Justin Tomlinson: There’s no reason to believe a word he says if the DWP can withdraw it and say something different once it is found to be embarrassing.
Why is the DWP trying to hide the figures on the cut it inflicted on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, years ago?
The government department has backtracked over an answer to a written Parliamentary question by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson.
SNP MP Marion Fallon asked: “What savings have accrued to the public purse under the £30 reduction for claimants of… [ESA WRAG] in each month since that reduction was implemented?”
She was referring to the highly-controversal cut, announced in 2015 and implemented from April 2017, that took £29.05 per week from ESA payments to people in the Work-Related Activity Group.
This aligned it with the amount paid to people on Jobseekers’ Allowance. The announced intention was to remove a financial incentive “that could otherwise discourage claimants from taking steps back to work”.
Apparently no account was taking of the physical (and mental) discouragements inherent in the long-term illnesses and conditions that cause people to claim a sickness benefit in the first place.
The stated intention was to save £640 million by 2020-21. But in 2015 it was also forecast that the cut would save £1.365 billionover four years. The cut was predicted to affect half a million people once it was rolled out fully.
But in his – initial – response, Mr Tomlinson said: “There are no savings from the removal of the… [WRAG rate] for new claims from April 2017.
“This change enabled the Department to recycle money into providing practical support… We have invested £330m over four years with £100m available in 2020/21 and will support those with limited capability for work to move towards and into suitable employment.”
The DWP has now amended Mr Tomlinson’s response – apparently due to embarrassment after his figures were questioned.
The official response now states:
“The information requested on the savings accrued from the removal of the Work Related Activity Component (WRAC) is not available. It would incur disproportionate cost to calculate any actual net savings from the removal of the WRAC.
“When the WRAC was removed we made a clear commitment to instead provide practical support that will make a significant difference to the life chances of those in the Work-Related Activity Group. We have been investing an additional £330m over four years to support those with limited capability for work to move towards and into suitable employment.”
It seems to This Writer that, if the latest statement is accurate, then the £330 million investment need not be subtracted from any savings that were predicted back in 2015; it was part of the calculation.
So we are left with the question of the savings. Why was it entirely possible for the Tories to make grand predictions about the amount of money they would stop paying to sick people back in 2015, and why is it now impossible for them to tell us how much they actually didn’t pay?
And in the meantime, the proportion of people who have died while claiming ESA in the Work-Related Activity Group has been rising steadily.
How many of those are due to Tory cuts making it impossible for them to make ends meet?
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.
Long-term disability campaigner Samuel Miller sent me the article quoted below, with the following words:
“The news story that I just brought to your attention is solid evidence that seriously ill and disabled people in the ESA WRAG are suffering immense hardship—and validates my tireless campaigning against these life-threatening cuts.”
“Nor are we dealing here with people with minor illness. Charities report that 45 per cent of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
“Around 700,000 apply each year for ESA, of which number around 60 per cent proceed to full assessment (the others generally return to work before the process is complete). Currently around 14 per cent of these go into the WRAG. That’s around 60,000 people affected every year.”
A survey of people claiming ESA shows 60 per cent of 1,755 respondents say the amount they receive is not enough to live on.
When asked about the consequences of this, 62 per cent said they struggled to stay healthy, while 49 per cent said they could no longer pay their bills.
For most people, the news that you have Parkinson’s Disease is earth-shattering enough.
But for sufferer Kevin Stannard, 62, the worst was yet to come.
In 2010, he was made redundant from the blind-fitting firm [where] he had worked for … 40 years due to his worsening symptoms.
He was forced to begin claiming disability benefits or Employment and Support Allowance.
For the next few years, he and his wife, Amanda, struggled financially as part of the ESA Wrag group – which was set up especially for people who may be fit for work in the future.
Unfortunately for Kevin and Amanda, 60, from Colchester, the allowance was not enough to cover the cost of living.
The stress of working while dealing with the “confusing” process of claiming ESA for her husband led to Amanda suffering a minor stroke, which meant she also had to give up her part-time work as a director with a housing association.
The struggle experienced by Kevin and Amanda is not uncommon, according to the latest findings of the Disability Benefits Consortium, a national coalition of more than 80 different charities and organisations.
