The new Conservative minister for disabled people has insisted that his department is right to ignore reports of deaths linked to the loss or non-payment of disability benefits.
Mark Harper said he did not accept that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be collecting this information or trying to learn lessons from such deaths.
He was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, days after a DNS story revealed that DWP refused to collect or analyse accounts of benefit-related deaths.
One disabled activist suggested last week that this failure could amount to criminal negligence, while Samuel Miller, a prominent disabled academic from Canada, said this week that DWP had “seriously breached its duty of care by ignoring benefit-related deaths”.
But Harper said he did not “accept the premise” that DWP should collect and analyse reports that suggest a disabled person’s death could have been linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of benefits.
He said: “If somebody in those sort of cases, if someone has [a] mental health [condition] and then something happens, trying to disaggregate what was the cause I don’t think is as simple as you are trying to suggest.”
When asked whether he accepted that any deaths had been caused, or even partly caused, by the loss or non-payment of benefits, he said: “Of the cases I have seen since I have been the minister where there have been allegations, when you look at the detail they are not as simple and straightforward as people are alleging.”
But Harper did promise to “go back and look back at what processes we have in place to track cases” and to look at the Freedom of Information Act response from DWP that led to the DNS story.
There have been numerous reports of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to the employment and support allowance claim process, or the refusal of benefits, including the writer Paul Reekie, who killed himself in 2010, and the deaths of Nick Barker, Jacqueline Harris, Ms DE, and Brian McArdle.
Many of the cases became widely-known through media reports of inquests, but in the case of Ms DE, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland concluded that the work capability assessment process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”.
I’ve been asking for 2 years why the DWP are not keeping a record to at least monitor the consequences of the welfare “reforms”, and it’s a fact that the DWP have refused to respond to further FOIs, since the one released in 2012. The government have not investigated those deaths related to their reforms, remarkably, and we need to ask why.
Mark Harper refuses to allow the release of information concerning harm that government policies cause. These are not the responses of a responsible, democratic government.
I made a statistical cross comparison of deaths, using the Department for Work and Pensions Freedom Of Information (FOI) release, 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.
The DWP had made these two groups statistically discrete on the FOI, which has provided the only useful information for analysis.
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 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.
The uncertainty and loss of even basic 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 claimant 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, stopping lifeline benefits and to treating us as if we have done something wrong. Negative labelling, marginalising and stigmatising the vulnerable 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 the sick and disabled. In addition to very justified anxieties regarding the marked increase in disability hate crime that the Tory-led propaganda campaign has resulted in, many sick and disabled people have also stated that they feel harassed and bullied by the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos.
One of the fundamental provisions in the Human Rights Convention is Article 2 which states that everyone has a right to life. It also places on the state a positive duty to protect life. Article 2 has been interpreted to include the positive requirement of the state to ensure preventative measures are taken to protect citizens and a duty to investigate suspicious deaths.
We are informing the government of the deaths that Tory policies are causing, we have presented evidence, and so has the opposition: recorded case studies are on Hansard, the parliamentary record, as well reported being in the media. The government have responded by denying that the deaths are “causally linked” with their policies and have refused to investigate further.
Genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic eradication or mass killing of a group or large population identified by the perpetrators.
The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide(CPPCG) – Article 2  and Article 6 of the International Criminal Court Statute  define genocide as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
This includes: “The destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, as well as the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups”. Deliberate starvation is classified as a crime against humanity, and with holding lifeline benefits from the most vulnerable members of a society cannot be seen as anything other than deliberate starvation.
Because these policies are sometimes implemented by governments, limiting the unrestrained power of the state is an important part of international law. Underlying laws that prohibit the various “crimes against humanity” is the principle of non-discrimination and the notion that certain basic rights apply universally.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. 
Gregory H. Stanton (President, Genocide Watch), says “Prevention of genocide requires a structural understanding of the genocidal process. Genocide has eight stages or operational processes.”
Stages of Genocide: 1). Classification, 2). Symbolization, 3). Dehumanization, 4). Organization, 5). Polarization, 6). Preparation, 7). Extermination, and 8). Denial
Written by Sue Jones.
Many thanks, as ever, to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork