Tag: Mortality Statistics

DWP disclose controversial mortality rates of those awaiting PIP assessments

Image result for PIP assessments kittysjones

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has disclosed that over 21,000 ill and disabled people died waiting for their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment to be completed, between April 2013 and 30 April 2018. PIP is claimed by people with a range of health conditions and disabilities, many of which are chronic, degenerative or life limiting.

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Sarah Newton, the Minister of State for Disabled People, published the figures on 11 January following a question raised in parliament by Labour MP Madeleine Moon in December: “How many people have died while waiting for their personal independence payment assessment to be completed; and what were the conditions those people died from?”

Newton responded: “All benefit claims can be made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill which will mean that they are fast tracked. These are currently being cleared within 6 working days for new claimants to PIP. The Department would encourage all claimants with a terminal illness to let the department know and to apply using the special rules.

The cause of death of PIP claimants is not collated centrally by the Department.”

Over 3.6 million applications to PIP were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these:

  • 4,760 claimants1 died between their case being referred to, and returned from, an assessment provider;
  • 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered; and
  • 17,070 claimants died after registering but prior to the DWP making a decision on their claim. Details of the claimant’s primary medical condition, where recorded, are in the accompanying spreadsheet.”

The total number of PIP claimants who died was 95,000. But Newton’s response does not indicate at what stage of their claim the 73,800 people, who died within six months of it being registered, were at. Nor does it indicate what those people who did not have terminal or degenerative illnesses died of – including those with mental illness. For example, 270 of those mortalities are listed as having had anxiety and/or depressive disorders as their primary disorder.

Of those who did have terminal illnesses, we need to ask why these people were  cruelly left waiting so long for their assessment, if, as Newton claims, they are ‘fast tracked’ through the claim and assessment process.

Newton also warns on her data release: “This is unpublished data… It should be used with caution and it may be subject to future revision.”

There is, however, an Excel spreadsheet that indicates some of the primary conditions of those people who have died. But we cannot assume that those mortalities have arisen as a consequence of the recorded condition.

The DWP are experts at reluctantly providing data that lacks both context and details, which, they often say, they simply don’t collate. And 9,020 people’s main condition was not recorded at all by the DWP.  There is no means of useful comparison between mortality rates year by year, or a reference point to start from. A similar statistical analysis of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimant mortalities would help us establish a useful baseline. 

I rang the DWP press office on Friday for a response and to ask for details of DLA claimant pre-assessment mortality rates, and was promised an email that has not arrived. 

Personal experience

As someone who has undergone both Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and PIP assessments, I know from personal experience they are dehumanising, and  the stress they create exacerbates the symptoms of chronic illness. I have lupus. 

Back in 2013, I wrote about the terrible impact of  stressful, continuous work capability assessments on disabled people, particularly those with chronic illness. It’s long been understood that distress exacerbates the symptoms of both physical and mental illness. In my case, the ESA assessments and subsequent Tribunal were so stressful that the process itself created a deterioration in my mental health at the time.

My physical symptoms worsened to the point where I became severely underweight at less than seven and a half stones. I was often left without enough money to buy food and keep warm. I also have Raynaud’s, which means I have to keep warm. My rheumatologist prescribed a chemotherapy – methotrexate – and other immune suppressants to halt the rapid acceleration in disease activity and to try and stop the subsequent wake of permanent widespread damage being done to my body. 

Those exacerbations were stress-related, and have left a wake of damage to my joints, nerves, tendons, organs and blood cells, and, together with the treatments, the severe illness flares have irrepairably damaged my immune system, leaving me even more susceptible to serious infections like pneumonia, abcesses, kidney infection and an abnormal immune response to those – sepsis.

I was very poorly when I claimed ESA, but was critically ill by the time I was forced to appeal the DWP’s decision that I was ‘fit for work’.  

A government that cared about monitoring the impact of its’ policies on vulnerable citizens would do a much better job of collating and recording information about mortalities, and would also present a context that permits us to make meaningful comparisons. Instead, we see the Conservatives micromanaging information with expedience, while claiming that there is “no causal link established” between policy and any increase in harm or mortality.

However, the government have no grounds for making that claim, since there has been a persistent refusal to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of the welfare reforms, or to open an inquiry regarding the many concerns raised and cases presented where people have suffered harm, distress and premature mortality, indicating a correlation with the government’s policy changes.

Although correlation isn’t the same thing as causality, it often implies causality. Without further investigation, we cannot say that there is or isn’t a causal relationship between punitive policies and distress, harm, premature mortality. But we can say there is an association evident. It’s worth bearing in mind that much social science research establishes correlations, not causality.

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

The Department for Work and Pensions have issued a guidance document for providers carrying out assessments for PIP. It can be found here: PIP Assessment Guide. From the document: “The HP should check the consistency of what is being said by using different approaches, asking questions in different ways or coming back to a previous point. When considering inconsistencies, HPs should bear in mind that some claimants may have no insight into their condition, for example claimants with cognitive or developmental impairments.”

This approach – “checking for inconsistencies” by using indirect questioning and assumption is NOT “objective”. It is a calculated strategy to justify a starting point of disbelief and skepticism regarding the accounts provided by ill and disabled people about the impact of their conditions and disabilities on their day-to-day living. As such, it frames the entire assessment process, weighting it towards evidence gathering to justify refusing awards, rather than being “objective”, as claimed.

It’s simply a method based on side-stepping and discounting people’s own accounts of their experiences of their disability, and any medical evidence submitted to verify that.

Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced. Of course the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” simply reflects a government that has made a partisan political decision to cut disabled people’s essential income to fund a financial gift to the wealthiest citizens. There is no justification for this decision, nor is it remotely “fair”, as the government claims.