Sarah Newton: The Conservative government’s new Liar of State for Disability-based Genocide.
Sarah Newton must have a very short memory – or perhaps she lacks intelligence.
The new minister of state for disabled people, who was installed on November 9, had the following exchange with SNP fair work and employment spokesperson Deirdre Brock just four days later (November 13):
Ms Brock said “Changes to benefits are actually resulting in huge cuts to the money that people with disabilities have to live on… Does the Minister agree that starvation does not encourage anyone into work and that cutting off funding to people in need does not help to end that need? Will she commit to reversing these invidious cuts?”
To this, Ms Newton replied: “There are no cuts for people on those benefits.”
What? Does she not remember voting to remove the “work-related activity component” totalling £29.05 per week, from payments of Employment and Support Allowance to people in the Work-Related Activity Group receiving that benefit?
In fact, Judy Hamilton is mistaken – Ms Newton a teller at the vote in 2015.
She did vote at a division in 2016, though – and fully supported the cut. Read about it here.
Her voting record as a whole shows that she has wholeheartedly supported cuts in social security benefits wherevery possible. Read about that, here.
So we have yet another filthy liar, shovelling falsehoods at us from the government benches of the House of Commons.
How much longer must we put up with this contempt from our so-called elected “representatives”?
Sarah Newton doesn’t represent sick people – she doesn’t represent the disabled.
She represents the interests of rich people who don’t want to pay their taxes.
And that’s strange, because many people who are claiming benefits have been forced onto social security because of illnesses or disabilities sustained while working for the same rich people who don’t want to pay their taxes.
So perhaps we should call for Ms Newton’s job title to be amended. She clearly is not a minister of state for disabled people.
Considering Ms Brock’s comment about starvation – a comment that is easily proved accurate with reference to the multitude of deaths since the Conservatives started cutting benefits, one title presents itself.
Ms Newton should be known as the Liar of State responsible for Disability-based Genocide.
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Paper exercise: To some people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, the sight of an ESA50 form is enough to trigger anxiety, panic, or even heart attacks.
This Writer was amazed – yes, dear reader, amazed – to discover a new wrinkle in the DWP’s web of deceit, while writing a letter in support of a friend’s appeal against an Employment and Support Allowance decision.
My friend – who has multiple conditions, both physical and mental – had been placed in the work-related activity group nevertheless, and at 2pm yesterday, Yr Obdt Srvt was staring in astonishment at the DWP decision-maker’s professed reason for doing so.
It was the same for all the descriptors: “I place greater weight on the evidence of the Health Care Professional because they are trained disability analysts and the advice they provide is both impartial and unbiased”.
The DWP decision maker had not based his (or her) reasoning on any evidence at all, of course.
Examining the wording of this statement, we see that the decision was in fact based on two unsubstantiated claims about an unnamed ‘Health Care Professional’ who has never met the claimant – my friend had been migrated onto ESA from another benefit in a paper exercise and had not been asked to take part in one of the DWP’s medical assessments (which, in any case, we know are unfit for purpose).
Who is this ‘Health Care Professional’? How do we know this person is a trained disability analyst? Because this was a paper exercise, the ‘Health Care Professional’ had gone unnamed and had never met the claimant. They had never been asked to produce any credentials so the claimant was left with no idea whether this person really was a “trained disability analyst” or not.
I knew their advice was not impartial or unbiased because it was wrong. They had not taken account of the evidence they had been given but had chosen to ignore it instead. Looking at the ‘mobility’ descriptor alone, I know that the claimant in question has significant problems with walking so the advice that “there was no evidence to indicate that you were unable to do this activity” is incorrect, therefore the decision is also incorrect.
Most pernicious of all is the fact that my friend’s disabilities make it extremely difficult to challenge this faked, falsified decision. My friend suffers from chronic anxiety, with poor concentration and memory, panic attacks, and a tendency towards stress. When dealing with authority figures, my friend tends to lose track of what they are saying, fixating on elements that are tangential to the main issues. This makes it very hard to fight wrong decisions, which is why This Writer was asked to step in.
How many other disabled benefit claimants are there, who don’t have recourse to somebody like me?
