During a universal credit debate in the House of Commons, the Labour MP, Glenda Jackson, responded to the news that Sir Bob Kerslake had informed the Public Accounts Committee that the business case for universal credit had still not been signed off by the Treasury, despite an assurance from DWP minister Esther McVey that it had, with:
“I would hope every member of this House, would be shocked to realise that the DWP is still not giving the right answers – it is ludicrous to expect the right answer to come from the Department of Work and Pensions, as simple humility is not part and parcel of its make-up.
“The committees and government departments that scrutinise where public money goes are being pushed to one side. I have already referred to the bunker mentality of the DWP, and the example that my right hon. Friend gives me is just par for the course; it happens constantly. Arguments are not even being put up.
“We are all being told, ‘Oh no, it’s none of your business; it’s our business’. There is a pattern, which I find very disturbing. I have already touched on the issue of disregarding any serious questioning on costs. Ever since this major benefit change came into being, the Department has employed what I would call a programme of black propaganda, and every single one of the red tops has taken it up with glee and run with it.
“That black propaganda told the people of this country – I am paraphrasing; the DWP would never be this cogent – that everyone who was claiming benefits was doing so because they were too lazy to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have already touched on the agonies that are being endured by people with serious mental and physical disabilities, and the pattern is ongoing.
“A report from the Office for National Statistics last week scrutinised the level of complaints made against all the government departments about the misuse of statistics, and guess which one came top of the list! It was the Department for Work and Pensions. Throughout the time I have been a member of the select committee, we have raised again and again the issue of the misuse of statistics and the misuse of the English language to proselytise this black propaganda and to confuse and distort what should be central to the committee’s concerns – namely, the well-being of the people who require benefits, not because they are lazy or workshy, or even because there are no jobs, but because they should be supported by the people of this country, as they always have been.”
Black propaganda is generally associated with covert psychological operations. It involves the use of false information and material that purports to be from a source on one side of a conflict, but is actually from the opposing side. In this case it was from the supposedly politically neutral media. (You can stop laughing now). The purpose of black propaganda has been described as the “disruption of the enemy’s will and power to fight on”.
It is typically used to vilify, embarrass or misrepresent the opposition. As such, black propaganda may be defined by the reason that it’s released, the intent behind it, and the crucial element of appearing completely credible. Social media also carries the potential for anonymity, and recently there have been many cases where accounts have been exposed as fake and deliberately designed for political purposes.
Such accounts operate very much in the black propaganda mould that was seen throughout the First and Second World Wars, deceptive propaganda that was issued under one guise but emanated from another source. Censorship also lends to such manufactured epistemological fascism by preventing information from being disseminated. It’s quite often the case that only when people actually hit the brick wall do we realise our freedom is being curtailed. That’s because we are constantly diverted from the boundaries: a line which marks the limits of an area. “News” has very clearly been demarcated from truth.
Yesterday Tom Chivers published an entirely speculative Telegraph blog – The ‘10,600 people died within six weeks of being declared fit to work by Atos’ stat is simply wrong.
He says: “I asked if the DWP has any records of how many people did in fact die after their claim ended, but they said they didn’t keep those figures. It would be absolutely amazing, though, if they made up more than the tiniest fraction of that 10,600 figure.”
“I’ve seen this reported all over Twitter as “10,600 people died within six weeks of being found fit to work by Atos”. There’s a pic going around, which purports to show a white flower for each person who died“:
Well no, Tom, the picture DOES show a white flower for each person who has died, many of them were placed or requested by the bereaved. Furthermore, there are no grounds whatsoever for assuming those deaths took place prior to those peoples’ benefit being stopped.
Nonetheless, Chivers says: “What that means is that the large, presumably overwhelming, majority of those 10,600 people died, and then their claims ended because they were dead“.
Someone ought to explain to Tom that simply making a claim isn’t actually “debunking” anything. It’s simply making a claim.
And there are absolutely no reasonable grounds whatsoever for that claim.
I made a statistical cross comparison of deaths, using the same Department for Work and Pensions Freedom Of Information (FOI) request as Tom Chivers, though my analysis was undertaken last year, I found that the FOI yielded a response showing 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.
This is a very substantial, 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 case studies and 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 record.
Further evidence that very ill and disabled people have been excluded from an award of ESA may be found in the statistical outcomes of tribunals – there is a consistently very high success rate amongst those who have appealed Atos/DWP decisions, over that time period. Those on IB were not required to have continuous assessments, whereas those on ESA are constantly required to undergo the Work Capability Assessment.
