The High Court – also known as the Royal Courts of Justice – in London.
The High Court has just ruled that a rule allowing the Department for Work and Pensions to force some benefit claimants to wait – unpaid – for a mandatory reconsideration before they can appeal against refusal is unlawful.
The system previously demanded that, if a claim for income-related Employment and Support Allowance was refused, claimants would have to wait for a “mandatory reconsideration” of their case to take place before they could appeal.
This could take weeks, and has often taken months, in which the claimant – who is claiming because of serious illness, remember – has no income on which to survive.
Mr Justice Swift ruled that the demand that a mandatory reconsideration must take place before a claimant can appeal is a “disproportionate interference with the right of access to court” – in some cases.
This case was brought by law graduate Michael Conner, with crowdfunded aid from the website Benefits and Work – and represents a considerable victory for the claimant, the website, and crowdfunded legal proceedings in general.
Mr Connor had been forced to wait 18 weeks while the DWP carried out a mandatory reconsideration of his ESA decision. During this time he had no right to claim ESA.
If he had been able to lodge an appeal, he would have been paid ESA on a probationary rate, dependent on the provision of medical evidence by his doctor.
The judge said that after his benefit was cancelled on October 18, 2018, Mr Connor applied for a mandatory reconsideration.
But, in an “error” of the kind that benefit claimants have come to expect from the DWP, he said “no action was taken in response… The request for revision was incorrectly entered onto the Secretary of State’s electronic document management system.
“The document was not recognised or recorded as a request for reconsideration, and instead was classified as ‘unstructured whitemail'” and “it was not until 6 March 2019 – 4 months after Mr Connor’s request had been received – that it was identified as a request for revision.”
Mr Connor had managed to claim Income Support and Carer’s Allowance in the meantime, so he decided not to appeal the decision. Instead, he informed the DWP that he intended to challenge the legality of the rule making him unable to appeal until a mandatory reconsideration had happened.
He pointed out that:
The rule creates an open-ended deferral of the right to appeal that could leave claimants without income for an unlimited period – as evidenced by his own case.
Its effect is anomalous as ESA is payable before a decision is made and while an appeal is taking place, but not while the DWP is going through the mandatory reconsideration process [or, more likely, forgetting about it – in the opinion of This Writer].
If an appeal is started, there is no provision for back payment of ESA to cover the period of the revision decision while an appeal is ongoing.
So the interference is disproportionate because “it places benefits claimants, such as him, who are vulnerable, in a position of ‘legal and financial limbo, distress and destitution’ for the duration of the revision process that must be pursued before an appeal can be commenced” – and there is “no limit on the time permitted to the Secretary of State to determine an application for revision.”
In his ruling, Mr Justice Swift said: “It is anomalous that the payment pending appeal arrangements for ESA … do not extend to ESA claimants who are required … to request the Secretary of State to revise a decision and await her decision on that request before initiating an appeal.
“At the hearing of this case I gave the Secretary of State the opportunity to … explain why no provision exists to pay ESA to claimants… None of this further information provides the answer.
“My conclusion is that [the regulation in question] is a disproportionate interference with the right of access to court, so far as it applies to claimants to ESA who, once an appeal is initiated, meet the conditions for payment pending appeal.
“The advantage permitted to the Secretary of State by [the] regulation … comes at a cost to ESA claimants. There is no explanation for that.
“There is no evidence to support a conclusion that the objective pursued by [the] regulation … would to any extent be compromised if payments like the payments pending appeal made to ESA claimants who are pursuing appeals to the Tribunal, were made to them while they waited on the Secretary of State’s revision decision.
“In the absence of payment equivalent to payment pending appeal, the application of [the] regulation … to ESA claimants does not strike the required fair balance, and for that reason is an unjustified impediment to the right of access to court guaranteed by ECHR Article 6.”
Benefits and Work has stated: “Sadly, the ruling does not apply to other benefits such as PIP or DLA.
Nonetheless, it is an important victory and it means that ESA claimants, who are often faced with the prospect of many weeks without funds if they wish to appeal, are now in a much better position when challenging a decision.”
