Tag Archives: paul reekie

Shame of minister who refuses to accept link between benefit ‘reforms’ and deaths

Tarnished record: Mark Harper previously came to our attention when it was discovered that he dodged a £20,000 fine for employing an illegal migrant worker. Vox Political covered the story on August 7 this year. [Image: Political Scrapbook.]

Tarnished record: Mark Harper previously came to our attention when it was discovered that he dodged a £20,000 fine for employing an illegal migrant worker. Vox Political covered the story on August 7 this year. [Image: Political Scrapbook.]

The new Conservative minister for disabled people has insisted that his department is right to ignore reports of deaths linked to the loss or non-payment of disability benefits, according to the latest article from kittysjones.

It seems that, in an interview with the Disability News Service at last week’s Conservative conference, he said he did not accept that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be collecting this information or trying to learn lessons from such deaths.

The article continues: “One disabled activist suggested last week that this failure could amount to criminal negligence, while Samuel Miller, a prominent disabled academic from Canada, said this week that DWP had ‘seriously breached its duty of care by ignoring benefit-related deaths’.

“But Harper said he did not ‘accept the premise’ that DWP should collect and analyse reports that suggest a disabled person’s death could have been linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of benefits.

“He said: ‘If somebody in those sort of cases, if someone has [a] mental health [condition] and then something happens, trying to disaggregate what was the cause I don’t think is as simple as you are trying to suggest.’

“When asked whether he accepted that any deaths had been caused, or even partly caused, by the loss or non-payment of benefits, he said: ‘Of the cases I have seen since I have been the minister where there have been allegations, when you look at the detail they are not as simple and straightforward as people are alleging.’

“But Harper did promise to ‘go back and look back at what processes we have in place to track cases’ and to look at the Freedom of Information Act response from DWP that led to the DNS story.

“There have been numerous reports of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to the employment and support allowance claim process, or the refusal of benefits, including the writer Paul Reekie, who killed himself in 2010, and the deaths of Nick Barker, Jacqueline Harris, Ms DE, and Brian McArdle.

“Many of the cases became widely-known through media reports of inquests, but in the case of Ms DE, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland concluded that the work capability assessment process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a ‘major factor in her decision to take her own life’.”

Of course this all goes back to the Freedom of Information requests submitted by Samuel Miller and others that prompted Yr Obdt Srvt to make the now-infamous “vexatious” request of June 2013. When it was refused on appeal to an information tribunal, Disability News Service submitted its own request.

A repeat request by Vox Political has since been refused on the grounds that the DWP intends to publish some or all of the information at an unspecified time in the future. These ‘section 22’ refusals must be supported by certain conditions which the DWP did not meet, and a reconsideration request has been met with stony silence (other than the acknowledgement of receipt), so once against it seems an appeal to the Information Commissioner (and possibly another tribunal hearing) will be necessary.

It’s all stalling tactics. The Conservatives in the government know that, if the true extent of the deaths becomes clear, the game will be up for them.

After all, who in their right mind would want to vote back into office an organisation that had just caused the deaths of anything up to or beyond 50,000* of their fellow citizens? Nobody would be safe under such a government.

Turning back to Mr Harper, independent disability researcher Mo Stewart has written to him with a stern rebuke that he will, no doubt, ignore. Here it is:

“Please be advised that the public are beginning to challenge why, historically, your predecessors don’t manage to remain in post for very long and I note your website continues with the government rhetoric whilst totally disregarding the human consequences of the austerity measures.

“I often wonder what exactly MPs mean when claiming that we are living in ‘difficult times for families’ when failing to take responsibility for the deaths and devastation you have clearly created, using cash as the only justification for the fact that ‘malnutrition’ is now regularly found in Coroners’ reports.  The poor, the sick and the disabled people of the UK didn’t create the banking crash Mr Harper, so why are you hurting them but refusing to publish the growing mortality rates of government policies?

“Please be advised that your defensive claims that that you do not “accept the premise” that the DWP should collate and analyse the many, many thousands of deaths now directly linked to the withdrawal of DWP benefits is tantamount to an abandonment of responsibility by the British government, it may well lead to charges of crimes against humanity once all the detailed and often disturbing evidence has been collated and analysed by other sources and the British government is already about to be investigated by the UN for the demonstrated human rights violations of disabled people.  All this whilst the UK faces the return of Victorian diseases linked to extremes of poverty….  That’s quite a track record this government has built up.