Dr Steven Bick has indicated that there are targets to reduce the number of people who “qualify” for ESA payments, the WCA is unfairly and irrationally weighted towards finding people fit for work, often when it’s clearly not the case, so each assessment is simply an opportunity for the DWP to end claims. Many claimants have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased ESA claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just 3 months later another assessment is required by the DWP.
The uncertainty and loss of even basic material security that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and well-being of so many. A significant proportion of those required to have endless assessments have very obviously serious illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, lung disease, heart disease, severe and life-threatening chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, myalgic encephalomyelitis, rheumatoid arthritis, brain tumours, severe heart conditions, and severe mental health illness, for example. To qualify for ESA, the person making a claim for lifeline support must provide a note from a doctor stating that the person is unfit for work.
There can be no justification for subjecting people who are so ill to further endless assessments, and to treating us as if we have done something wrong. Negative labelling, marginalising and stigmatising the most vulnerable citizens via propaganda in the media, using despiteful and malicious terms such as “workshy” and “feckless” is a major part of the Government’s malevolent “justification” for removing the lifeline of support from ill and disabled people. In addition to very justified anxieties regarding the marked increase in disability hate crime that the Tory-led propaganda campaign has resulted in, many ill and disabled people have also stated that they feel harassed and bullied by the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos.
Many talk of the dread they feel when they see the brown Atos envelope containing the ESA50 form arrive through the letter box. The strain of constantly fighting for ESA entitlement and perpetually having to prove that we are a “deserving” and “genuine” ill and disabled person is clearly taking a toll on so many people’s health and well being.
Many families of those who have died have said that the constant strain, anxiety and stress of this revolving door process has contributed significantly to their loved ones’ decline in health and subsequent death. The figures from the DWP, and the marked contrast between the ESA and IB death statistics certainly substantiate these claims. At a meeting in June 2012, British Medical Association doctors voted that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) should be ended “with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to some of the weakest and vulnerable members in society”.
The vote has not been acknowledged by Atos or by the Government, although it was reported widely in the media at the time. On 22 May 2013, a landmark decision by the courts in a judicial review brought by two individuals with mental health problems ruled that the WCA is not fit for purpose, and that Atos assessments substantially disadvantage people with mental health conditions. Despite the ruling’s authoritative importance, the decision had a similar lack of real-world effect as it did not halt or slow down the WCA process: Atos and the DWP have ignored the judgement and its implications.
In mid-January 2012, there was a significant scandal as media were alerted to the fact that the WCA had found a man in a coma to be “fit for work”. Work Capability Assessments have found patients with brain damage, terminal cancer, severe multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s Disease to be fit for work. On 24 April 2013, a woman who was a double heart and lung transplant patient died in her hospital bed only days after she was told after a WCA that her allowance was being stopped and that she was fit for work.
In August 2011, twelve doctors working for Atos as disability assessors were placed under investigation by the General Medical Council because of allegations of misconduct in relation to their duty of care to patients. One doctor was forced to resign from Atos after being told to change a report about an individual, pointing out “the General Medical Council makes it clear that doctors must not change a report and risk being disciplined for unprofessional conduct if they do”.
Chivers doesn’t question why “this awful, impenetrably written Freedom of Information response” from July 2012 is so awfully written, he doesn’t question that the government department are not monitoring the consequences of their “reforms”, nor does he ponder the fact that the DWP have refused to respond to further FOIs. The government have not investigated those deaths, remarkably, and we really do need to ask why.
I am chronically ill and disabled, I have had two assessments since 2010 that were traumatic and led to a decline in my health and well-being. I co-manage a support group for people with disabilities claiming ESA and PIP, and I am FAR from alone in these experiences. Two members of that group died AFTER being told they were fit for work. One of those was a campaigner for disability rights and a friend – Karen Sherlock. We have a far more coherent, authentic and comprehensive account, framed in genuine shock, bewilderment, fear, anxiety and sorrow to offer, here, Mr Chivers.
This isn’t “debunking”: “It would be absolutely amazing, though, if they made up more than the tiniest fraction of that 10,600 figure.” This is NOT an analysis, Mr Chivers, or a well-reasoned judgement, it’s an enormously speculative proposition based on assumption. On the same logical grounds as the proposition you have attempted to challenge.
