Despair: Harsher criteria in benefit assessments led to sick people being found fit for work, pushing them to despair and suicide.
Let’s be fair: The Conservatives put Atos under immense pressure to find claimants ineligible for out-of-work sickness benefits.
Disability News Service attributed the pressure to the Department for Work and Pensions but, like all government departments, it only carries out the orders of the government of the day.
DNS stated that a new document unearthed by the family of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who took his own life after being found unfairly fit for work, shows that a doctor working for the private firm Atos, contracted to carry out benefit assessments, made it clear that the Conservative-run DWP was partly to blame for the decision to find him ineligible.
The doctor’s representatives told General Medical Council (GMC) investigators: “Following the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the DWP put immense pressure on Atos disability analysts to deem claimants fit for work when they previously would have qualified for benefits.”
They also told the GMC in their evidence that Atos assessors, who “had no formal psychiatric training”, were not required by DWP to use a medical tool that evaluates the severity of a person’s depression.
They also claimed that the criteria applied during Work Capability Assessments had been “altered” by DWP to make it more difficult for claimants to be found eligible for ESA.
We know this to be true; Iain Duncan Smith demanded that these criteria should be made harsher when he took over as Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010.
DNS reminded us that Mr O’Sullivan’s death in September 2013 led to a coroner blaming failings in the notorious work capability assessment (WCA) system for his death, and writing to DWP to request urgent changes to prevent further deaths.
Those changes were never made, and further deaths have continued to be linked to the WCA over the last five years.
The O’Sullivan case also illustrates an excellent reason Labour wants to end the involvement of private companies with the benefit assessment system.
The team investigating the death submitted questions to the DWP – only to be told last year that some of them must be directed at Atos.
Those questions were passed to the company in January and it still hasn’t answered, according to DNS.
This indicates that the privatisation of benefit assessments is a mechanism to allow buck-passing between the government, the civil servants of the DWP and the company to ensure that nobody has to take responsibility for an entirely avoidable death.
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.
It seems it is easier to adopt the DWP’s misinterpretation of the words in my Freedom of Information request about the number of benefit-related deaths than it is to get answers.
This Writer received an email today from the Information Commissioner’s solicitor, regarding my request that the Department for Work and Pensions should be charged with contempt of court for failing to answer my request adequately, after being ordered to do so by the Commissioner.
The sticking-point was the part of my request that states: “Please provide the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died since November 2011.” You know – the very first bit.
My position was that the DWP’s responses, provided from August 27 onwards, related only to those individuals who had died within an extremely limited period of time after the decision was made and their claim was ended – which was not what I had requested.
The request clearly relates to everybody who has claimed the benefits at any time since November 2011. It was phrased in that way, in order to ensure that people like Michael O’Sullivan, Julia Kelly and Stephen Carré – all of whom had been in receipt of benefits, but these claims had been terminated by the DWP a significant time before they took their own lives. Coroners have blamed the DWP for all three deaths.
So there is a strong precedent for believing that other people may also have died, several weeks or months after being deprived of their benefit. The request took this into account and demanded full disclosure of the figures.
“The DWP’s view is that it has provided information in relation to any individuals who were in receipt of IB or ESA at the time of their death and that anyone not in receipt of either benefit when they died cannot be considered an IB/ESA ‘claimant’. As such, those individuals would not fall within the scope of your request,” is what I read today.
“Information requests are treated and dealt with on the plain meaning of the words used in the request rather than a requester’s underlying intention. I consider that the DWP’s interpretation of your request is an objectively reasonable interpretation of the wording of your request, albeit that it may not be the only interpretation.
“Whilst I anticipate that you may disagree with the DWP’s interpretation of your request, on the facts before me, I am of the view that the Commissioner will be unable to issue a certificate in this case. Accordingly, the Commissioner will not be taking any enforcement action under section 54 of the Act.
“It does, of course, remain open to you to make a new request to the DWP for any further information you may seek.”
Here’s my response, for the record:
“Of course, as people who die after their claims are closed with a ‘fit for work’ decision had been IB/ESA claimants, and were only not such claimants because they have been thrown off the benefit against their will, any death after they have lost the benefit may be deemed to be as a result of the DWP wrongly having removed it – as has happened in several high-profile cases publicised in the national press in recent months (partly as a result of my Freedom of Information request).
