‘Bring out your dead’: this satirical image shows public opinion of the limits of DWP concern for people the Tory government department deprives of the money they need to live.
A groundbreaking study of possible links between benefit sanctions and claimant ill-health – including mental illness and suicide – has ground to a halt because Tory ministers are not co-operating.
After making a big show of supporting the Glasgow University research back in 2019, DWP ministers immediately insisted that new security protocols would be required before they released the necessary data.
It took two years for the new protocols to be completed – and when they reached completion last year, the DWP demanded that researchers should apply for the data all over again.
Prof Nick Bailey, who is heading the Glasgow sanctions project, said that had the data been shared as originally agreed with the DWP in 2018, his research would have been in the public domain by early 2020. It is now five years since the research process for the project was supposed to havestarted and it has yet to get under way.
“The consequence for both policymakers and benefit claimants is we continue to operate an important policy, sanctions, which has potentially substantial consequences for those affected by it but with very little evidence of the impact of the policy, and almost none on the wider impacts,” said Bailey.
A recent Glasgow University paper analysing international studies of sanctions reported “significant associations with increased material hardship and health problems” as well as evidence sanctions “were associated with increased child maltreatment and poorer child wellbeing”.
The DWP has said it is now “actively considering” the data request that was originally made back in 2018 – nearly four years ago.
But what are we – the public – to make of this?
Does the Department for Work and Pensions have something to hide – such as complicity in the deaths of thousands of benefit claimants?
This Writer – and This Site – forced the government to reveal that thousands of people had died of unexplained causes within two weeks of being denied their benefits, all the way back in 2015.
Nothing was done to research the deaths – or to find out what had happened to people who had been denied benefits after the two-week period the DWP monitored.
And that was nearly seven years ago.
It seems to me that the DWP is deliberately concealing information on behalf of its masters in the Conservative government; the demand for extraordinary security procedures is just an excuse.
And it seems to me that there can be only one reason for hiding the information – that there is a link between benefit sanctions and claimant deaths, and DWP bosses have known about it for many years.
I challenge the DWP – and the Conservative government – to prove me wrong.
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.
And we know that the Conservatives offered £1 billion of our money to the DUP, just to support them in Parliament, with a further £1 billion included in this year’s Budget. Of course, they only handed over a little more than £400 million of it, but think what a difference that could have made to people struggling to make ends meet on pared-to-the-bone benefits that no longer cover the necessities of life.
Now they think they can spend our own money on schemes to stop those of us who support Labour from doing so at a polling station.
The sooner they lose the “no confidence” vote that seems certain to happen in the next few weeks – and all their silly spending splurges are scrapped – the better.
Will Chris Davies MP pay any attention to VP’s request for action over the BBC consultation? Will your MP? Have you asked them?
This Writer just sent an email to Brecon and Radnorshire’s Conservative MP, Chris Davies:
“When will Parliament publish the results of the consultation on the future of the BBC?
“I was one of the huge number of people who responded to the consultation.
“Is the government withholding the results in order to hide the true extent of public support for the BBC? There seems to be no other reason for the delay.
“The government needs to be reminded that the BBC is a hugely important part of the UK’s culture. Its contribution to the arts is unparalleled anywhere in the world, and this is largely because, thanks to the licence fee, it is not constrained by commercial concerns.
“The only area in which the BBC lets the public down is its newsgathering and reporting, which is unreasonably biased towards the Conservative Party. This is because the BBC news operation is packed with either Conservative supporters or members of the Conservative Party. That must stop.
“There is, of course, absolutely no reason for the government to cut the BBC any further – unless it is to advance the ambitions of the Conservative Party’s friends in the commercial media? You will be aware that the Conservative Government’s unreasonable demand that the BBC should fund free TV licences for pensioners has already placed a huge, politically-motivated financial burden on our public service broadcaster, and that is why I say the Conservative Government must impose no FURTHER cuts on BBC funding.
“Please ask John Whittingdale to publish the results of the consultation immediately. No government should hide the results of a public consultation from the public.
“I look forward to hearing from you. I will want to know that you have taken action on this matter.”
It will be interesting to see if Mr Davies pays this matter any attention at all.
Thanks today go to Vox Political commenter concernedkev, who brought this writer’s attention to a piece by Labour MP Tom Watson. It’s self-explanatory so here it is:
I have had cause to write to [the Telegraph] about a disturbing allegation shared with me by Chris Bryant MP. They just ignored me.
My letter was prompted by a conversation I had with Chris. He told me that he’d had lunch at the Quirinale restaurant with Telegraph political correspondent Matthew Holehouse. [We won’t quote this part because there is a direct quote from Mr Bryant later in the piece, as follows:] “Matthew Holehouse told me at lunch at Quirinale that he had been accidentally included in a series of email exchanges between senior figures at Conservative Central Office who were speculating about which Labour sitting MPs were paedophiles and how they should deploy this ‘information’. Matthew seemed to think that this showed that CCHQ was run by a bunch of children and he said it was worse than Damian McBride. He reckoned the paper would be running the story later that week, unless the powers that be intervened. I asked him which senior figures were involved. He said ‘very senior’, but refused to elaborate. He also refused to tell me which Labour MPs were speculated about. He didn’t believe that any of the emails’ allegations were anything other than nasty vindictiveness and an attempt to smear Labour MPs.”
