Tag: Vox Political

Independent Commission on Freedom of Information call for evidence. You have until November 20th


The matter of Government transparency and accountability is so important to David Cameron that the Conservatives would like to end our right to ask questions via the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).

The Act gives us the right to ask for information from public bodies, rather than depending on what the government is prepared to let us see. Such information allows us to make informed decisions and to challenge the government with evidence when policies have adverse outcomes. Any attempt to curtail public access to information will have profound implications for government openess, transparency, accountability and for democracy.

Many campaigners have voiced fears that government proposals could make it more difficult, and costly, for the media and public to use the Act to access information held by public bodies.

Chris Grayling, Tory tyrant extraordinaire, along with others in his party, has a history of altering and editing laws that he regards an inconvenience. He claims that it is wrong that the Freedom of Information Act was being used as a research tool to generate stories for the media and that is not acceptable.” 

But surely research, investigation, providing evidence and sharing information and news with the public is what we ought to expect from the media, it’s precisely those criteria that establish high quality journalism.

Grayling’s outrageous remarks were condemned by Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour party, who believes the FoI Act should be strengthened, not undermined. I agree.

Watson said: “Chris Grayling’s assertion that the Freedom of Information Act is ‘misused’ to generate stories for the media betrays a greater truth about this government’s thinking. 

“What they’d really like to see is less open government. It is the job of journalists to hold the government to account on behalf of the public. The Freedom of Information Act is a vital tool in their armoury which should not and must not be removed or weakened.”

Grayling said it should be used for “those who want to understand why and how government is taking decisions”. It is, and that includes by journalists who inform the public about those decisions and the likes of bloggers such as me – a lot of my work wouldn’t be possible without the FoI Act, I use it frequently so I can share crucial information, as do many other bloggers.

Many of us submitted a FOI regarding the mortality rates of sick and disabled people undergoing the controversial work capability assessment, after the government refused to publish the information after 2011, and fellow blogger Mike Sivier from Vox Political fought in court to ensure that this important information was finally released.

And who can forget Steven Preece’s request from Welfare Weekly, that revealed the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had lied about the “success” of the punitive sanction regime, using fake characters giving fake testimonies, which the DWP published in a leaflet and were subsequently forced to retract it. Steven’s FoI, details of which were widely shared by the mainstream media, (as were the details of Mike Sivier’s FoI) highlighted that the government is not above shameful lying to get its own way.

There’s a strong element of cooperative work amongst bloggers. I submitted a subsequent request for further detailed information about sanctions recently, which has yielded a lot of information that I’m researching around, so I can also share information and analysis, too. Writers frequently draw on other people’s FoIs to analyse, cross reference and to share important information.

I was memorably refused information about the government risk register regarding the Health and Social Care Bill back in 2012, and despite being ordered by the Information Commissioner and a tribunal to release that information, we have yet to see it. The claim behind the refusal was that it isn’t “in public interests”that the information is released. I beg to differ.

We clearly have a government that doesn’t like democratic processes, dialogue and public engagement regarding its policies and impacts and any kind of critical appraisal and challenge.

The very short timescale of the public consultation regarding the future of the Freedom of Information Act also indicates an utter lack of respect for democratic process and the public’s right to access information that they feel is in their best interests to know. The call for information was published on the November 9, and the closing date for submissions is November 20. That’s scandalous.

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information’s terms of reference require it to consider the implications for the Freedom of Information Act 2000 of the uncertainty around the Cabinet veto and the practical operation of the Act as it has developed over the last 10 years in respect of the deliberative space afforded to public authorities. The Commission is also interested in “the balance between transparency and the burden of the Act on public authorities more generally.”

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information invites anyone to submit evidence on the questions raised in the call for evidence paper. See: Independent Commission on Freedom of Information: call for evidence

Ways to respond:

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


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.

Government turns a blind eye to work capability assessment related deaths and expect the public to do the same

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Tory ministers are facing further pressure to reveal information about how many people have died after being assessed as “fit for work.” Labour MP for central Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Chi Onwurah, has joined over 120,000 people that have signed a petition to demand that the Government release the figures.

Many campaigners have been calling on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish the figures since November 2012.

Mrs Onwurah, who led a Commons debate on welfare earlier this year, said: “One of the most powerful and distressing examples in my debate was of a man who had committed suicide.

“If someone dies after being found fit to work it doesn’t necessarily mean that being found fit to work had an impact in their death, so I can understand that the Government might fear the figures would be misinterpreted.

“But if the Government has figures then they should share those, and allow people to interpret them fairly.

“This isn’t just a matter of dry statistics. It is about about the health-affecting impact that having been found fit to work can have on claimants.

“And I know that because I see them in my surgery on a regular basis.