It becomes easier to disassociate from someone you view “objectively” and to distance yourself from the impact of your calculated and target-led decision-making, constrained within a highly political framework. Such an objectification of a person or group of people serves to de-empathise us, which is a key characteristic requirement of neoliberal ideology, embedded in inhumane “small state” policy and extended via administrative (and outsourced, privatised) practices. It leaves us much less likely to relate to the circumstances, emotions or accept the needs and choices of others.

Surely a considerable part of our experience of being objectively diagnosed as ill and/or disabled, in any case, is initiated by a person’s subjective experience of it, rather than categories and counts; quantifiable, reductive and speculative statements about how we may perform highly specific tasks.

Quantitative medical evidence is important, because it does often give a general indication of conditions that would entail loss of function. But considering medical evidence isn’t a central part of the assessment process. Whether or not we can perform certain tasks, and inferences drawn from that are the central considerations for PIP eligibility.

The tasks I was asked to perform at assessment were not related to those I carry out from day to day. Consequently, as they were unfamiliar, I had no idea what I could and couldn’t actually do. It was a shocking experience for me to learn how much mobility I have lost in my hands, wrists, shoulders and neck. It was also very painful attempting what looked like simple movements, which the assessor demonstrated as she conducted the examination. Because she moved quickly from one movement to another, I had no time to assess if I could do the activities. I was trembling because of the pain and effort, and couldn’t understand why I was struggling with what looked like basic movements. I left in a lot more pain than when I arrived. My shoulder and calf swelled inexplicably during the assessment and I couldn’t walk for over a week afterwards.

Many conditions “fluctuate” – they vary so much that it’s difficult to assess performance of specific tasks consistently. Many conditions become progressively worse at a varied pace, often leaving little scope for a person developing coping strategies and adapting their everyday lives to the changes as they happen, such as a progressive loss of mobility, cognitive impairment, mood changes, anxiety, depression, sleep disruption and other psychological impacts, and the increasing pain and fatigue that they may experience.   

If the process were genuinely “fair, accurate and objective” then there would be no need for mandatory reviews and scrutiny through the appeals process. The introduction of the mandatory review – another layer of bureaucracy and a barrier to justice, where the DWP decide whether their first decision should be changed – has deterred many from appealing wrong decisions.

Those making the decisions about PIP awards are: “trained DWP staff who are familiar with the legislation governing PIP, but who do not have a healthcare background. The HP enables CMs to make fair and accurate decisions by providing impartial, objective and justified advice.”

The PIP assessment is geared towards looking for “inconsistencies” in “functional limitations”. For example, if you say you can’t sit unaided for half an hour, but then say that you watch soaps on TV, it will be assumed you sit unaided for at least half an hour to watch TV, and that will be classed as a “discrepancy between the reported need and the actual needs of the claimant.”

The whole assessment process is set up and designed to look for “inconsistencies.” In other words, the assessor is looking for any excuse to justify a decision that you are not among those in “greatest need” for a PIP award. The entire process happens within a framework of reducing welfare costs, after all. This makes a mockery of the government’s fondness for using the words “objective” and “fair.”

What has become clear is this so-called support for those who are “in the greatest need” is not working for disabled and ill citizens. It most certainly does not help disabled people maintain their dignity and support them in independent living.

It is not such a big inferential leap to conclude that continually cutting essential lifeline support for ill and disabled people will ultimately lead to harm, distress, hardship and other negative consequences, and will, ultimately, have wider political, social, cultural and economic “adverse” consequences, too.

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For people who can’t translate the coded statement at the foot of the Excel Spreadsheet, it says:

These figures include claims made under both Normal Rules and Special Rules for the Terminally Ill and include new claims and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to PIP reassessment claims. · This is unpublished data from the PIP computer system (PICS) management information. It should be used with caution and it may be subject to future revision. · Claimants may often have multiple disabling conditions upon which the decision is based but only the primary condition as recorded on the PIPCS. · Figures are rounded to the nearest 10 and ‘#’ is used for totals of greater than 0 but less than 5. · Components may not sum to totals due to rounding.


 

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A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

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“No, we have not carried out a review […] you cannot make allegations about individual cases, in tragic cases where obviously things go badly wrong, you can’t suddenly say this is directly as a result of government policy”– Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 5 May 2015.

Back in July, the Information Commissioner’s Office opened an investigation into four of the UK’s largest charities, following allegations that their fundraisers contacted people registered with the government’s opt-out nuisance call database.

David Cameron led the calls for fundraising regulators to investigate whether a 92-year-old poppy-seller, found dead in Avon Gorge after committing suicide, had been under pressure from charities asking for donations.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office, the watchdog responsible for enforcing data protection laws, said: “We’re aware of allegations raised against several charities, and will be investigating whether there have been any breaches of the Data Protection Act or privacy and electronic communication regulations.” 

It was the workers at a London call centre, fundraising on behalf of the charities, who were accused of calling, and being prepared to take money from, vulnerable people, including the elderly and those living with dementia, the Daily Mail reported.

Those with dementia and Alzheimer’s were allegedly being treated as legitimate targets – as long as they agree to the call and are able to answer a few basic questions over the phone.

Cameron said: “I know there is a code that is meant to protect people from feeling pressured by charities and I hope the Fundraising Standards Board will look at whether any more could have been done to prevent this.” 

However, although Olive Cooke did tragically kill herself, it has since been established by her family and at an inquest that her suicide wasn’t related to charity fundraising requests at all.