When what he told me had sunk in I was furious. It showed that senior offices at CCHQ were either a; holding back vital intelligence from the police abuse inquiry or b; engaging in a smear campaign against their opponents. Either way, it showed appalling conduct.
I felt it needed addressing at a senior level in both the Conservative party and the Telegraph.
Here’s the letter I wrote to David Cameron about the matter on 26th January:
Dear Mr Cameron,
Child Abuse Allegations
As you know, the scandal of child sex abuse at every level of society, including in the highest reaches of political life, has caused deep distress to many thousands of sex abuse survivors. Your party, with others, has been arguing for a full, open inquiry into these matters and for the police to pursue perpetrators.
You have also rightly been among the first to deplore the fact that — amid the speculation that this scandal has caused — a number of individuals have found themselves the subject of baseless, hurtful and defamatory allegations, often spread in an irresponsible way on social media networks and by email. Just this weekend Lord Selwyn Gummer condemned online “innuendo” as “wicked”.
With the above in mind, I understand that there has been an email exchange between several members of staff at CCHQ in which the staff are reported to speculate about which sitting Members of Parliament might be paedophiles.
It is possible that it is a serious piece of investigative work. In which case I urge you to hand this evidence over to the police immediately, so that they can investigate -rather than keeping it in the confines of the party. You recently publicly declared that all documents held by party whips will be made available to the police. I trust the same is true of internal party emails.
If, however, it is a scurrilous and puerile attempt to smear sitting politicians, then that is a different but no less serious matter.
First, I am sure that you would consider it your duty to report the existence of such an email and the identities of those who originated and circulated it, in the same way that other instances of unfounded smears disseminated by political advisers have rightly been condemned by you in the past.
Second, I would hope you also see it as your duty privately to share the relevant material with the MPs who are mentioned in this email, so that they can take necessary legal action to protect their reputations if they want to do so.
I hope you would agree that it would be wholly inappropriate for you and party officials to sit on these emails and refuse either to confirm their existence, or inform those whom it defames. That would be a disservice to the public interest, it would further harm the proper process of getting to the truth of child sex abuse and it would damage your personal reputation.
I do not intend to publicise this letter at this stage, as I appreciate you may not be aware of this matter. I do not want to put undue pressure on you while you are investigating the issues I have raised and taking the necessary actions.
However, I look forward to hearing your response as a matter of urgency.
[Needless to say, he didn’t get an urgent response and had to write a follow-up letter which got the brush-off from Grant Shapps, Tory party co-chairman. He continues:]
We tried to chase up the Telegraph for a formal response but they kept ignoring us. I even asked my researcher to call the switchboard to ask for Robert Winnet’s mobile number but they refused to give it him. If I’m being honest, at this point I gave up. You can only fight so many battles.
Despite giving up I still think that Chris’s account of Holehouse’s allegations are in the public interest and would ordinarily have been jumped at by a newspaper editor.
When I read Peter Oborne’s article yesterday I felt I should at least explain that he was not alone. He did a brave thing and today he is being mocked by his former employers and others in the industry.
They’re closing ranks and trying to traduce the character of a respected journalist because he spoke truth to power like he’s supposed to, though on this occasion it was a powerful media mogul.
It’s not right.
You can read the full article (this is just an excerpt) here.
Withholding evidence is a serious offence. If the Telegraph does have this material, and does not intend to use it in a story, then its writers, editors and publishers may be accessories to the crimes of child sexual abuse to which they are said to relate; by holding them and not releasing them to the police, they would be allowing the perpetrators to remain at large.
It seems Yr Obdt Srvt has become the victim of DWP game-playing that shows contempt for sick and disabled benefit claimants whose lives are threatened by poor decision-making.
You may be familiar with the following saying (or at least with the fact that George W Bush wasn’t): “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
I mention this as a precursor to the following story, for reasons that should become clear.
Back in May, I sent another Freedom of Information request to the Department for Work and Pensions, again asking for an update of the ad-hoc statistical release Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients from mid-2012 (long-term readers will be aware a previous request was refused as “vexatious”).
In it, I pointed out: “A response to a previous Freedom of Information request (FOI 2013-IR665) stated that ‘Whilst we currently have no plans to directly update the ad hoc report on “Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of Recipients” published on 9th July 2012, the Department does monitor requests we receive for new statistics and consider whether we can produce and release analysis that will helpfully inform public debate. The Department is therefore looking at this issue with a view to seeing what statistics could be produced on a regular basis.’
“It went on to state that ‘the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As I have explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.’
“I have studied DWP release schedules extensively and in the 11 months since I made my request, I have found no publication of statistics on this issue… Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue… will be published in due course’ made in error?
