Iain Duncan Smith has blasted social media critics for attacking the government over the reported link between tougher ‘fitness-to-work’ tests and suicides.
In a letter to Labour MP Frank Field, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) boss dismissed remarks made by those ‘in the media and social media’, who used research linking benefit assessments with suicides, to accuse the government of ‘outrageous actions’.
The damning research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, linked 590 suicides and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions with the introduction of work capability assessments (WCA).
The letter was written in response to a request from Mr Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, who asked what data the DWP collects on the deaths of benefit claimants. He requested the data in an attempt find out whether there is a link between WCA and suicide, self-harm and mental health issues.
But according to Iain Duncan Smith, the DWP does not gather data on benefit claimant suicide rates. In the letter, he went on to dismiss the report’s findings, claiming its authors admitted there was no evidence of a “causal link” between benefits tests and suicide.
The letter, published by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, has now been removed from the parliament.uk website.
In the footnotes of the letter, he wrote:
There are some out there in the media and social media who have used raw figures to accuse the govt of outrageous actions.
I would hope that the committee would not seek to follow suit. I note that having introduced the ESA and the WLA, the Labour Party now seeks to attack it as though they had nothing to do with it.
Surely the committee should seek to recognise the good intent of those engaged in this difficult area.
However, as is typical with Iain Duncan-Smith, his rebuttal is not wholly accurate. Although the study in question could not definitively say that WCA has caused an increase in mental health issues, the researchers concluded that they had ruled out other causes. The strong correlation between the two therefore becomes the strongest probable cause.
The report’s principle author, Benjamin Barr, from the public health department at Liverpool University, said:
The pattern of increase in mental health problems closely matches the increase in assessment of the work capability assessment.
Regardless of its findings, the evidence – anecdotal or otherwise – linking WCA to the burgeoning mental health crisis across England is mounting. But in the world according to Iain Duncan Smith – where disabled people are viewed as abnormal – 590 suicides is just another statistic to be disputed.
Featured image via BBC Parliament/Screen Shot
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