Reading between the lines, it seems possible, if not downright likely, that the DWP decision maker saw an opportunity to achieve benefit savings targets by pushing somebody, who is clearly not going to be ready for work within a year, into a group where they will lose benefit after that time and be forced to seek work anyway.
If you want to know what happens to people in that position, look at the case of Michael O’Sullivan.
The headline is a paraphrase of what This Writer’s legally-minded friend actually said, but once you’ve read this article you’ll understand why.
Readers of This Blog will be aware that the DWP released some data about the number of people who died while claiming incapacity benefits, in response to my Freedom of Information request of May 28, 2014 – nearly 15 months after I asked for it.
You should also be aware that the information in the DWP’s release of August 27 was incomplete. However, the DWP withdrew its appeal against my FoI request and tried to claim that it had fulfilled its obligations.
Does anybody think This Writer was going to accept that?
For clarity, here’s what I received from the Information Commissioner at the end of April/beginning of May:
“The Commissioner’s decision is that the Department for Work and Pensions has incorrectly applied section 22 to withhold requested information.
“The Commissioner requires the public authority to take the following steps to ensure compliance with the legislation.
To disclose the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died since November 2011 until May 2014, broken down into the following categories:
– Those that are in the assessment phase
– Those that were found fit for work
– Those that were placed in the work-related activity group
– Those that were placed in the support group
– Those who have had an appeal completed against a Fit for Work (FFW) decision”
I sent an email to the First-tier Tribunal (information rights) asking it to issue directions to the DWP for the full information to be provided immediately, under its case management powers. I wrote:
“The Information Commissioner’s decision was for the Department for Work and Pensions ‘to disclose the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died since November 2011 until May 2014’, meaning the date of my request, May 28. The DWP has provided information only up to February 28, 2014. Withdrawal of the appeal indicates that the information I requested – up to May 28, 2014, should be forthcoming, but I note that the updated decision sent by the DWP along with the withdrawal of the appeal states: ‘You will note that those statistics have now been published in a way which provides all of the information you requested.’
“I consider that to be either a mistake or a joke that is in extremely poor taste.
“Furthermore, the decision notice orders the DWP to disclose the number of people who died, broken down into categories including:
‘Those that were found fit for work”
‘Those who have had an appeal completed against a Fit for Work (FFW) decision.’
“In its response, 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. I note that, in its own words, the DWP has also tried to claim that it has provided ‘all the information… requested’. Therefore I have reason to believe the DWP will not honour this demand unless it is compelled to do so.
“I note also that the vagueness of the DWP’s statistical release, dated August 27, 2015, has created considerable confusion. Is the number of individuals who died after completing an appeal (tables 2.5 and 2.6 in the release) to be considered as being in addition to those who died after a fit for work decision (tables 2.3 and 2.4)? Are the former statistics merely subsets of the latter? How many of the appeals were granted and how many were refused? Considering this is the part of my original request that the DWP itself asked me to change, it seems odd that the answers provided have been made as difficult to understand as possible. The Department for Work and Pensions is a government organisation and therefore staffed by public servants whose job it is to make matters as easy for the general public as possible. Clearly whoever wrote this statistical release has forgotten their duty to the public and needs to be reminded of it – and the figures must be amended to make them as clear as possible.
“Reference to the DWP’s other statistical release of August 27 casts doubt on the veracity of the information in table 2.1, 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.
“Table 2.2 in Mortality Statistics: ESA, IB, and SDA sets out the ‘total number of ESA off-flows with date of death at the same time’. This table includes a group marked ‘Unknown’. Reference to the footnotes shows that “Where the claimant is not in receipt of anybenefit payment, such as ESA (Credits only), then the phase is shown as unknown. This is unsatisfactory. If a group is mentioned, then the population of that group should be explained completely. Comments that it includes people on National Insurance credits only do not explain why they are only receiving those credits. This is particularly important because reference to Mortality statistics: Out-of-Work Working Age benefit claimants shows that, between 2012 and 2013, the population of this group decreased from 207,390 to 172,670 – a fall of 17 per cent – while the number of deaths increased from 1,550 to 1,810 – a rise of 13 per cent. As these people were not in the support group of ESA, their mortality rate should be the same as that of the general population, indicating only 394 deaths in 2012 and 328 in 2013. The fact that the actual mortality rate was nearly six times as high creates serious cause for concern about the incapacity benefits system – although, again, as the figures provided by the DWP appear to be questionable, it may be that none of these figures are reliable at all.