So, Mr Cameron didn’t hesitate to make a connection between a tragic suicide and the policy of “charities, who were accused of calling, and being prepared to take money from, vulnerable people.” As it happens, he drew the wrong inference from remarkably little empirical evidence. I say remarkably little, because in similar circumstances involving suicides and deaths in other social groups, David Cameron demands that people don’t make any inferences at all and from much more reliable evidence than he had to draw on in order to conclude that an investigation was warranted into the impact of charities’ fundraising requests.

This said, one tragic death really ought to trigger an inquiry into policy. That is the right thing to do.

The Stark Contrast.

In 2013, a disabled man committed suicide as a direct result of being found “fit to work” by the government’s work capability assessment. In a report to the Department of Work and Pensions, the coroner for Inner North London demanded that the Government department take action to prevent further deaths.

The coroner’s report on the death of Michael O’Sullivan warns of the risk of more such deaths. Michael, a 60-year-old father of two from north London, killed himself at his home after being moved from employment support onto jobseekers allowance, despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, that he was suffering from serious long-term depression and agoraphobia and had been certified as unable to work.

The coroner said that Michael’s anxiety and depression were long-term problems, but the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his (then) recent assessment by the DWP as being fit for work.

Surprisingly, David Cameron did not lead any calls for an investigation into the policies that caused this tragic suicide, despite the coroner’s report and widely shared, well-documented, (and evidenced) concerns that the Department of Work and Pensions is placing sick and disabled people under enormous strain which is unacceptably harmful and distressing. The Conservative welfare reforms included an increase in benefit “conditionality” which involves punitive sanctions and rigid assessments that are not designed to provide support, but rather, to save money and remove people’s eligibility for lifeline social security benefit, causing them severe hardship, harm, and sometimes, causing their death.

In other words, the Department of Work and Pensions “are prepared to take money from vulnerable people.”  This is the only income that people claiming benefits have to meet their basic survival needs.

Furthermore, Mr Cameron has persistently refused to carry out even basic monitoring of the impact of his government’s policies despite longstanding public concerns about the fact that they are causing sick and disabled people harm. This government have doggedly refused to release information regarding the mortality rates of people who face the negative impact of Conservative policies every day.

David Clapson, 59, was a former soldier and had type-one diabetes, he died in last year after he was sanctioned – his benefit was stopped as a punishment – because he missed an appointment at the jobcentre. The coroner reported that Mr Clapson had no food in his stomach, £3.44 in the bank and no money on his electricity meter card, leaving him unable to operate his fridge where he kept insulin, which has to be kept refrigerated. He died of diabetic ketoacidosis because he couldn’t take his insulin.

In addition to tragic cases like those of Michael and David that are reported in the media, there are many others raised in parliament by MPs and through the work of select committees, which are evidenced on the parliamentary Hansard record of course. Additionally, some of us also keep a record of the growing number of people who have died prematurely because of the welfare “reforms”. 

Furthermore, the United Nations believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation into the impact of Tory policies, the UK has  become the first developed country to be the subject of an inquiry into “grave and systematic” violations of the rights of disabled people. Wouldn’t you think that this would prompt some concern and scrutiny of policies and impacts from the Government? But it hasn’t.

The government persistently deny there is any correlation between suffering, hardship, an increase in suicide and deaths amongst disabled people and their punitive policies. Yet there is substantial evidence to demonstrate a very clear correlation, and certainly more than enough to warrant an inquiry into the harmful impact of the policies on sick and disabled people. After all, one unrelated death was sufficient to warrant an inquiry into the fundraising policy of charities.

Yet we are told by David Cameron that “it is quite wrong to suggest any causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim” when evidence strongly suggests such a link. An inquiry is the only way that the correlation could possibly be refuted, but the Government realise that a refutation is an unlikely outcome, hence their refusal to allow an inquiry in the first place.

Campaigners have fought to ensure that information about the harmful impact of government reforms was open to public scrutiny. The truth, however, still remains hidden beneath the excessively and purposeful bureaucratic management of this information and political denials of culpability. Mike Sivier, a fellow campaigner and writer at Vox Political, requested a tribunal after he made a Freedom of Information request for access to the information – and it was refused. Over the last three years, many of us submitted FOI requests for the same information and all were refused.

This is not an accountable, transparent or democratic Government. Let’s not forget the political fabrication of case studies of people “helped” by having their lifeline benefits stopped, presumably because they couldn’t find any real people who would attest to such absurd, ideologically driven, class contingent political acts of targeted cruelty. What real person would ever claim that starvation, being cold and facing destitution “helped” them in any way?

After suppressing information for years, the Department of Work and Pensions finally released data about the deaths of sick and disabled people, but the release was partial, and was not responsive to the detailed request made for detailed and specific information. In fact the data was presented in such an intentionally contextless and incomplete way that there wasn’t even scope for analytical cross comparisons to be made. The release was deliberately limited and impenetrable, as the department of Work and Pensions acknowledged when the report was published with this proviso:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics. Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

(From the Department of Work and Pensions report Mortality Statistics, 2015.)

I will leave you to draw your own inferences regarding the startling disparity and incoherence apparent in the two distinct government  responses to suicides and deaths in two separate and differentially valued social groups – one that is politically marginalised, one that is not – and the government suppression of information regarding the impact of their targeted, draconian austerity policies.

All lives have equal worth. But I think it’s safe to say that we’re not “all in it together” as Cameron claimed. He believes that some lives are more important and some suicides are more worthy of investigation than others. It is very clear that this government does not care about the lives and welfare of sick and disabled people.

Call me cynical but I wonder which social group are more likely to vote Conservative?

Related

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

292533_330073053728896_1536469241_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith

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I wrote earlier about the way the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) heavily micro-managed the recent Mortality Statistics release, and how the Government are using an excessively bureaucratic approach to ensure that no inferences are drawn from the data published, insisting that it’s “wrong” to link the mortality rates of sick and disabled people with punitive, Conservative austerity policies.

However, the accounts and experiences of sick and disabled people and their families (recorded in the media, in parliamentary inquiries, Commons debates – all preserved on the Hansard record) inform us that there is a clear correlation between the Tory “reforms” and increased distress, a loss of dignity and autonomy, financial insecurity and insolvency, increasing ill health, and sometimes, the death, of disabled people.

When confronted in the Commons, Iain Duncan Smith and other ministers dispensed with civilised debate, and simply blocked any discussion regarding concerns raised by the opposition about the negative impact of the Tory welfare cuts on sick and disabled people.  Values of decency and legitimate concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled citizens were depreciated as mere matters of “subjective interpretation” and not as worthy subjects of political, rational or objective discussion.

The Mortality Statistics release from Department of Work and Pension “provides further commentary on the appropriate use of this information” – in other words, it informs us what we may and may not do with the “data”, and carries this pre-emptive caution:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics. Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

Bearing in mind that the information in the release came about because of many Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from many of us, and the rulings of the Information Commissioner and a tribunal (Mike Sivier from Vox Political appealed against the original decision by the Information Commissioner and the DWP to refuse the Freedom of Information requests), it’s difficult to see why the Government have been so determined, firstly, to withhold the information requested, secondly, when forced to make the release, to present the information in a decontextualized way that renders it virtually meaningless, thirdly, to go to such extraordinary lengths to instruct us how we may and may not analyse the data and fourthly, to respond to any interpretive reference to the data as “wrong”, refusing to engage in any further discussion.

Unless of course it’s a Government that doesn’t want open and democratic accountability and public scrutiny of the often devastating impact of its policies.

Debbie Abrahams, the new shadow minister for disabled people, has long been an outstanding campaigner and spokesperson for disabled people. Earlier this month, she asked David Cameron:

“Two weeks ago, the Work and Pensions Secretary’s Department not only admitted to falsifying testimonies in leaflets, but published data on the deaths of people on sickness benefit, which showed that they are four times more likely to die than the general population. That was after the Secretary of State told the House that these data did not exist. Given that, and his offensive remarks earlier this week—referring to people without disabilities as “normal”—when will the Prime Minister take control and respond to my call for the Work and Pensions Secretary to be investigated for breaching the ministerial code?”

Here is the Ministerial code. Ministers are also expected to observe the seven Nolan Principles, which are the basis of the ethical standards of conduct that is expected of all holders of public office. 

Last year, I sent David Cameron a reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the Coalition had exempted themselves, but he didn’t respond and it didn’t make any difference.

It’s true that the Department of Work Pensions (DWP) has admitted falsifying testimonies in leaflets. The DWP’s own data does indicate that people on incapacity benefits are four times more likely to die than other people in the general population. Iain Duncan Smith did tell MPs that this data did not even exist. Then he told them it did.

Let’s be frank here, Iain Duncan Smith has established a culture where it’s acceptable to lie, even his Curriculum Vitae is comprised of  Machiavellian, narcissistic-inspired confabulations – he’s qualified only in absolute and utter tosh, he graduated without Honour. Or a degree.

And it’s truly priceless that Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron can accuse anyone of misrepresenting statistics with a straight face, given the large number of official rebukes the Tories have had from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for manipulating or  misrepresenting statistics and telling lies.

Today, Debbie received the following written response to her question from the Prime sinister Minister:

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

I’ve already addressed a lot of the content above, however I couldn’t help but note the apparent “policing” of Debbie’s tweets. The response isn’t a rational or reasonable one, and certainly not of a standard that is expected of a prime minister.

How can the use of fake statements from fake characters about fictitious “benefits” of harsh sanctions – the arbitrary and punitive removal of lifeline income to support people in meeting basic survival needs – ever “help claimants and advisers to understand the benefit system”?

How is telling lies about the impact of policy and constructing fake positive testimonies ever “illustrative”? That was no “error”: it was an intentional, deceitful act designed solely to mislead the public and to justify the Conservative’s crass and primitive behaviourist approach to what was once our social security.

As is the insistence that “the statistics showed it is quite wrong to suggest any causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim.” Tosh. The statistics showed no such thing,  they did not demonstrate that there is no existing causal link – but the data was presented in a way that intentionally obscures such a link. That does not mean we can conclude there’s no connection between increased mortality and the Conservative “reforms” at all.

Whilst we are warned not to draw inferences of causal links from the statistics, the prime minister thinks that it’s perfectly appropriate to do just that himself. Yet there is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support his denial of a causal link.  The statistical data does not falsify or refute the proposition that such a link exists. We have plenty of recorded evidence, however, to support our proposition that Tory policies are actually harming people.

Tory policies do. Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused premature deaths, too, and her Cabinet were far less harsh towards sick and disabled people than Cameron’s government. A research report which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you inflict stress and harm on people who are already ill, by withholding their lifeline support, by constantly reassessing them and telling them they are fit for work when they clearly are not, by invalidating their experiences, by forcing them to fight for the means of survival – without the means of survival, it will probably exacerbate any illness and quite possibly this will kill them.

As I discussed earlier today, Cameron and his government have consistently displayed an absolute lack of concern for sick and disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts. Yet it’s inconceivable that Conservatives don’t grasp the fact that their policies are at least potentially very harmful, and certainly very punitive in nature.

I’ve discussed many times before that Tory ideology is founded on toxic subterranean values and principles, which are anachronistic and incompatible with a society that has evolved to value democracy, human rights and the socio-economic gains from our post-war settlement.

Conservatives have always seen inequality as a necessary and beneficial element to a market driven economy, for example, and their policies tend to assemble a steeply hierarchical society, especially given their small state fetishism, which involves removing socio-economic support services and civilising mechanisms such as welfare, free healthcare and access to legal aid.

Beneath the familiar minarchist, class contingent Conservative policies and neoliberal schema is a tacit acceptance of socioeconomic Darwinism, and a leaning towards eugenicist principles, expressed most clearly recently in the withdrawal of tax credit support for low paid families with more than two children, in order to “change behaviours” as Iain Duncan Smith put it. The reasoning behind this is the government believe they can “nudge” poor people into “breeding” less. Such a class contingent policy reflects a deep prejudice and also demonstrates an authoritarianism that is certainly incompatible with democracy and human rights.

(See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public, Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context and What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” eugenics?)

The Tories employ techniques of neutralization which are used to rationalise or justify acts that contravene social norms or that are illegal.  There are five basic techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, condemnation of the condemners, and an appeal to higher loyalties.

The recognition of techniques of neutralisation by David Matza and Gresham Sykes happened during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency at the time, and they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

It was Alexander Alverez who identified that these techniques were used more broadly at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust. He added a sixth technique – Disengagement and Dehumanisation.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal and moral values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralization to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government. The Tories systematically attempt to to distort meanings, to withhold,  or deny any evidence that may expose the impact of their draconian policies on targeted social groups.

For example, when they habitually use the word “reform”, when   referring to is cutting funding or support. and “help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to coerce and punish. The claim that the bedroom tax ishelping” people into workorhelping child poverty– when empirical research shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest ever “help them to into work” or alleviate poverty? It’s glib, irrational tosh from a Government that can’t do coherent, joined up thinking, and even worse, thinks that we can’t either.

Forms of social prejudice are normalised gradually, almost inscrutably and incrementally – in stages. Allport describes the political, social and psychological processes, and how techniques of persuasion – propaganda – are used to facilitate stigmatising and dehumanisation of targeted groups to justify discrimination, until the unthinkable becomes acceptable, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – via language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of divisive and stigmatising phrases like “scroungers and strivers” in the media and political rhetoric, referring to people who need support and social security as “stock”, suggesting that disabled people are not worth a minimum wage and so on.

These comments and strategies are not “mistakes”, this is how Conservatives really think. People who are prejudiced very seldom own up, and nor do bullies. They employ linguistic strategies, deceitful, diversionary and irrational responses that makes challenging them very difficult.

But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.

36626_217452248405831_532419169_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Related reading:

This is an excellent, substantial collection of evidenced lies, deceits and more lies from Ian Duncan Smith, collated by Bob Ellard, researcher for DPAC The IDS Files: the truth is out there 

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

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I wrote
last week about the exchange in the Commons between Debbie Abrahams and Iain Duncan Smith regarding the Mortality Statistics Report released by Department of Work and Pensions. Debbie Abrahams asked a very reasonable question:

“The Government’s own data show that people in the work-related activity group are twice as likely to die than the general population. How can the Secretary of State justify £30-a-week cuts for people in that category?”

Duncan Smith gave a petty, vindictive and unqualified retort to avoid answering the question:

“The hon. Lady put out a series of blogs on the mortality stats last week that were fundamentally wrong. Her use of figures is therefore quite often incorrect. I simply say to her—[Interruption.] She has had an offer to meet the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), time and again, but she just wants to sit in the bitter corner screaming abuse.”

Adversarial style over meaningful content every time.

It’s certainly true that Conservatives advocate a limited ambition in politics, especially when it comes to maintaining the state support of even basic levels of human welfare. Small state fetishist Duncan Smith failed to provide a rational and evidenced response to a very reasonable question. He didn’t qualify why he thought that the blogs on the mortality statistics release last week were “fundamentally wrong,” either.

It has to be said that in light of the many official public rebukes that the Tories have faced for telling lies and using misrepresentations of statistics to justify their own value-laden, ideologically driven policies, and given the fact that the Government face a United Nations inquiry regarding the fact that their welfare “reforms” are incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it’s truly remarkable that Priti Patel and Iain Duncan Smith have the cheek to call disability campaigners “thugs” and state that all other accounts of the mortality statistics are “wrong”, or to imply that opposition MPs are “liars”, when they are faced with valid concerns and founded criticisms regarding the consequences of their draconian policies.

Moreover, being civilised, values of decency and legitimate concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled citizens were depreciated as mere matters of “subjective interpretation” and not as worthy subjects of political, rational or objective discussion.

The Mortality Statistics release from Department of Work and Pension “provides further commentary on the appropriate use of this information” – in other words, it informs us what we may and may not do with the “data”, and carries this pre-emptive caution:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics.

Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

The way that the statistical data was intentionally presented without context, clarification or meaning, but with a warning that we may not draw any inferences from it lends a whole new layer of meaning to the phrase “the disappeared”.

The question we ought to ask is why? Firstly, why is it the case that we are being told that there is no reliable data regarding the impact of the Government’s policies, including their reformed Work Capability Assessment?

And of course, what is being hidden beneath the excessively  bureacratic management of information?

What kind of Government doesn’t concern itself with the well-being of citizens that it is meant to represent? A basic expectation surely ought to be that Governments monitor the effects of policy, especially the sort of policies that are, by their very design, likely to have a negative impact on sick and disabled people.

Cutting lifeline benefits, and using punishment in the form of sanctions to leave people without money to meet basic survival needs is never going to have a positive, or, to use a toryism, “incentivising” impact on people who are deemed medically unfit for work. The Government know this. And everyone who claims Employment Support Allowance may only do so because a qualified doctor has provided an evidenced statement that those people are unfit for work.