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

It was in January of this year that Mrs Onwurah told MPs about a vulnerable constituent who had tragically committed suicide after being found fit for work. He was claiming Employment Support Allowance and incapacity allowance. He was being supported by Newcastle Welfare Rights, who told the DWP that after suddenly being found fit to work:

“.. he was acutely distressed; he struggled to talk, he was having thoughts of suicide, he had also started drinking alcohol to cope and had struggled to leave the house”

Despite supporting psychological assessments, other evidence, and an attempted suicide, the decision was not reversed and in January 2014 he was found hanged by his neighbour.

Mrs Onwurah said: “My constituent was found hanged in his home by a neighbour. He was well known to Newcastle Welfare Rights, from which he had received considerable support in his dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions.

“He had been in receipt of employment and support allowance, and previously incapacity benefit, and he was engaging well with Newcastle Welfare Rights until November 2013, when he underwent a work capability assessment.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insists it is irresponsible to suggest deaths which follow an assessment that claimants are fit to work were caused by the assessment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being assessed as fit for work would mean that someone is expected to start looking for a job, take part in training designed to “prepare them for employment”, including workfare programmes – and would face the prospect of sanctions as part of the strict welfare conditionality regime – losing their lifeline benefits – unless they comply.

Mike also used the Freedom of Information Act to ask how many people who died between November 2011 and May 2014 had been found “fit for work”, or told they should move towards finding work.

But the Department for Work and Pensions refused his request, saying it was already preparing to publish the information.

Mr Sivier appealed to Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who ordered the DWP to publish the data within 35 days of his ruling on April 30, 2015.

But the Department of Work and Pensions has instead decided to appeal this ruling.

Campaigners now want to know what the government is trying to hide and the online petition demanding that Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith stop attempting to block publication of the statistics has been signed by more than 120,000 people on the website: www.change.org.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: “We have been clear that we intended to publish these statistics – but we need to make sure they meet the high standards expected by the UK Statistics Authority before we do so.”

Many sick and disabled people have said that the constant strain, anxiety and stress of what they have described as a “revolving door process” of assessment, review, appeal and re-assessment, has contributed significantly to a decline in their health.

The previous figures from the DWP, and the marked contrast between the ESA and IB death statistics certainly substantiate these claims that the assessment process places a great deal of stress on people who are often seriously ill. Anyone with a chronic illness will tell you that stress invariably exacerbates their condition.

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”.

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”.

There are many more well-documented problems with the Work Capability Assessment. It’s mired in controversy. Yet since 2010 the current government has continued to expand its role to reassess millions of  people that the DWP had already judged to be entitled to Incapacity Benefit. The government also made changes to the framework of the test to make ESA more difficult to claim.

Despite the controversy, the government continues to show a somewhat baffling and extremely troubling disinterest in the serious problems related to the increased means-testing and conditionality of sickness and disability benefits that they have introduced.

Another major area of concern is that there is a clear absence of impact monitoring, regarding the changes they have made to policy. 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 during the past three years, who each died tragically just after being told they were fit for work, their lifeline benefit support was ended. Families who have suffered bereavement related to ESA claims consistently report that it is the stress of the assessment, the strain of being told they are fit to work when they are not, and the fact that chronically sick people then have to fight for their lifeline benefits that causes a further decline in their health, and the exceptional stress, caused by government welfare policy that is very punitive in nature, that is leading to some people dying.

It’s inconceivable that the government have failed to understand that placing very ill people in a position where their lifeline benefit is stopped so they have to fight for the means to meet their most basic needs – those of food, fuel and shelter – will potentially be very harmful, having a detrimental impact on their health, which may be fatal.

Further related 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

Black Propaganda

What you need to know about Atos assessments

Clause 99, Catch 22 – State sadism and silencing the vulnerable

Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP

Essential information for ESA claims, assessments and appeals

Remembering the victims of the Government’s welfare “reforms”


Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent pictures.

Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23

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That we live in times when a government can withhold information about the impact of its policies on sick and disabled people, the poorest and the vulnerable is extraordinary, and certainly reflects the fact that we are no longer a democracy.

We knew in 2012 that an average of 73 sick and disabled people were dying after they had their lifeline benefits withdrawn. But now the government refuses to provide us with information about deaths since then. It’s my own belief that this refusal is because the truth will be horrifying and that even those that supported benefit cuts originally will raise their objections when they learn the truth. We cannot claim to be a civilised society when our government policy is killing some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Well done Mike Sivier, for standing up against an increasingly authoritarian government, and good luck from your fellow campaigners.

From Vox Political: Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23.

“The only way the public can judge whether this has worked, or whether more must be done to prevent unnecessary deaths, is by examining the mortality statistics, but these have been withheld”. 

Yes, just like the toxic clause 99 – mandatory review – silences those wishing to appeal, also hiding evidence from the public eye. The Tories are showing form here.

 In a so-called democracy, ALL campaigning is both essential and part of an inbuilt safeguard against authoritarianism.

Vox Political: Case proven? Government stays away from benefit deaths tribunal


The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths amongst the Disabled.
Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy