nigels Observations

28. Aug, 2015

Government Reveals That More Than 4,000 Died Within Six Weeks Of Being Deemed ‘Fit For Work

by kittysjones

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Figures released today show that between December 2011 to February 2014, 4,010 people died after being told they were fit for work, following a “Work Capability Assessment”.

Of that figure, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed that 1,360 died after losing an appeal against the decision.

The figures have only been released after the Information Commission overruled a Government decision to block the statistics being made public.

Since November 2012, many campaigners, including myself, have been asking the government to release the figures of people who died after being told they were fit for work. As Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle, said earlier this year:

When bad decisions are made I know they can have a life-destroying impact on vulnerable people. So it makes sense for the Government to share that data.

The DWP originally published statistics in July 2012  after several of us submitted Freedom of Information requests (FOIs). The released statistics indicated that 10,600 people had died between January and November 2011 who had been claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and where the date of death was within six weeks of the claim ending.

The DWP publication caused huge controversy, although many people disagreed over what the figures actually showed. Ministers subsequently blocked publication of any updated figures.

At the time, I made a statistical cross comparison of deaths, and the information released showed that people having their claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) stopped, between October 2010 and November 2011, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ceasing, who were until recently claiming Incapacity Benefit (IB) – and who were migrated onto ESA – totalled 310. Between January and November 2011, those having their ESA claim ended, with a recorded date of death within six weeks of that claim ending totalled 10,600. The DWP did not provide information regarding whether or not people had died before or after their benefit claim was ended, which complicated matters.

However, there is a very substantial and significant statistical variation over a comparatively similar time scale (although the 10,600 deaths actually happened over a shorter time scale – by 3 months) that appears to be correlated with the type of benefit and, therefore, the differing eligibility criteria – the assessment process – as both population samples of claimants on ESA and IB contain little variation regarding the distribution in the cohorts in terms of severity of illness or disability. 

Bearing in mind that those who were successfully migrated to ESA from IB were assessed and deemed unfit for work, (under a different assessment process, originally) one would expect that the death rates would be similar to those who have only ever claimed ESA.

This is very clearly not the case. And we know that the ESA assessment process has actually excluded many seriously ill people from entitlement because of the media coverage of individual tragic cases, when a person deemed fit for work by Atos has died soon after the withdrawal of their lifeline benefit, and of course, such accounts of constituents’ experiences and case studies, as evidence, informs Parliamentary debate, as well as the ongoing Work and Pension Committee inquiry into ESA, details of which may be found on the Hansard parliamentary record.

The official watchdog ordered the Government to release further information about how many people have died after going through the work capability assessment (WCA) which had resulted in a decision that they were fit for work, since the last publication in 2012.

The ruling was made after an appeal by Mike Sivier, a fellow campaigner, freelance journalist and carer that runs the Vox Political blog who has himself been pushing for the figures to be published since the summer of 2013.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has called for an urgent enquiry into the figures, and said:

We urgently need an enquiry into the government’s back-to-work regime. These disturbing findings cannot be swept under the carpet.

The fact that more than 80 people are dying each month shortly after being declared ‘fit for work’ should concern us all. These deaths relate to just one benefit – Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

We need a welfare system that supports people to find decent jobs not one that causes stress and ill health.

The figures show that of the 4,010 who died after being told they were "fit for work", 3,720 were in receipt of ESA, while 290 were on either Incapacity Benefit or its replacement, Severe Disablement Allowance.

The DWP were keen to stress throughout its "Mortality Statistics" report that: “Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics." 

However, it cannot be assumed that there is no causal effect either, and I've argued at length that in fact evidence shows there IS a clear statistical correlation between the frequently used Work Capability Assessment, the withdrawal of benefits and increased mortality.

I've argued many times that the correlation warrants further investigation into the causes of the increase in mortality rates of those on Employment Support Allowance. The government have continued to fatly deny that correlation, claiming it was based on "anecdotal" evidence.

Priceless comment from a government that vales the use of statistics to justify punitive, cruel "reforms" to our social security.

The deliberate delay in the publication of the mortality figures is not only a disgrace for a so-called democratic government that promised more "transparency and accountibility" when it first took office, it indicates that the government had some awareness of the likely impact of their "reforms" to disability benefits, and the continued refusal to undertake an investigation into the causes of the increase in deaths, along with keeping the mortality figures from public scrutiny, indicates a government withholding the evidence of policies that are likely to be detrimental to those they are aimed at, and also, of attempting to silence those of us the policies are likely to harm.

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