And what justification can there possibly be for a Government that is persistently refusing to carry out a cumulative impact assessment on such extensive, far-reaching welfare “reforms”?

When it comes to “knowledge” and “evidence,” the most significant struggle in what passes for Conservative epistemology is simply nothing more than wrestling with a grasping and malicious stranglehold over control of the terms of discourse. Those who can frame a controversial issue or concept in terms they prefer have the advantage in shaping and controlling public opinion.

There is existing empirical evidence (“data” if you prefer) of the correlation between the Government’s punitive policy regime and its negative effects, including increased mortality. As I argued with the Telegraph journalist Tom Chivers last year, the media have presented a record of evidence of tragic, individual cases where Government policy has clearly been correlated with deaths.

Though Chivers questioned the inferences and experiences of disabled people and disability campaigners back then, and though he stated how abysmally “unclear” the previous mortality statistics release was, remarkably, he didn’t once question that or investigate why.

Many studies have also clearly linked Tory policies with evidence of extremely adverse consequences of Tory policies. But Conservatives don’t take kindly to challenge, preferring to discredit those who criticise policy, and threaten them rather than stepping up to adopt a dialogic, democratic, transparent and accountable approach to Government.

Additionally, MPs, including Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Debbie Abrahams, Sheila Gilmore, Anne Begg, and Glenda Jackson, amongst many others, have raised concerns regarding people’s awful experiences of the negative impact of the Tory “reforms” as well as the mortality statistics, meticulously citing the evidence of case studies, often from their own constituencies. Those cited cases are recorded on the parliamentary Hansard site.

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, (again, see Hansard record,) which are also informed by witnesses and empirical evidence.

I’ve also gathered some evidence here: Suicides reach a ten-year high and are linked with welfare “reforms” and here: Remembering the Victims of the Government’s Welfare “Reforms”

The Tories have dismissed such collective accounts of individual cases as “anecdotal evidence,” whilst also dismissing any attempt to cite quantitative data – statistics – as “wrong” simply to divert criticism of their policies and diminish public sympathy and concern.

I’m wondering where the empirical evidence is for Tory notions, such as a “culture of worklessness” or the “something for nothing culture”. Or for “making work pay”. The Tories tend to adopt a pseudo-positivist stance, claiming credibility via their ideological assumptions and by making invalid inferences from statistics when it suits them, and dismissing other accounts as merely “subjective”, yet no-one conflates the fact-value distinction more than the rigidly ideologically bound, staunchly neoliberal Conservatives, who produce every discussion as if there are no alternatives to Conservatism at all.

Statistics tend to dehumanise, and exclude people’s own validating  accounts of experiences of the social phenomena they measure. In a democratic society, qualitative accounts – “the people’s voice” – ought to matter to the Government. The impact of such draconian, punitive policies cannot be reduced to abstract speculation regarding what inferences may and may not be drawn from statistics: this is about very real experiences, real lives and real people being damaged and some, destroyed, in a real world of real and brutal Tory policies.

I’ve argued elsewhere that the point-blank refusal to enter into open debate and to allow an independent inquiry into the deaths that are most likely correlated with Tory policy reflects a callous, irrational and undemocratic government that draws on an underpinning toxic social Darwinist ideology and presents a distinctly anti-enlightenment, impervious epistemological fascism from which to formulate justification narratives for their draconian policies, in order to avoid democratic accountability and to deflect well-reasoned and justified criticism.

The lack of rational responses from Iain Duncan Smith, or concern about the welfare of the sick and disabled people that he tellingly differentiates from “normal” people, and the message from his Department, urging us not to make inferences about the deaths of sick and disabled people is an oblique reference to the fact/value distinction. It’s a method called “framing”. Such concept control is a way of rigging the debate: You must talk about this controversial issue using our categories, terms, and definitions only.

Or a way of avoiding debate altogether.

 The fact/value distinction is the alleged difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be). Facts are one sort of thing, values another sort of thing, and the former never determine the latter. That’s the idea, anyway. But it isn’t considered to be very clear-cut when it comes to the “social sciences” such as politics and economics. I go further than the critics of logical positivism, and propose that it’s a false dichotomy anyway, especially where politics and policy-making are concerned, as these are invariably value-laden activities.

Whenever the Conservatives talk about “difficult decisions” or “tough choices”, they are in fact reflecting their own subjectivity and indulging Tory values, demonstrating their intentionality – and the capacity for a degree of free-will. Those “difficult decisions” have included the wilful handing out of £107,000 each per year to millionaires, in the form of a tax-break, and the intentional cutting of our social security down to the bone, the purposeful cutting of crucial public support services.

Sick and disabled people in this country have borne the brunt of the Tory directed austerity cuts. These cuts were the “tough choice” that the Tories freely made, ignoring less cruel and harmful alternative choices that could have been made. The Tories are masters at foreclosing possibilities.

Would you like to see some empirical data about Tory decision-making? Statistics? Facts and figures?  Here they are: Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy and here: Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

tough choices

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of propaganda to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Regardless of what kind of epistemology you may subscribe to, there are no “facts” that can ever justify the targeted political persecution of social groups in democratic societies. And the Tories know exactly what the impacts of their policies are likely to be. The level and extent of the stigmatisation and scapegoating of sick and disabled people in the media, coming from the Conservative camp to justify punitive cuts informs us of that.

Politics is invariably about values. That’s not a bad thing in itself. However, being open and honest about those values is crucial, and expected behaviour from a democratically elected government.

Human societies are not shaped by unchanging natural laws, despite what the Tories try and tell you. They are shaped by ideas of what ought to be. We make moral judgements about how to live and be. We have potential, intention and we make collective, cooperative decisions about how best to organise society. We progress, we change and evolve. 