“With respect, you are not professionally qualified to assess these reported cases and regardless of if you admit it or not, high calibre REAL experts are now advising that: ‘…there is growing evidence that the draconian welfare reforms are irreparably damaging the mental and physical health of benefit claimants.’

“If someone is already surviving on a token income and the government reduce or remove it, with savage sanctions or by using a totally compromised ‘assessment’, how precisely do you expect these people to live, to eat or to survive when they are already the poorest in the land?

“Coroners don’t lie Mr Harper and the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland didn’t make up the case history when they concluded that a vicitm’s death was due to the impact of being ‘stripped of benefits.’   http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2014/03/woman-killed-herself-after-being-stripped-of-disability-benefit-says-watchdog/

“This question isn’t going to go away because DWP Ministers fear the public reaction if the figures of welfare reform related deaths are ever published.

“Now the DWP are attacking our older disabled veterans by threatening to remove the DLA of our War Pensioners, whilst the PM continues to wax lyrically at Conference about the debt this nation owes to our armed forces.  Unwise Mr Harper, very, very unwise.

“Release the mortality figures Mr Harper and don’t ever presume that we are about to stop asking for them.”

In addition to the above, it seems appropriate for Vox Political to reiterate:

Not only does the DWP have mortality statistics for benefit claimants, but it has them in a form that may be freely distributed to anybody asking for them, within the cost limits imposed by the Freedom of Information Act.

The only reason these numbers are not in the public domain is the fact that ministers like Mark Harper refuse to allow their release.

The only reason they have for refusing to release these figures – that makes any sense – is that they fear the consequences: Public shock and outrage.

That is not the response of a responsible government. It is the response of a gang of criminal killers who are terrified their misdeeds will be revealed.

*This is an estimate based on the known number of deaths related solely to a single benefit – Employment and Support Allowance – between January and November 2011.

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A wake-up call for people on Canterbury’s council estates

The callousness of this Coalition government and its Conservative figurehead never ceases to disappoint me.

It seems that some commentators, in focusing on the issue of food banks raised by Ed Miliband in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, completely missed the discussion of an even worse scandal – one that the Coalition has encouraged and that legislation coming into effect next year will escalate.

“I have in my hand a genuine suicide note,” said Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, “from a constituent of mine who, sadly, took his own life after he was informed that he was no longer entitled to Employment and Support Allowance and disability benefits. Across the UK, more than 1,000 people have died only months after being told to find work.

“This is 2012 — we are supposed to be a civilised society. We should be looking after disabled citizens in the UK. Will the Prime Minister listen to the 62,000 people who have signed Pat’s Petition and please finally order an assessment of all changes hitting disabled people in this country?”

David Cameron began his response with an anodyne expression of sympathy to the family of the deceased, before going on to support the government’s actions: “Some people have been stuck on these benefits and not been reviewed for year after year after year.” Like Iain Duncan Smith, who responded in a similar manner to a teenage boy who had lost his father because of the government’s choice to cut his benefits unnecessarily, he refused to address the fact that it was his choices – and those of his government – that had led to the death. If I was a family member of Mr Lavery’s constituent, I would be nauseated.

In itself, you might think that was offensive enough, but worse was to follow when Canterbury’s Conservative MP, Julian Brazier, stood up and opened his mouth: “May I reassure my Right Honourable friend that those of my constituents who are most strongly in favour of reforming benefits — focusing them more on those who need them and taking them away from those who do not — are people who live on council estates and are fed up with working long hours to subsidise the lifestyles of those who do not want to work?”

Did this creature not realise how offensive that remark would be, coming after the exchange with Mr Lavery? The whole point of Pat’s Petition – and its successor, the WOW Petition – is that people on council estates are not working to subsidise the lifestyles of those who don’t want to work. Their tax pounds are subsidising the luxury lifestyles of government ministers, whose actions are killing people who, already, don’t have enough to live on. I’m referring to people who may have worked their entire lives before illness or infirmity stripped them of that ability, and of their dignity.

I have a few examples of the people affected by the Coalition’s benefit cuts. Perhaps readers can work out for themselves whether these cuts really are “focusing… more on those who need them and taking them away from those who do not”. I am grateful to my Facebook friend Jim Moore for supplying the list.

