Tag Archives: Stephen Carré

Information Commissioner abandons pursuit of DWP over benefit-related deaths

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

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.

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Now we know of THREE people who died because of DWP ‘fit for work’ decisions

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.

Oh, really?

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:

Stephanie-Bottrill-suicide-note

Does that seem misleading to you?

There’s more:

“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.

How unfortunate for the Conservative-run Department for Work and Pensions that the best improvement to the work capability assessment – in terms of the number of deaths it has caused – appears to have been its suspension!
Source: Government welfare advisor did not know about 2010 suicide ‘triggered by work assessment’ – ITV News

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