“It seems clear that the Department for Work and Pensions has produced two statistical releases that do not stand up to scrutiny, in an attempt to ‘fob off’ information requesters like myself with claims that the Department has provided ‘all the information… requested’. This is utterly unsatisfactory and this government department must be called to account.”
The Tribunal’s Registrar wrote back as follows:
“By withdrawing the appeal, DWP made themselves subject to the requirement of the Information Commissioner’s decision notice that they were to provide you with all the information that you asked for. The Tribunal no longer has the ability to use rule 5 as the appeal has ended. The Tribunal does have power is to reinstate the appeal if a party asks the Tribunal to do so. You have not specifically asked for that and, in any event, I doubt you would want that to happen because with the way things currently stand you should receive all the information you sought.
“Enforcement of the Information Commissioner’s decision notices is dealt with by the Information Commissioner’s Office. If you are concerned that you have not yet received all the information, you should contact the Information Commissioner’s Office to ask them to enforce their original decision notice.”
It seems clear that this is intended to be taken as confirmation that the DWP has a duty to provide all the information that was requested – and it is now up to the Information Commissioner to hold the DWP to account. If the information is not forthcoming within a very limited period of time, the Department will be in contempt of court.
That did not stop the DWP’s lawyer – who I will not embarrass by naming here – from writing to the Information Commissioner’s Office as follows:
“The DWP holds no information within the scope of the ICO’s order which has not been disclosed. They hold no data for the period February to May 2014 (though we will in future), but there is no finding in the ICO’s decision which says we did hold data for those particular months. The DWP have disclosed everything the ICO has directed. The Appellant seems to have misinterpreted what DWP have disclosed, and our clients’ will be writing to him in an attempt to clarify any misunderstandings.“
Does anybody believe that? Now you can see why our legally-minded friend called the DWP lawyer a “cheeky madam”.
The most recent information in the request is from more than 15 months ago, at the time of writing. Let’s look back to the DWP’s ‘ad hoc’ statistical release of July 2012. Didn’t it include figures from the previous November, no more than eight months previously? It therefore seems likely that the DWP lawyer is being economical with the truth. The claim that there is no finding in the ICO decision which says the DWP held data for those months is irrelevant, and the claim that the DWP had disclosed everything the ICO had directed is a lie. You only have to look back at the direction itself (you don’t have to go far – it is quoted at the top of this article) to see that.
I have written a response – seen by all three other parties, as follows: “The decision is perfectly clear. The DWP has withdrawn its appeal against it. Now the DWP must comply fully, or find itself in contempt of court.”
Now we have to wait for the Information Commissioner’s response. Note that I have pointed out that clarification of the DWP’s very poorly-phrased statistical releases is required; hopefully the commissioner will reinforce that with a direction for the Department to comply.
You will, of course, be updated on further developments.
ESA sanctions ranked by disability: Notice that mental illness attracts by far the largest number of sanctions. Aren’t these the people who are most likely to commit suicide in such circumstances? [Image: ITV]
The Department for Work and Pensions, last November, released alarming details showing how sanctions against people in the Work-Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance have increased over the past few years. Would you like to see what they showed when compared with the death rates that were published last month?
Of course you would.
In 2011, the number of sanctions was 4,471. We don’t have a death rate for the whole year but can say that between January and November that year, there were 4,003 sanctions and 1,300 deaths.
In 2012, the number of sanctions increased by a massive 184 per cent, to 12,708. The number of deaths more than doubled, to 2,990 (up 130 per cent). There were 545,980 people in the WRAG, meaning an average of one sanction for every 43 people.
In 2013, the number of sanctions increased again, nearly doubling to 22,963 (up 79 per cent on 2012 and a staggering 410 per cent more than in 2011). The number of deaths increased by 24 per cent, to 3,720. The WRAG population had increased to 596,010 (up by nine per cent).