“If this is the case, then there can be no public interest argument against disclosure of this information in response to either my previous request or any future request, as it is not set to be published as part of the DWP’s current schedule. I remind you that this is time-sensitive information; it is important that the data becomes public knowledge as soon as it is available, in order to inform government policy and avoid preventable fatalities in the future.”
If this was not the case, I continued, then – as at midday on May 28 this year, what was the date on which it is planned that the DWP will be publishing figures from November 2011 to those which are most up-to-date?
If no date of publication was set down, I concluded, then the DWP had a duty to provide an update, to me, immediately.
I reminded the Department’s FOI officers that an email from the DWP to the Information Commissioner’s office, dated October 21, 2013, stated that “we can confirm that the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit… the information requested.”
The substantive issue: A DWP statistical release in 2012 showed that more than 200 people were dying every week as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s changes to assessment procedures for incapacity benefits – either they were put into groups where unreasonable demands were placed on them or the stress and anxiety of constant re-assessment was too much for their bodies to take. Many were driven to suicide.
Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my request. I therefore invoked my right to have it reconsidered, immediately after the legally-prescribed period ran out. By this time the DWP was already breaking the law.
Apart from acknowledging receipt, the DWP ignored my reconsideration request. Are you getting angry about this yet? Remember, it is about deaths caused by government policy. I therefore notified the Information Commissioner and requested a ruling on this matter.
The Commission responded late last month, saying the DWP had 10 working days to get a response back to me. Tomorrow was the deadline and the response arrived today.
You’re really not going to like it.
“Unfortunately there was a mistake in the response you were sent for FOI 2013-IR665. Due to an administrative error an Annex A (about the Public Interest Test) appeared at the very end of the letter. It was not intended for this response and as such there is no mention of it anywhere in the main letter.
“So the answer to your first question ‘Was the DWP’s statement that ‘statistics on this issue [incapacity benefits: deaths of recipients] will be published in due course’ made in error?’ with respect to the reply you received is yes. That statement was not intended to be part of the response and was therefore made in error. We therefore attach a corrected copy of the reply to FOI 2013-IR665 and apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
That is not good enough. There was no way I could have read that response without believing that I was being told updated statistics were to be published in the future; any other interpretation would have defied common sense.
Also, it makes a nonsense of what was said in the body of the response – that the DWP was working on releasing figures on a regular basis.
And it means one of two things: Either the DWP was lying then, when it said work was progressing on what could be published, or it is lying now, by saying the information about the public interest test was included in error.
Either way, it seems clear that the intention was to stop my request from progressing any further.
Let’s move on to the really insulting part. Today’s response states, and I quote verbatim:
“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. This exemption is qualified, and is therefore subject to a public interest test. The public interest test is where the Department considers whether the balance of the public interest falls in favour of withholding or disclosing the information requested.
“Arguments in favour of disclosure: There are public interest arguments in favour of disclosure of this information at the present time. Disclosure would for example improve transparency in the operations of the Department.
“Arguments against disclosure: There are public interest arguments against disclosure of this information at the present time. These arguments include that it is in the public interest to adhere to the existing publication process for official statistics, which includes time for the data to be collated and properly verified.
“It is also in the public interest to ensure that the publication of official information is a properly planned and managed process, to ensure that the data are accurate once placed into the public domain. It is also in the public interest to ensure that the information is available to all members of the public at the same time, and premature publication could undermine the principle of making the information available to all at the same time through the official publication process.
“On this occasion, the balance of the public interest test falls in favour of withholding this information. As explained above, statistics on this issue will be published in due course.
“We do not have a planned publication date at this stage but we will pre-announce the agreed date.”
That’s right – having apologised for misleading me into believing that updated information was to be produced when it wasn’t, the DWP went on to say that updated information was to be produced, but it wasn’t going to provide that information to me – even though no publication date has been set – for precisely the same reasons, to the letter, for which it had just apologised.
I get the impression that someone in Caxton House is trying to be funny.
What a big joke – to put off a Freedom of Information request about thousands of needless deaths with an excuse that has already been used wrongly, on the basis that it was wrong then but it isn’t now.
No. Not funny.
Pants: Iain Duncan Smith
The situation is reminiscent of one mentioned in an article earlier today, wherein someone blew the whistle on Iain Duncan Smith’s expenses claim for underwear so he called her into a meeting and reduced her to tears with a show of belligerence. The substantive issue was of no interest to the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit); his only worry was that it should be hidden from the public. The same applies here.
As mentioned at the start: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t be fooled again.
The information is held by the DWP, and could be provided easily enough.
The public interest test cannot be applied to my request as the DWP has not proved that statistics on this issue will be published in due course. For this to apply, a publication date would have to have been provided in the response and none was forthcoming.
Therefore I conclude that the DWP’s response is false and will be appealing to the Information Commissioner again – and to the First-Tier Tribunal if necessary. The tribunal is likely to take a very dim view of this as, after a previous hearing, its members stated that “we have considerable sympathy for the appellant”.
We have to prove that these people are not above the law.
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