“You will – or should – be aware that the deaths of Michael O’Sullivan, Julia Kelly and Stephen Carré have all been attributed by coroners to the DWP’s closure of their benefit claim, even though the deaths occurred weeks and months later. My understanding is that the coroners’ findings have legal weight. Therefore the DWP’s position, as related in your email, is wrong; their status at the time of their deaths was not relevant – it was enough that they had been benefit claimants.
“Allowing the DWP to avoid scrutiny over the many other possible deaths which may have taken place in the same, or similar, circumstances is certainly a betrayal of the memories of those for whose deaths the Department has already been found guilty – especially as it hangs on your, and their, choice to misinterpret my words in an arbitrary way that benefits the Department rather than those it is still nominally supposed to serve.
“How many other people have died after having had their benefits cut off, in similar circumstances to Michael O’Sullivan, Julia Kelly and Stephen Carré? If you choose to close this matter, based on a misinterpretation of my request, the answer may never be known and the Department will, of course, escape justice.
“Are you happy to have those deaths on your conscience?
“Is the Commissioner?
“Bear in mind that other efforts will be made to find out how many people have died in this way. Once those numbers are known, any complicity in hiding them – by you and the Commissioner, must also be examined.”
The suggestion that I should make another FOI request is – as those of you who are familiar with this affair will know – unpalatable.
However, one possibility may be that I ask for all available figures relating to people who have died at any time after their benefits were terminated by the DWP, within a period spanning, say, January 2011 to the present day. In the same request I could add that, if that proves impossible on cost grounds, then I would like the relevant numbers for a single specified month within that time period.
I suspect that the DWP would refuse my request on the grounds that it doesn’t hold the information, but that presents another opportunity for criticism, as I am told the Department carries out follow-up interviews on claimants who have been sanctioned, in order to ascertain how they have survived during the period of their sanction. This clearly suggests an expectation that people would not be able to manage. In that case, if the DWP didn’t follow up the cases of anyone thrown off-benefit, doesn’t that indicate an intent that those people should die?
These are just initial thoughts; your observations are invited.
The latest death due to a “fit for work” decision may also be among the earliest.
Coroner Tom Osbourne blamed the death of Stephen Carré on a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions that the bipolar Employment and Support Allowance claimant, who was clinically depressed, was fit for work following a work capability assessment.
He joins Michael O’Sullivan and Julia Kelly, both of whose suicides were blamed on the result of work capability assessments by their respective coroners, as the weight of evidence mounts up against the process.
Recently, This Blog demonstrated that deaths of ESA claimants began to decrease after the DWP suspended repeat assessments of ESA claimants in January 2014.
Stephen Carré took his own life in 2010 after he lost an appeal against the finding that he was fit to return to work. He was clinically depressed and had been diagnosed as bipolar.
At the inquest into his death the coroner ruled that the decision that he was “fit for work” had been the trigger for his suicide.
The coroner made his concerns about the system known to the Department of Work and Pensions in March 2010 by issuing what was then known as a Rule 43, a rare and significant intervention.
“I feel the decision by the department NOT to seek medical advice from the claimant’s own GP or psychiatrist if they are suffering a mental illness should be reviewed,” Coroner Tom Osbourne wrote.
His office told ITV News they have never received a “substantive” reply from the DWP to their 2010 letter.
Professor Malcolm Harrington, who led the first three of the Government’s five Independent Reviews into the WCA from 2010 to 2012, says if he had known about the case, he would have raised the alarm about the vulnerability of mental health claimants in the system earlier and more vehemently in the first of his three reviews.
The DWP’s response beggars belief:
A DWP spokesman said: “Suicide is a tragic and complex issue and there are often many reasons why someone takes their life, so to link it to one event is misleading.
How soon they forget. In this instance, they have forgotten the case of Stephanie Bottrill, who left a note clearly and emphatically blaming the government for her suicide. She was a victim of the Bedroom Tax, another Conservative Party Pogrom against the poor.
Here’s an extract from the note:
Does that seem misleading to you?
“Since this inquest took place under the previous Government we have made significant improvements to the Work Capability Assessment, including improving the process for people with mental health conditions.
So you thought Mary Hassall was the only British coroner to have blamed a benefit claimant’s death on the DWP? Think again.
To This Writer’s shame, the case of Julia Kelly was reported in This Blog, earlier this year – but I did not recall that Northamptonshire County Coroner Anne Pember’s report had conferred responsibility for her death on the Department for Work and Pensions after the case of Michael O’Sullivan was reported last month.
