesterday. Upon our return, late into the evening, certain developments became clear:

  • A petition on Change.org, launched to support Vox Political‘s demand for the Department for Work and Pensions to publish the number of people who have died while in receipt of incapacity benefits since November 2011, has received nearly 60,000 signatures (at the time of writing); and
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office has sent a notification that any information on the tribunal hearing triggered by the DWP’s appeal against that demand should be requested from the Information Tribunal. This Writer should write to that organisation in order to be “joined as a party to the appeal”.

The Information Tribunal will be contacted by this writer shortly!

The petition had been gathering roughly 1,000 signatures a day since it was launched last week (after a piece on the DWP’s appeal was published in Ros Wynne-Jones’s Real Britain column in the Daily Mirror). This is a very healthy performance in itself, but it has now gone stratospheric after Ros published notification of its existence in this week’s column, and after Change.org decided to promote it heavily. It’s entirely possible that support from one or two celebrities on Twitter might have helped, too…

Maggie Zolobajluk, who started the petition, is a former CAB adviser who has prepared countless presentations re benefits including the changes and their impact of the Coalitions changes to benefit and housing legislation. She now has a blog, Telling it as it is.

She emailed me to say a press officer at the ICO had told her the tribunal hearing has not yet been listed. He said it will probably be a paper hearing and she may be able to submit the petition to the hearing. He estimated that it would be October before the appeal would be heard.

Firstly, the possibility of a paper hearing (in which all submissions are documentary and no evidence is heard from people attending in person) is extremely unwelcome. The DWP requested this in its appeal and This Writer intends to oppose it. We are entitled to an oral hearing, that will provide the opportunity to cross-examine the DWP representative. It is in the interests of justice to have an oral hearing, yet the ICO seems happy to accept one on paper instead.

Secondly, submitting a petition on the day of the hearing seems a little late. Wouldn’t it be better to send it in at a time before the hearing, in order to give the Tribunal a chance to take action?

Readers of this blog may be interested to know that the DWP hired a Treasury barrister, whose salary has been estimated at £49,000 per year, to prepare its appeal. This seems entirely out of proportion, considering it may reject a Freedom of Information request of the cost of responding exceeds £600.

Just how free can government information be, if it is prepared to waste thousands of pounds in preventing its release?

This matter is nowhere near ending yet – and in the meantime the death count lurches ever-higher.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Petitioners call on DWP to end appeal against publishing benefit death totals

Gesture of defeat: Let's hope public pressure forces Iain Duncan Smith to surrender the death statistics he has been guarding so jealously (not to mention suspiciously).

Gesture of defeat: Let’s hope public pressure forces Iain Duncan Smith to surrender the death statistics he has been guarding so jealously (not to mention suspiciously).

A petition demanding that Iain Duncan Smith withdraw the DWP’s appeal against publishing death statistics relating to disability benefits has been launched, in support of Vox Political‘s efforts to get the information out to the public.

It has been created by Maggie Zolobajluk on the Change.org website, and asks:

“Why does the DWP not want to publish these figures after being told that there is no valid reason why they should not do so?  Mr Ia[I]n Duncan Smith and the DWP are public servants whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayer.  He should publish the figures and stop wasting public money.”

It seems likely that it was created in response to a piece on Ros Wynne Jones’s Real Britain page in the Daily Mirror, in which she reported that the DWP has appealed against the Information Commissioner’s ruling that this blog’s FoI request is reasonable and should receive a full response.

The petition has nothing to do with this blog; Maggie Zolobajluk created it on her own initiative. That being said, This Writer obviously wants it to succeed.

If you support Vox Political‘s demand for the death figures to be published – free of DWP spin – then please visit the Change.org site, sign the petition and share it with your friends, along with a few words explaining why it is important to you.

Let’s make this happen.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

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