However, there is evidence that a substantial number of the deaths of ESA claimants happened after their claim was ended, after assessment. This was my initial response to the Telegraph article. And offer it I will, despite the fact that the Telegraph refused to publish my comment. And my responses from last night on Mr Chivers’ Twitter posts have also mysteriously vanished.
Samuel Miller @Hephaestus7 @suejone02063672 It’s a superlative piece and I sincerely hope that The Telegraph sees fit to publish it.@TenPercent 37m @suey2y @BendyGirl @TomChivers @Hephaestus7 I’ve pasted this from the Telegraph comments page:
Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Telegraph Blogs.
I find it curious that whilst the DWP couldn’t state either way which side of a claim ending that the deaths happened, journalists and the government shrug the figures off, rather than actually INVESTIGATING the matter. I have lost 3 friends this past 2 years, who died just after being told they were fit for work, their lifeline support was ended. Families consistently report that it is the stress of the assessment, being told they are “fit to work”, and the fact that chronically ill people then have to fight for their support – which they have contributed to via taxes – that cause a further decline in their health, and that is leading to some people dying. It’s a well known fact that stress exacerbates health conditions.
Cases are being reported in the media. This is not a dry topic for one-sided speculation and denial, it’s a matter of life and death for some of us. Yet you trivialise this with speculative denial. Don’t the ill and disabled citizens of this country matter? WHY do you think the DWP don’t keep the details on record? Because IDS’s office does not want them on record. In a decent, civilised country, the government and the media would have given a shit and INVESTIGATED this properly.
Yet you make unsubstantiated, dismissive claims, rather than question. Aktion T4 involved secret killing of ill and disabled people by lethal injection, the method established for killing children. Pneumonia was often recorded as the cause of death. Denial of culpability. The method was soon considered too slow and inefficient for killing adults, who needed larger doses of increasingly scarce and expensive drugs and were more likely to need restraint. Hitler recommended to Brandt that carbon monoxide gas be used. At his trial, Brandt described this as a “major advance in medical history”.
Rather like the language our government uses such a “helping people into work” by cutting off their lifeline benefits – designed to meet only basic survival needs – and thus exacerbating their chronic health problems.(I’m comparing propaganda techniques and ideology here, not methods, policy is far more subtle and stealthy than lethal injection or gas.).
And many ARE dying as a result. I’ve been through the assessment process and know the strain it puts a person under. It’s a fact that such stress exacerbates illness. And the government know this. Finally, do you imagine that a government that does this means ill and disabled people well? There is NO indication that this government has the well-being of this country’s most vulnerable citizens as a priority. See: – https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/clause-99-catch-22-state-sadism-and-silencing-the-vulnerable/. I will add that I correspond with MPs regarding the dire consequences of this governments’ policy, as a disability campaigner.
MPs, including Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell, Sheila Gilmore, Dame Anne Begg, and Glenda Jackson have raised concerns regarding the death statistics, meticulously citing the evidence of case studies, often from their own constituencies.
And qualitative accounts also matter. It’s about time the government and the complicit media stopped attempting to invalidate the experiences of vulnerable citizens by the use of black propaganda. People’s terrible experiences of this governments’ “reforms” are real. This isn’t about abstract speculation regarding statistics: this is about very real experiences, real lives and real people being damaged and destroyed in a real world of real Tory policies. As well as via the use of early day motions (EDM) and adjournment debate, the many problems concerning the consequences of the welfare “reforms” are also addressed rigorously by the Work and Pensions Committee, through formal inquiries, (see Hansard record) which are also informed by the use of empirical evidence.
That’s because the real need to do so exists.
Further reading: Cross-party concerns raised in Parliament about Atos assessments, with evidence – presented cases studies of people who died AFTER their lifeline benefit was withdrawn – Atos comes under attack in emotional Commons debate
How many persons has Atos killed today? – Michael Meacher MP
Update, August 31st, 2014: Tom Chivers has consistently refused to consider the further evidence and rational commentary presented to him by many campaigners, and continues to trivialise this issue, and the pressing need for a genuine inquiry into ESA-related deaths.
“BBC Radio 4′s More or Less promised a feature on the long-discussed deaths of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance in its programme on Friday – and delivered five minutes of drivel that is an insult to the intelligence of anybody concerned.” From Mike Sivier – ‘More or Less’ on the ESA deaths: MORE stupidity, LESS accuracy