We can see that the proportion of deaths has outstripped the growth of the WRAG, while the number of sanctions has skyrocketed; in the first six months of 2014 the number of sanctions had already passed the total for 2013 and stood at 25,011 by the end of June.
The DWP will say this means nothing.
The Blog says it means serious questions may now be asked about the validity of sanctions and their effect on the health of claimants. Certainly there are mitigating factors, such as the rise in the ESA population due to migration from IB/SDA (but does this actually make the figures any less shocking?) and the fact that the results of mandatory reconsiderations were not included in the sanction figures, meaning they are slightly (but only slightly) higher than the number of sanctions that were actually imposed. Remember, this information has become available shortly after the DWP was revealed to have fabricated testimonies claiming that sanctions actually helped jobseekers back into work – not the same group of people, for sure, but setting a dangerous precedent.
Now we need to know how many people died after a sanction had been imposed, the nature of their illness, and the number of sanctions that had been imposed on them when they died. For clarity, it seems sensible to have that information presented month-by-month, in the same way the DWP’s November 2014 release on sanctions presents its information.
Does anybody have any suggestions that would improve a request for this information?
Ignorant: Priti Patel will need to work a lot harder if she thinks she’s going to convince anybody about the Conservative Government’s appalling record of deaths among people on incapacity benefits.
The new Parliamentary session is going to be very hard on Iain Duncan Smith and his team (if you can call it that) at the Department for Work and Pensions. His skiving employment minister Priti Patel discovered this on her very first day back.
Ms Patel, who had the hypocrisy to criticise the UK’s workforce as lazy at a time when her own Parliamentary attendance record was among the lowest in the House of Commons, faced an inevitable series of questions on the government’s botched release of figures relating to the deaths of people claiming incapacity benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance – and of course messed up her answers ridiculously.
“It is wrong to state that people have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit,” she stated. Oh, really?
Didn’t the DWP do just that in its statistical releases of August 27? Among the incapacity benefits population alone, the number of deaths recorded – by the DWP – between 2003 and 2013 was 444,620… or 448,300, depending on whether you’ve accepted the DWP’s accumulated death figure or checked them by adding together the separate totals for IB/SDA and ESA. As you can tell, they don’t add up – casting doubt on the reliability of any of the figures the DWP has released.
“It is impossible and completely wrong to draw any causality from the statistics,” continued Ms Patel, tragically. “Any attempt to extrapolate anything beyond those figures is wrong.” My word, she was keen to make sure we knew what the Conservative Party thinks is wrong, wasn’t she!
What a shame for Ms Patel that she was in the wrong. While the figures themselves do not – necessarily – damn the DWP’s activities since the Tories took over, they do provide enough information to support some serious questions about Conservative Government policy and its effects on people with long-term illnesses.
If all is well in the assessment of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, then why did the DWP deliberately mislead This Writer, by falsely claiming it could not answer my Freedom of Information request on the incapacity benefit deaths because those facts were to be published in the future? In fact, the DWP was planning to publish a set of ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’ – about which we’ll learn more in a moment. By using this tactic, the DWP successfully evaded answering my question for more than two years. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?
According to Ms Patel, when the ASMRs were finally published, they were “in line with Office for National Statistics requirements and to national statistics standard”. That’s all very well, but the ONS provides information on how to create ASMRs that means the figures published on August 27 are, at most, a single day’s work for one person at the DWP. I submitted an FoI request on May 28, 2014, meaning they were published almost one year and three months later, with no reason provided for the delay. Is this acceptable behaviour for a government department?
Ms Patel said: “Specifically with regard to the statistics, the trend is that the number of people dying, as a proportion of the population, is going down.” What clever phrasing (she no doubt thought)! That is, indeed, what the ASMR statistics show. But the population of the UK is increasing rapidly, and this affects per-head-of-population figures like ASMRs – perhaps Ms Patel should have liaised with the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister before passing her comment.