It will be interesting to see what will happen now.
The ruling is that the current situation is unlawful but no further remedy has been put in place beyond a statement to that effect.
What will happen to ESA claimants who must go through the mandatory reconsideration process now? Will they be paid while their case is reviewed?
That seems the logical course.
But I fear the DWP may find a way to duck out of it.
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.
Thousands of disabled people were wrongly found fit to work [Image: PA].
Here’s another example of how the Department for Work and Pensions distorts the facts.
This organisation is saying the number of cases brought to appeal was only a small proportion of the overall caseload – but we know that the DWP has measures in place to ensure that many wronged claimants are unable to get as far as making an appeal.
The DWP’s claims – about the number of successful appeals – are meaningless.
Has everybody forgotten about ‘mandatory reconsideration’ – the “delaying tactic” aimed at reducing the number of sick and disabled people claiming benefits?
Since October 2013, claimants of ESA and other benefits who want to dispute a decision made on their claim have had to ask DWP to reconsider the decision – a “mandatory reconsideration” (MR) – before they are allowed to lodge an appeal with the independent benefits tribunal system. Mandatory reconsideration is not restricted to those who are found ‘fit for work’, though, and claimants can use it to request re-classification from the Work-Related Activity Group into the Support Group, for example.
When it was introduced, DWP civil servants were overturning 40 per cent of ESA decisions. Figures published in June this year showed that this had fallen and only 11 per cent of those who appealed through the MR process – 10,000 people per month – were successful.
Campaigners said this showed the MR stage is simply delaying the benefits process, and pushing disabled people already at risk of poverty into greater hardship.
So we simply don’t know how many people were wrongly defined as fit for work by the DWP.
How many people are pushed into such hardship that they have to give up and accept a false decision that they should claim Jobseekers’ Allowance instead, even though they are not fit to work? We don’t know.
But this skews the appeal results, so the DWP’s claim – that the number of cases brought to appeal is just a small proportion of the overall caseload – is meaningless.
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?”
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:
The 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”.
Graham Shawcross: He won an appeal against a ‘fit for work’ decision, but the verdict came several months after his death.
How long will the Conservative Government continue to resist calls to scrap its nonsense ‘work capability assessment’, while publishing evidence that shows it should go?
This week, the DWP published statistical evidence showing that the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who won an appeal against a ‘fit for work’ decision hit its highest-ever rate between April and June last year – the last three months for which the numbers were available.
The DWP has argued that the actual number of appeals has plummeted, but the fact is that this happened after the introduction of mandatory reconsideration – a process that forces claimants to resubmit their cases for consideration by DWP decision makers, with no benefit being paid to them for an indeterminate time, before they are allowed to appeal. This is, of course, blatantly unfair – and brutal on claimants, who cannot seek support from Jobseekers’ Allowance as that benefit requires them to sign a form saying they are fit for work, and their argument is that they are not.
In any case, the DWP’s argument would be false. Its own figures show that, in the year from July 2013 to June 2014, the rate of successful appeals was greater than that of overturned cases in 10 of the 12 months (including four months before mandatory reconsideration was introduced on October 28, 2013).
This Writer will have to add the numbers to the other statistics that have come from the DWP, in order to consider whether the drop in the number of appeals may have increased the number of fatalities among ESA claimants, but the prima facie evidence is clear: Work capability assessments are failing vulnerable people.
This will be no surprise to long-term readers of This Blog, who will know that the assessment process is a tick-box computer game, based on a discredited idea known as biopsychosocial theory. The idea was imported into the UK by an American insurance corporation called Unum, which had been using it as an excuse to refuse payouts on its own health insurance policies. That practice earned Unum a criminal record in the United States.
For the record, the UK government, acting on Unum’s advice, introduced Employment and Support Allowance, complete with the work capability assessment, as a way of testing whether people claiming benefits on the grounds of incapacity for work really deserved the money. Critics argue that it is a miserable failure at supporting those who need help and was introduced mainly to save money by throwing vulnerable people off-benefit.