Paul Reekie, 48, left no suicide note – but a letter informing him that his welfare benefits were to be stopped were found next to his body. Was that the action of someone who had been taking advantage of hard-working council estate residents?

Paul Willcoxson, 33, Who had mental health problems, was found hanging in Pignals Enclosure, near Hollands Wood campsite. A suicide letter and next of kin note were found in which he expressed concerns about the cuts to his benefits.

Leanne Chambers, 30, was found in the River Weir five months after she walked out of her home. She had battled depression for a number of years and had taken a turn for the worse after receiving a letter telling her she had to be assessed by a doctor she did not know, to see if she was fit to return to work.

Christelle Pardo, 32, and Kayjah Pardo, 6 months: After having all her income cut off and her housing benefit withdrawn, and with a baby to care for, she had been left destitute. When she begged for help, the only response from the Department for Work and Pensions was that she didn’t qualify under the rules. So she killed herself and her young child. Destitute. Is there anybody reading this who is shameless enough to say this woman was cynically exploiting her working neighbours?

Elaine Christian, 57, was found in a drain after walking out of her home. A post mortem revealed she had died from drowning, despite having more than 10 self-inflicted cuts on her wrists.The inquest in Hull was told Mrs Christian had been deeply worried about a meeting she was due to have to discuss her entitlement to disability benefits.

David Groves, 56, died of a massive heart attack the night before his medical assessment as he sat at his computer and scoured the internet for ways to raise cash in case he lost his entitlement. He was a striver. He knew the odds were against him keeping his benefit, even though he clearly deserved it, and was trying to find other ways of earning money. That is not the action of a scrounger.

Mark and Helen Mullins were found lying side by side in their home after committing suicide together. They had been left destitute after Helen had her claim for benefit turned down. They had no food, no heating and no electricity. If that’s the kind of lifestyle subsidised by working people, under this government, ask yourself: Would YOU want it?

Stephen Hill, 53, died of a heart attack a month after his benefits were stopped. He had been told his heart problem were not serious enough to stop him working.

Craig Monk, 43, was found hanging in his home. He’d had one leg partially amputated and was described by his family as “vulnerable”. He became depressed because his benefits had been cut.

Martin Rust, 36, a schizophrenic, had his benefits cut and was ordered back to work. He left a note saying: “To those I love, I’m sorry. Goodbye.” Coroner William Armstrong said the Department of Work and Pensions’ decision to cut his benefits “caused distress and may well have had an adverse effect”. He recorded that Mr Rust had committed suicide while suffering from a treatment-resistant mental illness.

Paul Turner, 52, died from ischaemic heart disease – caused, his family claim, by the stress of losing his benefits. He was told his heart problems were not serious enough for him not to work, and died four weeks after receiving the notification.

Mark Scott, 46, who suffered from anxiety and epilepsy, was left penniless when he was declared fit for work and his benefits were stopped. He died six weeks later in the Southport flat where he lived alone.

Colin Traynor, who was a lifelong epileptic, was assessed as fit for work. He appealed, but according to his parents he became depressed and lost weight. He died less than four months later. The day after his death, his parents found out he had won his appeal.

If you are getting depressed by the details on this list, let me remind you that these people are a drop in the ocean. According to the last set of official figures I’ve seen, 73 people die every week after being involved in a government reappraisal of their benefits in some way. As you can see from the evidence, those reassessments were wrong more often than they were right.

It is thanks to the support of people like Julian Brazier and the council-estate constituents he quotes (if his remark was accurate) that the Coalition is getting away with these deaths. I hope he reads this article and reconsiders. I hope his constituents do the same. It’s too late to save people like David Groves or Mark Scott, but there are hundreds of thousands more who face hardship that will be just as bad, if the repression of the sick and disabled is allowed to continue. As far as they are concerned, it’s not too late for you to change your minds.

The WOW Petition (it stands for the resistance to the War On Welfare) is now open and can be found here. If you have found any of the above to be persuasive, please sign it.

And for those of you who remain homicidally determined to continue with the policy, no matter how much harm it does – that means you, Mr Brazier, you, Iain Duncan Smith, you Mr Cameron…

Merry Christmas. You’ll get what’s coming to you, soon enough.