Mr O’Sullivan committed suicide in late 2013. North London coroner Mary Hassall, at his inquest early the following year, recorded that his death occurred as a direct result of being declared “fit for work” in a DWP work capability assessment, made in response to his claim for Employment and Support Allowance.
Julia Kelly took her life in November 2014. At her inquest in March this year, according to the Northampton Chronicle, “Coroner Anne Pember, recording her verdict of suicide, said she also believed that the ‘upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life’.”
Ms Kelly had been forced to give up work in 2010 due to pain caused by a car crash (which was not her fault) five years previously. In 2013, she was involved in a second crash and had to undergo a six-hour operation on her spine as a result.
Together with her father, David Kelly, she formed a charity – Away With Pain – to help fellow sufferers of chronic back pain.
But then the Department for Work and Pensions told her she had to repay £4,000 in Employment and Support Allowance payments, saying she had failed to declare capital funds.
It seems the government department was referring to money held by the charity, rather than funds owned by Ms Kelly herself.
Ms Kelly, who had fought for every penny of her benefit at three tribunal hearings, was bombarded with a series of repayment demands. According to her father, it was this relentless stream of brown-envelope letters that pushed her to suicide.
He told Channel 4 News about it. Take a look at the report:
A few months later, the DWP started stridently claiming that no causal link had been shown between claims for incapacity benefits and the suicide of claimants, in response to demands from almost 250,000 petitioners – and more than 90 MPs including the new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn – to publish the number of claimants who have died on benefits.
We all know the DWP was lying, thanks to Ms Hassall’s report on Michael O’Sullivan.
The facts about Julia Kelly mean we must now question the magnitude of the lie.
We know the DWP examined the cases of around 60 people who committed suicide after their benefits were withdrawn or reduced – that fact was most recently mentioned in Prime Minister’s Questions, in the House of Commons on Wednesday (October 21) – but the Department has refused to publish its findings.
All Cameron would offer was that he would “look … at” the question asked about publication. He can look at it all day without doing anything about it, of course.
Meanwhile, serious questions are arising as we learn more about these deaths and the extent of the DWP cover-up.
How many people have died due to the reduction or withdrawal of incapacity benefits?
How many of these deaths happened long enough after their benefits were withdrawn that the DWP never bother to record them – on the grounds that it was none of the Department’s business (this is what happened with Mr O’Sullivan)?
How many more coroners’ verdicts have implicated the DWP in the deaths, but have been quietly swept under the carpet?
And – as the United Nations investigates possible grave and systematic violations of incapacity benefit claimants’ human rights – what can be done to secure the release of the facts?
No doubt the secretary-in-a-state about work and pensions won’t admit it, but any cabinet minister who comes under such a sustained assault during questions to the Prime Minister must be doing something wrong.
Iain Duncan Smith was attacked over the United Nations’ inquiry into the possibility that the UK has committed grave and systematic abuses of the human rights of disabled people, over suicides committed by benefit claimants due to DWP decisions, and over the vertiginous increase in food bank use. Just because David Cameron had to field the question, that doesn’t mean the Gentleman Ranker shouldn’t take the blame.
All this, on the day his new mascot (ha ha), a demonic-looking furry something called, ironically, Workie, made its debut in a nationwide TV advertising campaign costing more than £8.5 million. That’s money that could clearly have been better-spent elsewhere.
First up was Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, quoting a party supporter he named ‘Louis’. Prefacing his question with the comment, “This is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this House and, indeed, to this country as a whole,” he read out the following:
“The United Kingdom is currently being investigated by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because of allegations of ‘grave and systematic` violations of disabled people’s human rights.
“This is very sad news indeed, but it is even sadder that we need to be investigated because of violations that have occurred. Will the Prime Minister commit to co-operate fully with the inquiry and publish in full the Government’s response to it, so that we can ensure that people with disabilities are treated properly and legally and given full respect by and opportunities in our society?”
Cameron, perhaps briefed by his Work and Pensions secretary, would not. First, he twisted the question, trying to make it about the number of disabled people who have gained work under the Conservatives (tens of thousands, he reckoned. How many lost their jobs when the Tories closed Remploy, again? Nearly 2,000? And how many of those tens of thousands have gained permanent work? He didn’t say.
He continued: “Of course I will look at any United Nations investigation, but sometimes when you look at these investigations you find that they are not necessarily all they are originally cracked up to be.” Like Tory promises on tax credits (for example)?
