- 23 June 2015
- By Dan Bloom
|‘The coroner said that when David Clapson died he had no food in his stomach.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian|
He's fighting a legal battle to keep the figures secret - yet the Work and Pensions Secretary claims Labour MPs are just 'frightening people'
Iain Duncan Smith has attacked a 'disgraceful' effort to reveal the number of people who died after being declared fit for work.
|Iain Duncan Smith came under fire from Labour MP Debbie Abrahams (left)|
The Work and Pensions Secretary lashed out after coming under fire over the figures - which his department is waging a legal battle to keep secret.
More than 200,000 people have signed an online petition by ex-welfare advisor Maggie Zolobajluk, 63, calling for the figures to be made public.
But instead of addressing it he's made a furious attack on Labour, two of whose MPs rounded on him in the Commons yesterday.
He accused the opposition of 'going out every day scaring and frightening people' and 'deliberately misrepresenting' the government's fit-for-work schemes.
And he attacked Labour because the party introduced the work capability assessment in 2007, before the Coalition expanded it.
|Jacqueline Harris, from Kingswood, Bristol. Her family say she took her own life after being refused benefits|
MP Marie Rimmer asked him: "May I ask again why the Government are refusing to publish - even though the Information Commissioner has instructed them to do so - the up-to-date statistics relating to the number of people who have died, having been found fit for work at their face-to-face assessment?"
|The petition was started by ex-welfare advisor Maggie Zolobajluk, 63|
Mr Duncan Smith replied: "I find it absurd that Opposition Members deliberately try to misrepresent what happens under such schemes.
"I remind the honourable lady it was her Government who introduced the employment support allowance and the work capability assessment, and at no stage did they say that that led to people committing suicide.
|Mark Wood, 44, with complex mental health issues starved to death after being sanctioned|
"People in that situation are often in a very delicate and difficult position, and I find it disgraceful that she is going round making such allegations."
Under pressure: 200,000 people have joined a petition against Iain Duncan Smith
That made MP Debbie Abrahams thunder: "Does the Secretary of State think that he and his Department are above the law?
"Why does he refuse to publish the details of the number of people who have died within six weeks of their claims for incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance, including those who have been found fit for work?"
But Mr Duncan Smith said: "I find it unbelievable that she, the honourable lady and others have spent all their time trying to make allegations about people going about their work.
"It is a crying shame that Labour members want to go out every day scaring and frightening people. It is no wonder they lost the election."
He also claimed his department 'doesn't collate the numbers' at all - appearing to fly in the face of his own officials' advice.
Movement: The petition was started by ex-welfare advisor Maggie Zolobajluk, 63
His civil servants have openly admitted they collect the data, have published it before, and are planning to publish more in the future. Read the full ruling here.
The Coalition's welfare changes saw people told to find work despite having chronic illnesses - some of whom died before getting their benefits back.
Tragic Mark Wood starved to death in David Cameron's constituency four months after his benefits were cut - weighing just 5st 8lbs when he was found.
And ex-nurse Jacqueline Harris, 53, took her own life after she was ruled fit to work despite having slipped disks in her back and severe pain.
Petition founder Ms Zolobajluk said: "I could see what was happening in the community. It was so predictable. These cuts came in and left people feeling helpless."
The request to release the figures was made under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner Mike Sivier.
He asked how many people who died between November 2011 and May 2014 had been found 'fit for work', or told they could move towards getting work.
DWP chiefs said they were preparing to publish the information in their own time, and it'd be unfair to rush them - but Information Commissioner Christopher Graham ruled they'd acted unreasonably.
Click here for the full petition.
The sister of a mentally ill man who starved to death warns that many more could die this winter
Sunday 23 November 2014
The sister of a mentally ill man who starved to death in David Cameron's constituency after his benefits were wrongly cut has accused the Government of "killing the very vulnerable", as official figures emerged suggesting dozens of people could have died in similar circumstances.
Freedom of Information requests by the Disability News Service revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has investigated decisions made about welfare payments following the deaths of 60 people since 2012 – the first time the DWP has tacitly admitted there could be a link.
However, campaigners believe the number of deaths could be far higher, claiming the changes to benefit rules have amounted to "passive euthanasia".
A public meeting in Witney in Oxfordshire on Thursday will hear from the sisters of two men who died after their benefits were cut, Mark Wood, 44 and David Clapson, 59. Mr Wood, who had a number of mental health problems, was found starved to death last year after his benefits were reduced to £40 a week because he was deemed fit for work. A government review later found that this decision had been a mistake.
The Prime Minister has said his death was "tragic" and pledged to "help find the answers to make sure that lessons are learnt". However, Mr Wood's sister Cathie Wood, 49, said she felt that members of the Government believed "these people aren't worth having around".
"They must, in their secret hearts, think that," she said. "It worked; he died. They say they want to protect the very vulnerable, and they are killing the very vulnerable. I think it is a really huge, hidden scandal and there are going to be more people who die this winter."
Mr Wood, who had been "desperately trying to be independent", was reclusive, and only told his family that his benefits had been cut shortly before he died. The coroner said his death was probably partly caused by his being "markedly underweight and malnourished".
A DWP report into his case,due out in June, has been delayed. Officials now say it will not be ready until next year. Ms Wood said she suspected it would not be revealed until after the general election.
Mr Clapson, a former soldier and a Type-1 diabetic, died in July after his benefits were cut. He had no food in his stomach, £3.44 in the bank and no money on his electricity card, leaving him unable to operate his fridge where he kept his insulin. MPs are to look into his death after a petition calling for an inquiry gathered more than 210,000 names.
"I feel [benefit] sanctions are cruel and harsh on the weak and vulnerable, which my brother had become through no fault of his own," his sister Gill Thompson said. "My brother didn't create [a fuss], he just walked away … he wasn't one for a scene. My brother has gone, there is nothing can be done to bring him back. All I want now is lessons to be learnt and no one else to die, and his passing not to be without meaning."
In 2013, some 871,000 people were sanctioned by the DWP, losing some or all of their benefits for weeks or months. John Pring, of the Disability News Service, said the admission the DWP had looked into 60 cases since 2012 was significant. "It does seem to be the first kind of solid evidence that the DWP do seem to accept there's some link between mistakes they make in their procedures and the deaths of people," he said.
Mr Pring suspected there were "a lot more" cases, saying he knew of more than 60 from inquest reports alone. The true number, he said, could be anything from about that to several thousand.
John McArdle, from campaign group Black Triangle, has compiled a list of 70 people who died after their benefits were cut, including many mentally ill and disabled people. He said this was likely to be "the tip of the iceberg". "These people are being cut loose and it's a policy that amounts to passive euthanasia. These are very vulnerable people who require our support, care and love," he said.
Thursday's meeting was organised by the Green Party, of which Mr Wood was a member. Stuart Macdonald, prospective Green parliamentary candidate in Witney, said: "Mark Wood was told that he didn't deserve to have any more money. He felt [£40 a week] was what he deserved … and it was his fault if he couldn't manage. He had more money from his sister but he gave that away to charity because he didn't feel he deserved it."
A DWP spokeswoman said Mr Clapson had not appealed against the removal of his benefits or sought hardship payments. Of Mr Wood's case, she said: "The coroner attributed Mr Wood's eating disorder and food phobia as the likely cause of his death." She said the DWP spent £94bn a year on working-age benefits "to ensure that a safety net is in place to support some of the most vulnerable people in society".