The fact that the DWP does not keep records for the number of people who have died more than two weeks after being assessed as ‘fit for work’, coupled with the lack of information on deaths while people have been awaiting mandatory reconsideration, means the DWP has been able to claim that both deaths and appeals against decisions have dropped off, when it is far more likely that they have increased – but gone unrecorded.
The Disability News Service has reported Vox Political‘s victory over the DWP, whose officers have less than a month to report the total number of deaths involving people claiming Employment and Support Allowance between November 2011 and May 2014.
The article quotes John McArdle, co-founder of campaigning organisation Black Triangle, who said the updated statistics would be vital: “When the truth comes out about the devastation that this has caused, the whole of society will be absolutely appalled.”
Rick Burgess, co-founder of New Approach, which campaigns to scrap the fitness for work test, said: “People should know the cost of policies they are voting upon, especially when they are causing mass deaths.”
There is much more, and you are encouraged to visit the Disability News Service‘s website to read the full article.
If the Conservative Party forms the next government, the deaths will undoubtedly continue – no matter what the figures prove to be, or the public response to them.
Denied benefit: This is the late Karen Sherlock. Her illnesses included chronic kidney disease, a heart condition, vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, underactive thyroid, asthma, diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastropaeresis, and diabetic retinopathy. She died on June 8, 2012, of a suspected heart attack, after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her Employment and Support Allowance.
The Department for Work and Pensions has commented on this blog’s success in forcing it to reveal the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014.
Readers of this blog will recall that the DWP had refused a Freedom of Information request, made in May last year, but the Information Commissioner’s Office upheld an appeal that used its own rules to demonstrate that the Department had been wrong in law.
The comment appeared in an excellent article by Ros Wynne-Jones of the Daily Mirror. She had contacted the DWP after receiving a press release on the subject from Vox Political – and we should be grateful to her for doing so. Comments to the mainstream media are invariably delivered much more quickly than responses to members of the public.
It is more interesting in what it does not say than it what it does. There is no reference to the fact that the DWP had been found to be wrongly applying the law; no suggestion that it will abide by the Information Commissioner’s ruling; in fact no reference to the Vox Political appeal at all.
Instead, we are told: “It is irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim. Mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population.
“We’ll respond to the Information Commissioner in due course.”
Irresponsible, is it?
There are several ways to disprove this.
Firstly, let us consider the different elements of the Vox Political request. By definition, anybody in the work-related activity group of ESA is believed to be capable of recovering from their illness sufficiently to take a job within 12 months of making their claim. Between January and November 2011, the number of people in this group who died was 1,300; it should have been zero. It is therefore possible to claim that they were put in the wrong group (by a system that may have had targets to meet – but that is a different matter) and that their deaths may have been caused by the stress they faced in having to meet the conditions required by the DWP – or lose their benefit.
We can only say these deaths may have taken place for this reason, because the DWP has not carried out any research on the subject. This displays what many may conclude is a shocking carelessness on the part of the government department. Just one death, in this group, was one too many – but DWP officers, and Coalition Government ministers, allowed more than 1,000 to take place and have done nothing to research the cause and prevent more from happening.
For these reasons, it is simple to conclude that anyone who died while appealing against a DWP decision and those who died after being found fit for work should also be included in the statistics, although it seems likely the DWP will claim it has not researched the number of deaths taking place among those found fit for work. We have news stories covering some of these deaths, so the Department cannot claim ignorance that any deaths were taking place; therefore its omission of any investigation may be considered dereliction of duty on the DWP’s party.
It is possible for the DWP to claim that its comment is accurate regarding people in the support group of ESA – but only to a certain extent. This is why Vox Political initially left support group deaths off the original calculation of the average number of deaths taking place among claimants of ESA; this blog made it out to be around 60 people per week. But a commenter pointed out that being placed in the support group does not mean that a person with a long-term illness will be left alone, and that it is entirely possible that harassment by the DWP could have led to premature deaths in this group; people in the support group are subjected to periodical reassessments that not only cause extreme stress but may be called at random intervals, rather than at regular times. It is entirely possible for a person in the support group to be found fit for work, and have to appeal against the decision – causing more stress. And anyone winning an appeal is entirely likely to find a notice of reassessment in their letterbox the very next day – signalling a return to the beginning of that cycle of stress.