“There are many disabled people in our world who do not have any of the rights or any of the support that they get here in Britain, and I think we should be proud of what we do as we co-operate with this report.” Shifting the goalposts, there. Bad conditions endured elsewhere in the world are not an excuse for a Conservative Government to worsen conditions here.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, touched on a favourite subject of This Writer when he said: “Information has recently been released showing that a coroner has found that a 60-year-old disabled father of two from north London, Mr Michael O’Sullivan, committed suicide following his work capability assessment. The coroner warned that there is a risk of further deaths. The Department for Work and Pensions has reportedly undertaken 60 investigations into suicides that occurred after benefits were withdrawn or reduced, but it has so far refused to publish what it has learned. Will the Prime Minister publish those findings?”
This was something of a missed opportunity as Mr Robertson could have asked why nobody has been prosecuted for causing Mr O’Sullivan to take his life. Never mind; This Writer has something in the pipeline about that, which will hopefully bring out some useful information.
Cameron didn’t have any: “I am aware of the case the hon. Gentleman raises, although I am sure he will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the specifics of the cases. Suicide is always a tragic and complex issue. We should take these matters incredibly seriously.” More seriously than this Prime Minister, certainly.
“I will look very carefully at the specific question he asks about publication.” But will he actually publish anything? And if so, will it be as opaque as the death figures the DWP released on August 27?
“We have changed the work capability assessment to lead to significant improvements, following a number of independent reviews, to make sure that people get the support that they need, and I think that is vitally important.” No – because the work capability assessment is still based on a disproved theory that illnesses and disabilities are all in benefit claimants’ minds.
Finally, Labour’s Jo Stevens pointed out: “Food bank use has risen by 1,665 per cent since the Prime Minister took office in 2010.”
HOW MUCH? Let’s have that again:
“1,665 per cent”
Is that one of the achievements that make Cameron “proud”, as he stated in his response to Mr Corbyn?
Back to Ms Stevens: “In Cardiff Central, I meet people every week who rely on food banks to feed their families. Does the Prime Minister know how many more families will be relying on food banks as a result of his Government’s cuts to tax credits, and does he care?”
He didn’t, so he quoted some figures about unemployment instead.
“Of course, I do not want anyone in our country to have to rely on food banks,” he lied (if he doesn’t, why have his policies led to such an exponential increase in their use?) before going on to highlight other Tory economic policies, at least one of which – the so-called National Living Wage – demonstrates perfectly why we cannot trust Tories.
A living wage is one that provides enough for people to cover all their costs without going into debt or resorting to benefits – unlike the forthcoming Tory version. If they can lie about that, they can lie about everything else.
And David Cameron, speaking for Iain Duncan Smith, is a dab hand at dishonesty.
The Department for Work and Pensions has tried to provide reassurance over the accuracy of its claimant death statistics – but has succeeded only in confirming that it has muddled the figures.
Responding to the Department’s statistical releases of August 27, I told the Information Commissioner’s lawyers: “Reference to the DWP’s other statistical release of August 27 casts doubt on the veracity of the information in table 2.1 [of the response to my own Freedom of Information request], which claims to provide the total number of individuals who died while claiming IB/SDA and ESA.
“However, the figures in the statistical release entitled “Mortality statistics: Out-of-Work Working Age benefit claimants” do not make sense.
“Death figures per year for 2009-2013 are provided for the total incapacity benefits population (IB/SDA and ESA) and also separately but if the separate totals are added together, the sum is greater – every year – than the number claimed for the incapacity benefits population as a whole – by 80 in 2009, 50 in 2010, 640 in 2011, 1,880 in 2012 and 1,330 in 2013.
“Whilst I accept that combining the separate benefit populations will produce a number greater than that of the total incapacity benefit population, because claimants were being migrated across from IB/SDA to ESA, almost as soon as ESA was set up, I do not accept that any benefit claimant can die twice. They can only die once, and they would have been claiming only one benefit when they did so.
“Therefore the total number of deaths claimed in ‘Mortality Statistics: ESA, IB, and SDA’ is questionable.”
See if you can make sense of the reply:
“We can confirm that the combined figure for incapacity benefits is lower than the separate ESA and IB/SDA figures added together. This is because duplicates are removed when the figures are combined. We refer you to the footnotes to Data Table 3 in the “Mortality Statistics: Out-of-Work Working Age benefit claimants” publication, where we explained: “In the incapacity benefits group, each person is only counted once even if they claimed both IB/SDA and ESA in the same year.”