The numbers paint a different story. For the sake of transparency, This Writer has been using the Work-Related Activity Group of ESA and the number of people who have died after being declared fit for work in order to demonstrate this. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of people in the WRAG increased by nine per cent. The number of deaths increased by 24 per cent – from 2,990 people to 3,720. Increased. This does not indicate a downward trend. This is in a group where the Conservative Government expects – no, demands – that people will be ready to return to work within a year. This means members of the group should have no worse life expectancy than anyone in the general population, but if you apply the death rate among the general population to the WRAG, then the number of deaths in 2012 should have been 1,037, and in 2013 the total should have been 1,132 – in both cases, that’s around one-third of the actual figure. Priti Patel wants us to think that is no reason to question whether the work capability assessment – the procedure used to decide if a person should receive ESA and whether they deserve to go into the support group for people with severe illnesses or the WRAG – is fit for purpose. What do you think?
Let’s look at the number of people who have died after being assessed as fit for work. The media – and the Conservative Government – have been using this figure of 2,380 deaths from December 2011 to February 2014 (inclusive). But those are only people who died within two weeks of having their claim stopped (on the grounds that they were fit for work)! What about people like Mark Wood, who died of starvation, several months after the DWP decided he was fit for work? What about people who were moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance because they were told they were fit for work? Did they all find jobs and live happily ever after? This seems unlikely. How many of them were sanctioned because they could not fulfil the requirements of their Jobseekers’ Agreement’? How often? How many of them died? How many people were pushed off benefits altogether, and what happened to them? We may accept the claim that it is wrong to extrapolate anything from the figures, but isn’t that because the figures have been deliberately phrased in order to make it so?
If you disagree, take a look at This Writer’s Freedom of Information request. The part requiring the DWP to state the number of people who died after being found fit for work calls for information covering the period between December 2011 and May 2014 (inclusive), covering everybody who had been claiming ESA but died within that period. The DWP has complied with neither of those parts of the request, despite having withdrawn its appeal against answering the FoI request, and is in danger of being in contempt of court. Do you think that is acceptable behaviour for a government department?
In a later exchange, Louise Haigh MP said: “Contrary to the Minister’s earlier remarks, figures finally released by the Department over the summer showed that 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work—more than four times the death rate of the general population. In a harrowing case, a constituent of mine reported to me that she frequently considered committing suicide, both before and after being found fit for work. Does the Minister not feel that it is therefore high time to review the work capability assessment and that thousands of people are being wrongly defined as fit for work?”
In response, Ms Patel said: “Organisations have commented on this and Full Fact, which is widely known, has said that similar comments to those made by the hon. Lady, which have been widely reported, are simply wrong.”
So Ms Haigh was wrong to say that her constituent had considered suicide due to the DWP’s treatment of her? Ms Patel had no right to make such a claim; she did not have any experience of the case.
As for Full Fact, the fact that the Conservative Government was using that website’s worthless article about the death statistics to justify its behaviour speaks volumes about the relationship between the two. We may not be able to draw conclusions about causality from the DWP’s death figures, but we may certainly draw conclusions about the DWP and Full Fact, it seems. This Writer’s advice is that any further comment on this subject from that website may be dismissed.
We should not have to wait too long for that fate to claim Ms Patel, also…
Too ill to work means too ill to live: Work capability assessors have already been asking people with serious illnesses and disabilities why they have not committed suicide – now the DWP has proposed changes to benefits that could nudge claimants into it.
A plan to cut £30 per week from the benefit of some of the UK’s most vulnerable people was being considered before the general election – and may be announced by George Osborne next week.
According to the BBC, the Department for Work and Pensions has been proposing to abolish the Work-Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance, meaning a £30 cut in benefit every week for people who would have been put in that category.
This would bring payments in line with Jobseekers’ Allowance. It seems the stated reason is to give people less reason to worry that they are getting the “wrong” outcome from the infamous work capability assessments that are a mandatory part of claiming the benefit.
The paper also proposes renaming the assessment tests “employment capability assessments”, in order to focus attention on job-seeking rather than benefit-seeking.
There is so much wrong with this plan that it is hard to know where to start – and even more reasons to find fault with the BBC’s report.
For a start, the £30 extra that WRA Group members of the ESA receive is not a “top-up”, as described in the BBC report (and, one suspects, in the leaked DWP document); it is the amount that the law says sick people who are preparing to return to work should receive.