Well, except during those times that we have regressive, authoritarian Right-wing Governments. 

Governments ought to face their moral obligations towards the well-being and interests of all citizens, to take responsibility for their ethical decisions and own their value-judgements. Rather than disguise them as shallow and meaningless “facts” to hide behind, as the pseudo-positivist Tories frequently do.

It’s truly remarkable that Tories loudly attribute the capacity for moral agency to people claiming benefits, for example, formulating punitive sanctions and “assessments” to both shape and question the morality of the poor constantly, yet stand outside of any obligation to morality and ethical behaviour themselves. It’s always someone else’s responsibility, never theirs.

Any claim to “value-freedom” in political decision-making does not and cannot exempt ministers from moral responsibility, or justify moral indifference.

A genuinely rational and morally responsible Government would hold an independent investigation into the reasons why people have died after being told they are “fit for work” when they clearly were not, and  commit to keeping data that effectively monitors and accurately reflects the impact of policy changes on citizens. A genuinely rational and morally responsible Government would be concerned about the possibility that their policies are harming people and causing deaths.

After all, this is a first-world liberal democracy, isn’t it?

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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Full Fact’s ‘fit for work’ coverage is unfit for use as toilet paper – Vox Political

http://i0.wp.com/voxpoliticalonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/falsefacts.png

I had my own issues with Full Fact last year, when the site supported Tom Chivers of the Telegraph in denying that sick and disabled people had died after their lifeline benefits had been stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions, despite the fact that the Hansard Parliamentary record and the media have recorded many examples of this being the case. The row I had with Tom Chivers last year about the mortality statistics can be seen here – Black Propaganda.

This article is from Mike Sivier at Vox Political:

Here’s a slimy little article for you: Sam Ashworth-Hayes’ piece on the benefit deaths at Full Fact.

The fact-checking website set him to respond to reporting of the DWP’s statistical release on incapacity benefit-related deaths, and he’s done a proper little cover-up job.

“It was widely reported that thousands of people died within weeks of being found ‘fit for work’ and losing their benefits,” he scribbled.

“This is wrong.

“Within weeks of ending a claim, not within weeks of an assessment.”

Not true – unless Sam is saying the DWP has failed to answer my Freedom of Information request properly.

If Sam had bothered to check the FoI request to which the DWP was responding, he would have seen that it demanded the number of ESA claimants who had died since November 2011, broken down into categories including those who had been found fit for work and those who had had an appeal completed after a ‘fit for work’ decision.

The date the claim ended is irrelevant; the fact that they were found fit for work and then died is the important part.

If the DWP finds someone fit for work, then it ends the claim anyway, you see. Obviously.

But Sam continues: “If someone is found fit for work, they can appeal the decision, and continue to receive ESA during the appeal process. There is no way of telling how long after the start of the appeal process those claims ended.”

Not true.

The statistical release covers those who had had such an appeal completed and then died – 1,360 of them. The release does not state that they should be considered separately from those who had a fit for work decision, meaning that this is one of several areas in which the release is not clear. In order to err on the side of caution, This Writer has chosen not to add them to the 2,650 total of those found fit for work. Any who were still deemed to be fit for work after their appeal ended, I have deemed to be among the 2,650.

The release most emphatically does not mention those who had appealed against a fit for work decision, but the appeal was continuing when they died, as Sam implies. The DWP asked me to alter my request to exclude them, and I agreed to do so. Therefore Sam’s claim is false. Nobody included in these figures died mid-appeal. Some died after being found fit for work again. Some died after winning their appeal and while they were continuing to receive their benefit – but they do not skew the figures because they aren’t added onto the number we already had (we don’t know how many of them succeeded because the DWP has chosen to follow the letter of the FoI request and has not provided that information). The outcome of the appeal is, therefore, irrelevant.

The point is, the decision that they were fit for work was wrong, because they died.

Let’s move on. Under a section entitled Mortality rates matter, Sam burbles:

“If 2,380 people were found fit for work from late 2011 to early 2014, and all 2,380 subsequently died in the process of challenging that decision, that would indicate that something was almost certainly going wrong in the assessment process.”

2,380? He means 2,650! For a person supposedly checking the facts, this was an elemental mistake to make.

“But if 2 million people were found to be fit for work, there would be less concern that the assessment process was going wrong; one in 1,000 dying could just be the result of the ‘normal’ level of accident, misfortune and sudden illness.

“If we want to know if people found fit for work are more likely to die than the general population, then age-standardised mortality rates would let us make that comparison while adjusting for differences in age and gender.

“Unfortunately, the DWP has not published an age-standardised mortality rate for those found ‘fit for work’.”

Fortunately, This Writer has been directed to a site whose author has attempted just that. This person states that the problem is that we don’t know how many people were found fit for work in total – only that there were 742,000 such decisions during the period in question. This would suggest that the number of people dying within the two-week period used by the DWP is 0.35 per cent of the total. We know that there were 74,600 deaths among the general working-age population in 2013 – a population totalling around 39 million – meaning the chance of dying within any two-week period was 0.007 per cent. So, using these crude figures, the probability of an incapacity benefits claimant dying after being found fit for work is no less than 50 times higher than for the working-age population as a whole, and probably much higher.

So sure, if Sam thinks mortality rates matter, let him look at that.

His article isn’t fit to be toilet paper, though.

Read the original article at the Vox Political Facebook page.

A critical analysis of the DWP’s Mortality Statistics release

 

Disability rights activists protest in London, November 2016

The government’s release of mortality statistics related to sickness and disability benefits has caused fierce debate about what the figures actually mean. It has to be said that the way the figures were presented – in a flat descriptive way – makes drawing causal links and inferences very difficult and making useful comparisons impossible. This of course was intentional.