That’s right, Data Table 3 – which refers to the DWP’s claimed total for all incapacity benefits claimants. But if you add the figures in the tables that relate to ESA and IB/SDA individually, you get the discrepancies I have mentioned.
“Therefore, for the purposes of the “Mortality Statistics: Out-of-Work Working Age benefit claimants” publication, if an individual moved from IB/SDA to ESA and then died in the same year, they would be included in both the IB/SDA figures (table 4) and the ESA figures (table 5), but would only be counted once in the Incapacity Benefits table (table 3).”
That is precisely what I said – and it’s ridiculous. They could only have been on one benefit when they died. The DWP is admitting its tables are inaccurate. But wait – it gets worse:
“We can confirm that deaths are only counted once in the “Mortality Statistics: ESA, IB and SDA” publication [the response to my FoI request]. Anyone who moved from IB/SDA to ESA and then died is only included in the ESA figures, as they would have been an ESA claimant at the time of death.”
How do we know that? The statistical release does not show anything of the sort and the fact that the DWP can’t even get its facts right in a “clarification” offers no reassurance at all.
“We trust that this has clarified the matter and answered your queries.”
The Department for Work and Pensions has made a desperate attempt to deny responsibility for causing the deaths of an unknown number of former incapacity benefits claimants, in a recent email to This Writer.
The DWP has written to me in a new attempt to wriggle out of providing a full response to my Freedom of Information request about the deaths of claimants. I have already discussed one aspect of this letter in a previous article. A representative of the Department (who goes unnamed in the letter – it seems they are all terrified of telling me who they are), responding to my assertion that a recent statistical release has misrepresented the full extent of the deaths caused by DWP decisions, stated:
“You requested information in respect of ESA and IB claimants who had died, broken down into various categories. This is what the Department has provided. An individual who is no longer an ESA or IB claimant does not fall within the scope of your request.”
It seems this is an attempt to trap me by sticking to the exact wording of the request. But what was my request, again? Dated May 28, 2014, it was: “Please provide the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died since November 2011.”
So I can refute the DWP’s claims with one name: Michael O’Sullivan.
That was the real name of ‘Mr A’, a disabled man whose suicide north London coroner Mary Hassall ruled in early 2014 was a direct result of being found ‘fit for work’ after a DWP work capability assessment to determine whether he should receive Employment and Support Allowance. The DWP is legally responsible for causing his death.
Mr O’Sullivan’s death took place in late 2013, six months after the work capability assessment. This means he was an Employment and Support Allowance claimant between November 2011 and May 28, 2014, and that he died between those dates.
He clearly falls “within the scope” of my request. Look at it again if you have any doubts.
Where does Mr O’Sullivan appear in the DWP’s figures, published on August 27, this year? He doesn’t.
This is how the DWP hides the meaning of its ‘fit for work’ decisions. If the DWP is able to run a claimant off-benefit, using its spurious ‘biopsychosocial’ method of assessment that attempts to claim most illnesses are only figments of the imagination (seriously!), then the Department claims anything happening to that person afterwards is none of its business.
But the coroner’s ruling makes nonsense of that claim.
Now, it could be argued that this was just one man and we have no reason to believe that anyone else died in similar circumstances; perhaps the DWP will try that one on us.
The answer is – of course – that, conversely, we have no reason to believe that nobody else died in similar circumstances either, without any evidence to prove it. Where is the evidence, one way or the other? If the DWP doesn’t have any, then we are looking at a serious case of negligence – because of the responsibility identified by the coroner. If an investigation discovers that further deaths have taken place, then corporate manslaughter charges should be laid.
In fact, we should question why corporate manslaughter charges have not already been laid, as a result of Mr O’Sullivan’s case.
For these reasons, I am sticking by the words I wrote in my email to the Information Commissioner’s Office of September 2, to which the DWP was responding (inadequately):
“The DWP provides only information on those found fit for work, or with an appeal completed against a fit for work decision, who died within an extremely limited period of time after the decision was made and their claim was ended. That is not what I requested, nor is it what the Information Commissioner’s ruling demands. In withdrawing its appeal, the DWP has agreed to provide the number of people who died between December 1, 2011 and May 28, 2014 – including all those who died between those dates after a ‘fit for work’ decision, not just those yielded up by the “regular scans” mentioned in the footnotes to the statistical release provided on August 27.