If a work capability assessment leads to a false report about a claimant’s condition, it will be wrong no matter what amount of benefit would be paid to the claimant afterwards.
This is fraud – obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception – and would still be fraud if the amount of money paid in the WRAG was the same as that paid on JSA because the conditions of the benefits are different. JSA claimants are forced to carry out many (pointless) activities every week in order to satisfy jobseeking requirements – most, if not all, of which would be beyond the abilities of people who are sick but have wrongly been forced off the benefit they need. They would then be forced off JSA – and we would be looking at another chequebook euthanasia situation.
But don’t worry – the government has deniability! If people can’t survive because they have been pushed off-benefit, and decide to take their own lives in order to gain release from the misery… that’s their own decision, isn’t it? It’s nothing to do with the government lying about them!
At least, that’s the line that Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP will take.
Interestingly, the stated reason for re-naming work capability assessments is that they currently focus on what claimants can’t do, rather than what they can. This is not true.
Anyone who has followed the degenerate progress of Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms will be able to present a list of silly claims made by assessors to support their assertion that a sick claimant is “fit for work”. The classic is the person who, despite being severely disabled, was able to press a button. Just that – nothing else. “Fit for work”.
And that’s focusing on what the claimant can’t do?
The BBC wheels out Charlie Pickles (who?) from Tory think tank Reform, to explain why the toffs think stealing more money from the sick is a good idea.
According to the BBC, he said the current system encourages people to stay on the benefit rather than finding work.
There seems to be a word missing here. Let’s put it back in and see how it reads:
“The current system encourages sick people to stay on the benefit rather than finding work.”
Why shouldn’t it?
If a person is sick, they shouldn’t be asked to go to work.
Finally, where are the jobs?
Pickles prattles: “We have a huge gap between disabled people’s employment rate and non-disabled people’s employment rate.” Perhaps that’s to do with the fact that the Tories closed Remploy (the organisation that employed disabled people) during the Coalition Government and has not provided any incentives for other employers to take on workers with extra needs.
Clearly Pickles hadn’t thought of that. This Reform ‘think tank’ of his can’t be much cop.
The Disability News Service has reported Vox Political‘s victory over the DWP, whose officers have less than a month to report the total number of deaths involving people claiming Employment and Support Allowance between November 2011 and May 2014.
The article quotes John McArdle, co-founder of campaigning organisation Black Triangle, who said the updated statistics would be vital: “When the truth comes out about the devastation that this has caused, the whole of society will be absolutely appalled.”
Rick Burgess, co-founder of New Approach, which campaigns to scrap the fitness for work test, said: “People should know the cost of policies they are voting upon, especially when they are causing mass deaths.”
There is much more, and you are encouraged to visit the Disability News Service‘s website to read the full article.
If the Conservative Party forms the next government, the deaths will undoubtedly continue – no matter what the figures prove to be, or the public response to them.
Denied benefit: This is the late Karen Sherlock. Her illnesses included chronic kidney disease, a heart condition, vitamin B12 deficiency, anaemia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, underactive thyroid, asthma, diabetic autonomic neuropathy, gastropaeresis, and diabetic retinopathy. She died on June 8, 2012, of a suspected heart attack, after the Department for Work and Pensions stopped her Employment and Support Allowance.
The Department for Work and Pensions has commented on this blog’s success in forcing it to reveal the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died between November 2011 and May 2014.
Readers of this blog will recall that the DWP had refused a Freedom of Information request, made in May last year, but the Information Commissioner’s Office upheld an appeal that used its own rules to demonstrate that the Department had been wrong in law.
The comment appeared in an excellent article by Ros Wynne-Jones of the Daily Mirror. She had contacted the DWP after receiving a press release on the subject from Vox Political – and we should be grateful to her for doing so. Comments to the mainstream media are invariably delivered much more quickly than responses to members of the public.
It is more interesting in what it does not say than it what it does. There is no reference to the fact that the DWP had been found to be wrongly applying the law; no suggestion that it will abide by the Information Commissioner’s ruling; in fact no reference to the Vox Political appeal at all.
Instead, we are told: “It is irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim. Mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population.
“We’ll respond to the Information Commissioner in due course.”
Irresponsible, is it?