Under these circumstances, This Writer had no choice but to include people in the support group among the death toll – pushing the average during the period covered in 2011 up to more than 220 per week. Although the DWP’s claim that “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher” is more likely to be correct when applied to people in this group, the Department simply has not done any research on the causes of death. Instead, we have news stories which make it very clear where responsibility lies.
That leaves people who are in the assessment phase of the process. Readers will be aware that the DWP has lengthened this part of the claim procedure hugely by adding a new “mandatory reconsideration” procedure – if a claim is refused, the claimant may not appeal against it until after “mandatory reconsideration” has taken place. There is no time limit in which it must take place and no benefit is paid during the “mandatory reconsideration” period. It is hard to believe this is not intended to place the lives of vulnerable people at risk. How are they supposed to pay the bills, with no money coming in? If they have a mental health condition, won’t this be worsened by the incessant money worries being forced on them by this DWP-enforced process? Of course it will.
Examples of ESA-related deaths (and suicides) are a running theme in Vox Political; this blog has recounted the stories of dozens of people who either died after their benefit was withdrawn or committed suicide because they could not see a way out. We have seen stories of people with terminal cancer being ordered to go to work; of people on their deathbeds being told to attend an interview for work-related activity or lose benefits; of one person with severe mental health problems who had been thrown off sickness benefit and sanctioned off of JSA, who froze to death in the street because he had nowhere else to go.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith lied on television yesterday (May 5), during a debate on the benefit system, when he said no such review had taken place. The Green Party subsequently demanded a formal apology from the minister, for misleading the public.
One final point: Duncan Smith’s, and the DWP’s, arguments would never stand up in a court of law. There is a wealth of evidence to show the connections between people losing benefit and their subsequent deaths. The DWP has supplied none to disprove those connections. Therefore, if this matter were being tried under jury conditions (as it may be, if allegations of corporate manslaughter are made after the information becomes available) then a jury would have no choice but to convict the representatives of the public organisation.
Duncan Smith labelled the allegations against him and his department “cheap”.
We’ll see how cheap they prove, when all the information is available to the public.
In the meantime, Vox Political‘s advice to readers is unchanged: The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have withheld the facts from you.
Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.
Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?
Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.
But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?
Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?
Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?
And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?
What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.
She said: “I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.” Do you think any such contractor was quaking in their boots at the thought of that? No.
What is she going to do about the Tories’ vindictive ‘mandatory reconsideration’ system? Will she agree to pay benefits to claimants while they await a decision, or will she forget them like the Tories forgot the ex-Remploy workers she mentioned in her speech?
She said Universal Credit was “stuck in first gear” – but made no promise to get rid of it. Its aim, under Tory control, is to ensure the government doesn’t have to spend as much money on benefit claimants. Even if Labour changes that – after it has been made to work at all, which is a hard battle in itself – there will be no way to stop the Tories changing it back into a weapon if the public ever becomes stupid enough to vote them back into office again. It would be far better to devise a scheme that the Tories could not pervert – difficult though such a task may be.
There was more good material than the Bedroom Tax, and it would be wrong to gloss over that. The plan to increase the Living Wage is good, and so is the plan to increase the minimum wage. But critics say the minimum wage provides employers with an excuse to reduce all pay to that still-paltry amount, so why isn’t she saying Labour will combat that? Labour could encourage companies to become employee-owned co-operatives; as co-owners, workers could ensure equitable rates of pay. These measures would go a long way to eliminating the “in-work benefit” element of the social security bill.
Labour should be going further, though. It should be renationalising railway firms that aren’t performing well enough, either by overcharging passengers, failing to invest in the service or simply demanding too high a subsidy from the taxpayer. These firms are supposed to be private – if we are still supporting them, we should still own them. At least, that way, we’d get the profits rather than some faceless shareholder.
Also on the nationalisation list should be power companies and water firms. The energy business seems to be a cartel, organised to screw customers out of as much money as possible – on pain of losing the power necessary to heat and light their homes, and cook their food. That must end. Whatever contract they were given when they were privatised, they have reneged on the deal and should be brought back under public control.
As for the water firms – they’re just tax avoidance schemes, aren’t they? Also, Yr Obdt Srvt seems to recall that one firm sold around 25 reservoirs to France, so they get the benefit of our water during hot summers while we have to suffer drought. That’s not why these firms were sold off. They should come back under public control, with stiff penalties for the shareholders who have abused the public trust.
Come to that, what about the construction industry? We need hundreds of thousands more homes – especially one- and two-bedroomed dwellings – to be defined as social housing, in order to stave off more Tory “captive victim” schemes like the Bedroom Tax. Why won’t the government employ the builders to carry out this work, starting on brown-field sites and avoiding green belt land, for the sake of the future?
Investment in work of this kind could revive the UK’s fortunes in a stroke – and would infinitely improve Labour’s offer to the public. The Attlee government did far more, starting from a far worse financial position so there is no reason to hesitate.
Only 19% of sick and disabled people have received an outcome on their sickness benefit claims they made last year, damning new figures reveal.
Government figures released today [Thursday] show that 40% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims between October 2013 and December 2013 were still undergoing assessment – no final decision has yet been made.
This instantly raised the interest of Yr Obdt Srvt. Remember the infamous DWP statistical release Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients from 2012? Of the 10,600 deaths it showed took place between January and November 2011, 2,200 were of people in the assessment phase – and that was when the system was running much more quickly than it is now. So we must ask:
What is the death toll today, among ESA claimants whose claim has not been decided?
Despite signs of improvement, by March 2014 around a third of ESA claims (33%) were still in progress. The DWP said “additional cases from any original caseload would be cleared in subsequent periods”.
Figures also show that 41% of claimants decided to close their claim rather than be forced to attend stressful and degrading face to face assessments.
The Department for Work and Pensions says the delay in final decisions is due to changes in the decision-making process. Under changes introduced to the benefits appeal process in October 2013, sick and disabled people who disagree with a decision must first ask the DWP to look at the decision again – before they can apply to appeal to a social security tribunal [see the article on the subject from earlier today]. The figures exclude decisions made after tribunal appeals.
Would this be because tribunal decisions are mostly in favour of the claimant?
In related news, the new Minister for Disabled People has admitted that the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP) “is not in good shape”.
Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, asked: “Do you think that’s an acceptable length of time for someone who has developed a disability, and suddenly has a lot of associated costs?”
In response Mark Harper said: “I’d like it to be faster – but there’s no point getting ahead of ourselves. It’s moving in the right direction”.
Oh really? How many people have suffered serious financial hardship because of these delays? How many suffered threats to their health? How many have died?
Let’s try to predict the DWP response: “We do not collect those statistics.” Alternatively: “Collation of those statistics would cost more than the maximum amount allowed for FOI requests.”
This is unacceptable. Has everybody forgotten that we pay taxes for the government to provide a service to the public?
This government likes to praise the private sector and commercial business practices above all else – but if it was a private enterprise, it would very soon be hounded out of business, pursued by thousands upon thousands of court cases.
The DWP’s attempts to make it as difficult as possible to appeal a benefits decision appear to be succeeding, according to the latest tribunal statistics released today, according to theBenefits and Workblog.
There has been a drop of 92% in employment and support allowance (ESA) appeals and 93% in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) appeals in April to June 2014 compared to the same period last year.
A new system of mandatory reconsiderations before appeals was introduced by the DWP for ESA and JSA on 28 October 2013.
Some of the reduction in appeal numbers is likely to be due to decisions being changed in favour of the claimant at the reconsideration stage.
However, figures have yet to be published by the DWP to show how many reconsiderations result in a change of decision.
The strong possibility remains, therefore, that many thousands of claimants are being left waiting for months for their reconsideration to take place whilst others fail to successfully lodge an appeal because the system is now so complex.
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