There’s a simple difference between descriptive and inferential statistics – descriptive statistics simply summarise a current dataset, it’s just raw data. Subsequently, analysis is limited to the data and does not provide a scope that permits the extrapolation of any conclusions about a group or population. Inferential statistics are usually used to test an hypothesis, and aim to draw conclusions about an additional population outside of the dataset. Inferential statistics allow researchers to make well-reasoned inferences about the populations in question, and may be tested for validity and reliability, using various appropriate formulae.

To complicate matters further, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claim that they don’t keep detailed information regarding whether a person died before or after their benefit claim was ended. So when the data is about people who died within six weeks of their claim ending, it could mean that the claim ended before they died, or after, because the person had died.

Of course the question we need to ask is why the DWP don’t keep a more accurate record of that data. And furthermore, why are the government so supremely unconcerned about even basic monitoring of the consequences of their welfare “reforms” on sick and disabled people?

I had a lengthy debate with Tom Chivers from the Telegraph last year about this very issue. He said that it was most reasonable to assume that the overwhelming majority of deaths happened before the claim ended, rather than the converse being true. He criticised campaigners for claiming that people were dying as a consequence of the “reforms”.

However, we know from media coverage of some of those tragic deaths that people have died as a consequence of having their employment and support allowance (ESA) benefit claim ended. We also know from the debates in parliament that have been tabled by the opposition on this topic, and the inquiries instigated by the work and pensions committee, that many people have been adversely affected by having their claims ended because they were assessed as “fit for work”, some of the cases presented had also died – details of which can be found on the Hansard record.

So it isn’t a reasonable assumption that most people died and then had their claim closed, on the part of Tom Chivers (and others) at all. But there’s more.

I made a statistical cross comparison of deaths, using the same Department for Work and Pensions statistics as Tom Chivers, though my analysis was undertaken the year before his. I found that the data showed 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.

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 three months later that 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, and to treating us as if we have done something wrong. Negative labelling, marginalising and stigmatising sick and disabled people via propaganda in the media, using despiteful and malicious terms such as “fraudster”, “workshy” and “feckless” is a major part of the government’s malevolent attempt at justification for removing the lifeline of support from sick and disabled citizens.

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 for Work and Pensions and Atos. All of this is taking place in a setting of government generosity to very wealthy people, with Osborne implementing austerity cuts, which disproportionately target the poorest citizens, at the same time as he awarded millionaires £107, 000 each per year in the form of a tax cut.

Many sick and disabled people 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 – a lifeline support calculated to meet basic needs –  and perpetually having to prove that we are a ‘deserving’ and ‘genuine’ sick and disabled person is clearly taking a toll on so many people’s health and well being. I know from personal experience that this level of stress and anxiety exacerbates chronic illness. 

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 unavoidable harm to some of the weakest and vulnerable in society”.

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.

Many of us have reasonably demanded a cumulative impact assessment of government welfare policies, AND an inquiry into the statistically significant increase in mortality rates correlated with the government’s welfare “reforms” aimed at sick and disabled people, only to be told that the cases we present as evidence of the need for investigation are merely “anecdotal”.

Yet when the government talk of “scroungers”, the “workshy”, “generations of ‘worklessness'”, a “culture of entitlement”, a “something for nothing culture”, we are expected to accept that at face value as ’empirical evidence”. With no offer of evidence or reasoned discussion to support these ideological claims.

There is an argument to be had (which I’ve presented previously) about the need for more methodological pluralism in social and political research, with a leaning towards qualitative data. The government should not be attempting to invalidate people’s accounts of their own everyday experiences and attempting to re-write them to suit themselves. I’ve a strongly qualitative preference when it comes to methodology, because of issues relating to validity, reliability and because of the meaningful, authentic, rich details that can be gathered this way. Using quantitative methods only tends to exclude the voices of those groups that are being studied. Qualitative methodologies also tend to be more conducive to understanding issues being researched, rather than simply describing them numerically. Statistics tend to dehumanise because they exclude the narratives of citizens’ lived experiences, and of how they make sense of their circumstances.

As it is, we have ministers shamefully rebuked by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for lying to justify extremely punitive welfare cuts, more than once, yet with even more cuts to come, and an ongoing United Nations’ inquiry into this government’s human rights abuses, it’s very worrying that there is a silence and lack of concern from the wider public about any of these issues.

The point blank refusal to enter into an open debate and open an inquiry into the deaths that are correlated with Tory policy reflects a callous, irrational and undemocratic government that draws on an underpinning toxic social Darwinist ideology and presents a distinctly anti-enlightenment, impervious epistemological fascism from which to formulate justification narratives for their draconian policies, in order to avoid democratic accountability and to deflect well-reasoned and justified criticism.

That ought to be a cause for considerable concern for the wider public of the UK – a very wealthy, former first-world liberal democracy.

 

Campaigners from Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) protest in central London against welfare reform


Endnote

A few people have asked me what epistemology means. It’s a branch of philosophy, very relevant to science and the social sciences, that is the study and investigation of the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge. It’s about what and how we understand. It’s related to ontology, which is the study of the nature of reality and existence, and both branches of philosophy are important to social sciences such as politics, sociology and psychology, influencing methodology – informing how we conduct research.

I’m always happy to explain any terms or phrases I use. I sometimes use sociology or psychology terminology and conceptual frameworks, because these are often very useful for presenting clearly defined and very specific meanings, and for framing debates meaningfully to raise our understanding of social issues. But I don’t assume everyone has done a degree in the social sciences, so please don’t hesitate to ask for meanings.

I always do when I don’t understand something.


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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