“I await those figures. I will not accept any excuses about the cost of producing them. By withdrawing its appeal, the DWP has undertaken to provide them, as demanded in the Information Commissioner’s ruling of April 30.”
To cut a long story short: It looks as though the DWP has blown it, big-time.
Dedicated VP readers who read the article earlier this week will know that the Department for Work and Pensions had until yesterday (October 16) to provide a full response to my Freedom of Information request on the deaths of incapacity benefits claimants.
I received a response by email at around 7.15pm on Thursday – and it’s another attempt at evasion…
… a very poor attempt.
Let’s remind ourselves of the request. On May 28, 2014, I asked:
“Please provide the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died since November 2011. Please break that figure down into the following categories:
Those who are in the assessment phase
Those who were found fit for work
Those who were placed in the work-related activity group
Those who were placed in the support group
Those who have had an appeal completed against a Fit for Work (FFW) decision.”
On April 30 this year (2015), after I appealed against the DWP’s refusal, the Information Commissioner ordered the department to disclose all the information I had requested.
Here’s the start of the DWP’s response of October 15:
“In its Grounds of Appeal, the Department noted that it did not in fact hold information to the 28 May 2014 at the time of the request… Accordingly, the Department did not hold all the necessary data to respond to your request in full as at 28 May 2014.
“At the time of your request, the Department only held processed data, which could be analysed within the FOI cost limit, in relation to all five parts of your (amended) request up to 31 December 2013… Accordingly, the Department maintains that it has provided all the information which could have been provided to you, within the FOI cost limit, at the time of your request had it not intended to publish the information in the future.
“We can confirm, however, that the Department would now be able to provide the information you requested for the period 1 March 2014 to 28 May 2014 within the FOI cost limit on receipt of a new request under the Freedom of Information Act.”
What a shame, then that this excuse doesn’t carry any weight at all or make the slightest bit of difference to the DWP’s obligations. In fact, this seems to be an admission of even worse skulduggery than we had discovered previously.
Firstly, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 states that, when a request has been made in accordance with the Act, the requester is entitled to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds the information, and to have that information communicated to him or her. Paragraph 4 states that the information “is the information in question held at the time when the request is received, except that account may be taken of any amendment or deletion made between that time and the time when the information is to be communicated … being an amendment or deletion that would have been made regardless of the receipt of the request.”
In the letter, the DWP states it now has the information, so it is data that the DWP would have collected regardless of my request, so it is data that the DWP must communicate to me immediately, in accordance with the law, as it has not yet communicated the information I requested back in May 2014. Publishing part of the information does not mean the request has been honoured.
But wait – there’s more.
In the original refusal notice of August 12, 2014, the DWP stated: “We can confirm that we do intend to publish further statistics on this topic and these will answer a majority of your questions. As the statistics are intended for future publication this information is exempt from disclosure under the terms of Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) of the FOIA.”
The only part of my request that the DWP specifically stated would not be answered was the line that originally referred to “those who have an appeal pending”; the Department claimed compliance would cost more than the £600 cost limit. But the letter admitted that, under section 16 of the Act, the Department had a duty “to provide advice and assistance, so far as it would be reasonable to expect the authority to do so, to persons who propose to make, or have made, requests for information to it”. Therefore the letter suggested I change that part of my request to one referring to “those who had an appeal completed” under a ‘fit for work’ decision. Ever willing to be reasonable, I agreed to the change.
The letter does not state that any of the information was not held by the DWP. If it had, then the Department would have been duty-bound to provide advice to me – at the time – to help me get the facts I wanted. So, not only was I misinformed about the availability of the information, but I was also deprived of the opportunity to revise my request – perhaps to have the missing information when it became available.
Either this was negligence on the part of the DWP, or it was a conscious and malicious decision to hide that important information from me. Either way, it seems the DWP is guilty of maladministration because its action was incorrect and has led to an injustice.
It is also a form of false argument known as ‘moving the goal posts’. Failing to address the points I make in my demand for the information, the DWP has instead raised a further point which had not been an issue previously. I call “foul”.
Considered in this way, the assertion that I should submit a new FoI request is risible. It is not up to me to submit a new request; it is the DWP’s responsibility to correct the omissions it made in its handling of the original – and to explain why my request was handled so poorly.
I shall be consulting with the Information Commissioner’s lawyers regarding the implication of maladministration.
And that’s not all!