There are several ways to disprove this.
Firstly, let us consider the different elements of the Vox Political request. By definition, anybody in the work-related activity group of ESA is believed to be capable of recovering from their illness sufficiently to take a job within 12 months of making their claim. Between January and November 2011, the number of people in this group who died was 1,300; it should have been zero. It is therefore possible to claim that they were put in the wrong group (by a system that may have had targets to meet – but that is a different matter) and that their deaths may have been caused by the stress they faced in having to meet the conditions required by the DWP – or lose their benefit.
We can only say these deaths may have taken place for this reason, because the DWP has not carried out any research on the subject. This displays what many may conclude is a shocking carelessness on the part of the government department. Just one death, in this group, was one too many – but DWP officers, and Coalition Government ministers, allowed more than 1,000 to take place and have done nothing to research the cause and prevent more from happening.
For these reasons, it is simple to conclude that anyone who died while appealing against a DWP decision and those who died after being found fit for work should also be included in the statistics, although it seems likely the DWP will claim it has not researched the number of deaths taking place among those found fit for work. We have news stories covering some of these deaths, so the Department cannot claim ignorance that any deaths were taking place; therefore its omission of any investigation may be considered dereliction of duty on the DWP’s party.
It is possible for the DWP to claim that its comment is accurate regarding people in the support group of ESA – but only to a certain extent. This is why Vox Political initially left support group deaths off the original calculation of the average number of deaths taking place among claimants of ESA; this blog made it out to be around 60 people per week. But a commenter pointed out that being placed in the support group does not mean that a person with a long-term illness will be left alone, and that it is entirely possible that harassment by the DWP could have led to premature deaths in this group; people in the support group are subjected to periodical reassessments that not only cause extreme stress but may be called at random intervals, rather than at regular times. It is entirely possible for a person in the support group to be found fit for work, and have to appeal against the decision – causing more stress. And anyone winning an appeal is entirely likely to find a notice of reassessment in their letterbox the very next day – signalling a return to the beginning of that cycle of stress.
Under these circumstances, This Writer had no choice but to include people in the support group among the death toll – pushing the average during the period covered in 2011 up to more than 220 per week. Although the DWP’s claim that “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher” is more likely to be correct when applied to people in this group, the Department simply has not done any research on the causes of death. Instead, we have news stories which make it very clear where responsibility lies.
That leaves people who are in the assessment phase of the process. Readers will be aware that the DWP has lengthened this part of the claim procedure hugely by adding a new “mandatory reconsideration” procedure – if a claim is refused, the claimant may not appeal against it until after “mandatory reconsideration” has taken place. There is no time limit in which it must take place and no benefit is paid during the “mandatory reconsideration” period. It is hard to believe this is not intended to place the lives of vulnerable people at risk. How are they supposed to pay the bills, with no money coming in? If they have a mental health condition, won’t this be worsened by the incessant money worries being forced on them by this DWP-enforced process? Of course it will.
Examples of ESA-related deaths (and suicides) are a running theme in Vox Political; this blog has recounted the stories of dozens of people who either died after their benefit was withdrawn or committed suicide because they could not see a way out. We have seen stories of people with terminal cancer being ordered to go to work; of people on their deathbeds being told to attend an interview for work-related activity or lose benefits; of one person with severe mental health problems who had been thrown off sickness benefit and sanctioned off of JSA, who froze to death in the street because he had nowhere else to go.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith lied on television yesterday (May 5), during a debate on the benefit system, when he said no such review had taken place. The Green Party subsequently demanded a formal apology from the minister, for misleading the public.
One final point: Duncan Smith’s, and the DWP’s, arguments would never stand up in a court of law. There is a wealth of evidence to show the connections between people losing benefit and their subsequent deaths. The DWP has supplied none to disprove those connections. Therefore, if this matter were being tried under jury conditions (as it may be, if allegations of corporate manslaughter are made after the information becomes available) then a jury would have no choice but to convict the representatives of the public organisation.
Duncan Smith labelled the allegations against him and his department “cheap”.
We’ll see how cheap they prove, when all the information is available to the public.
In the meantime, Vox Political‘s advice to readers is unchanged: The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have withheld the facts from you.
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