It seems whoever wrote Thursday’s letter failed to realise that the DWP is not responding to my original FoI request any more. It is responding to the Information Commissioners decision of April 30, ordering the Department to release all the information relevant to my request. The Department was allowed to delay the release while it had an appeal pending – but it dropped the appeal after releasing the limited and unhelpful figures that were published on August 27. The Information Commissioner’s legal team had contacted the DWP after I pointed out that my request, and the Commissioner’s decision notice, had still not been honoured in full.
So it doesn’t matter what information the DWP had on May 28, 2015. Taken from any angle you like, the DWP has a duty to provide all the information it currently holds, relating to my request. That’s the law.
Those of you who read the previous articles on this subject will know that the Information Commissioner’s lawyers were seeking further information from the DWP, to aid an investigation into whether the Department had contumeliously (I now love that word; it means scornfully and insultingly; insolently) disregarded the Commissioner’s decision.
Considering the content of the DWP’s letter, it seems very clear the answer to that question is: Yes.
This lays the DWP, its officers and ministers, open to legal action for contempt of court. Oh, and I still want my information.
Watch this space.
Afterword: This article takes us only partway down page three of a six-page DWP letter. Expect further points to be addressed in future articles.
When the government wants information from a citizen, you have to provide it within a certain time limit under threat of sanction. Why is it, then, that the government is allowed all the time in the world when the roles are reversed?
The story so far: A long time ago (May 28, 2014, in fact), This Writer submitted a Freedom of Information request, asking for the the number of incapacity benefits claimants who had died between the end of November 2011 and May 28, 2014.
The DWP claimed to have answered with a ‘statistical release’ on August 27 this year, but I proved that this answered only those parts of the request that suited the DWP’s own purposes and called on the Information Commissioner to demand that the DWP provide the information in a timely manner – or be convicted of Contempt of Court.
On September 25 I had an email from the Information Commissioner’s Office, saying the DWP had pleaded for more time to make a “substantive” response, but may be able to answer the ICO’s queries about the matter – let alone my FoI request! – by October 2.
Having heard nothing by the end of last week – seven days after the deadline – I got back in touch with the ICO. Today I had a reply, to the effect that the DWP “has not been able to provide a final and substantive response at the time of writing. It has therefore asked for a further short extension in which to reply”.
The solicitor handling the case believes the Commissioner’s position on any future action needs to be more fully informed by way of further explanation from the DWP, and has therefore granted the extension – but added: “In the event that the DWP does not provide a substantive response by the end of this week, I will seek instructions … as to how to proceed.”
Let’s bear in mind that to prove contempt of court, it must be shown that the DWP has contumeliously (it means scornfully and insultingly; insolently) disregarded the Information Commissioner’s decision that it should divulge all the information I requested. That decision was made on April 30 this year, meaning the DWP has managed to delay honouring that decision by more than five months (so far).
I would say that constitutes contumelious disregard, wouldn’t you?
In response to the email, I have written back as follows: “As far as I can see, the DWP is stringing you along with promises that it doesn’t intend to keep – or perhaps only when it suits ministers. This is not acting in good faith.
“It is many months since the full, complete and unabridged information should have been published. Look at what this organisation has done to prevent that publication – appealing against the Information Commissioner’s ruling, then withdrawing that appeal after several months in order to claim that a limited release of heavily-edited information was a full and frank disclosure, and now delaying from one week to the next.
“This is not acceptable.”
Having withdrawn its appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision, Iain Duncan Smith must provide all the information I requested – including the full number of people who died after being found fit for work, not just those dying within a two-week period of the end of their claim – or be in contempt of court.
The information should prove extremely interesting, in the light of a coroner’s finding that a DWP ‘fit for work’ decision directly contributed to the death of Michael O’Sullivan in late 2013. The coroner’s verdict was recorded in January 2014 – more than a year before the DWP started issuing – false – claims that there is no evidence to suggest a causal link between DWP benefit decisions and the deaths of claimants.
Some may say that it is impossible to draw any conclusions without this vital information from the DWP.
Some may say the fact that the DWP is failing to provide it – after almost a year and a half – tells us all we need to know.
What follows should make you very angry: An ignorant Conservative councillor has attacked an opponent in the Labour Party for tweeting an entirely appropriate comparison between Iain Duncan Smith and Adolf Hitler.
Yes, Cllr Ashley Dearnley, leader of the Conservative group in Rochdale – it was perfectly appropriate for North Middleton Cllr Chris Furlong to tweet a picture of Hitler above one of Iain Duncan Smith and imply that the Conservatives may be responsible for the deaths of more disabled people than the Nazi leader – that is what the figures suggest.
Remember, the reference to the killing of 70,000 disabled people by Nazis is compared with only 81,040 people who died in only just over two years under Duncan Smith’s Conservative policies. We don’t have the full figures yet.
Mr Dearnley can’t say that Conservative Government policy has not led to any deaths because we have the case of Michael O’Sullivan to prove that it has.
Not only that, but north London coroner Mary Hassall’s report, blaming Tory policy for Mr O’Sullivan’s suicide, was filed in January 2014, meaning that the Tory Government’s protestations, throughout the summer, that there is no causal link between Mr Duncan Smith’s policies and the deaths of claimants, is proved to be a lie.
Cllr Dearnley, clearly ignorant of the hole into which his party has dug itself, is quoted as follows: “The remarks are appalling and are totally unacceptable. I would expect the Labour Party to withdraw his whip. If the new Labour leader has anything about him, he will make sure he is removed from the Labour party.”
It seems the matter has been referred for investigation by the Labour Party. This Writer would argue that, if Jeremy Corbyn has anything about him, he would celebrate Cllr Furlong’s forthrightness, highlight the support he has gained from disabled people and demand to know why the mainstream media have chosen to ignore this hugely important issue.
“I know if David Cameron heard that any of his councillors made remarks comparing people to Hitler, then David Cameron would make sure that they were removed from the Conservative party. If Corbyn has any mettle about him, he will ensure that this happens,” Cllr Dearnley continued. The rest of us don’t know that, though. We only see a man, whose policies have caused deaths, being rewarded for it.
Speaking to Rochdale Online, Councillor Furlong defended himself: “I posted the tweet because people are dying because of policies instigated by Iain Duncan Smith and the mainstream media is ignoring it. I have been campaigning on these issues for a while now but, for some reason, the mainstream media is choosing to ignore it.”
Join the club, Chris!
If the MSM really wanted to cover this, there are several possible issues to investigate:
The fact that in May 2014, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request on the number of incapacity benefit claimants who have died, and the Conservative Government has yet to honour that request with a full and honest answer. It claimed to have done so on August 27 but this was a lie.
The fact that part of the Tory Government’s failure to answer my FoI request means we do not know the full number of people who died after being found fit for work under the current government’s brutal regime. We know how many people who had been found fit for work died within two weeks of their claim ending (because they had been found fit for work) – but that is just a fraction of the total number of deaths. Mr O’Sullivan committed suicide six months later, but his death is still directly attributable to government policy. Mark Wood died of starvation, four months after being found fit for work – was the government any less guilty of causing his death?
The fact that the mortality rate in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance is three times the national average, yet these are people who are expected to be fit for work within a year. Attempts have been made to claim that they have conditions that make them more likely to die early, but this is irrelevant as they are pushed out to join the wider population (which has a far lower mortality rate) in any case. If they really do have more serious conditions, they should be in the support group. Right?
The fact that the death rates for all claimants of incapacity benefits do not tally with the death rates for Incapacity Benefit/Severe Disablement Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance individually. It is to be expected that the number of claimants won’t tally because people have been migrated from the older benefit to the new, so they may have two claims within a particular year – but you can only die once, and you can only be on one benefit when it happens.
The fact that the medical test, taken as part of the work capability assessment for ESA, includes a question about whether the claimant has had suicidal thoughts in the past. If a claimant admits contemplating suicide, the next question is “Why haven’t you done it?” Is this not designed to push the claimant towards taking his/her own life, thus removing themselves from the benefit bill? It’s called chequebook euthanasia, and the Nazis were very fond of it.
The fact that, after visiting the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz, Iain Duncan Smith himself started using the phrase “Work makes you free” in direct imitation of the words written in German over the camp gates. Those words were, of course, a sick joke – just as Iain Duncan Smith words have been for an unknown number of incapacity benefits claimants. He has recently adapted the phrase, as part of a drive to get even more ill people off the benefit books into “Work makes you healthy” – for which there is no medical proof at all. In the light of this behaviour, it is impossible not to compare this man with Hitler.
The above examples are just off the top of this writer’s head. The Conservative Government, and flunkies like Cllr Dearnley, want to pretend that everything is working perfectly and there is no cause for alarm.
But then, as you can see, the Conservative Government is full of liars.
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