The DWP was just forced to reveal that 100 benefit claimants a day have been dying on its watch

A graveyard and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to reveal the number of benefit claimants who have died while on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The figures show that around 100 people a day died while on the benefit. But the most damning revelations are in the detail.

The DWP: a damning FOI

As Welfare Weekly reported, the DWP has responded to a Freedom of Information request (FOI) from disability campaigner Gail Ward. She asked how many people on ESA and two other benefits had died between 2014 and 2017.

The DWP responded with the following figures:

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ESA deaths

On average, this means that over 100 people a day died while on ESA for the period in question. Breaking it down, the deaths per day were:

  • Slightly more than 7 in the “unknown” group.
  • 9.02 during the assessment phase.
  • 10 in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
  • Almost 75 in the Support Group.

Deaths in the Support Group could be expected, as the claimants are often severely ill. But what’s of concern is the number of deaths in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) – the part of ESA where the DWP places people aged 16-64 who it deems can start moving towards work.

An appalling situation

By The Canary‘s calculations, in 2016 there were 1.89 deaths for every 1,000 people aged 16-64 in the UK (using the “crude” method of death rate calculation). The comparable average rate for the number of deaths for every 1,000 WRAG claimants would be 7.7. This is a shocking difference in the life expectancy of people on WRAG compared to the general population. And it’s an increase on previous years.

Previously, the DWP used to release [pdf, p3] the mortality rate figures for ESA claimants. Using the crude method (the DWP used the age-standardised method), in 2012 the number of deaths per 1,000 WRAG claimants was 5.4; this rose to 6.2 per 1,000 in 2013.

It is impossible to know why so many WRAG claimants were dying, as the DWP does not do this analysis. But nor does it calculate the number of claimants who died after being declared fit-for-work. As such, these figures raise serious questions about whether some WRAG claimants should have been in that group to start with. They also raise serious concerns about the treatment of claimants, and why so many people who the DWP deemed well enough to start moving towards work have been dying.

The DWP says…

The Canary asked the DWP for comment but received none by the time of publication. Welfare Weekly reports:

However, the DWP stress that “no causal effect between the benefit and the number of people who died should be assumed from these figures”.

A disabled person says…

But Ward, who submitted the FOI, is scathing in her assessment. She told The Canary:

While people are dying every day under the DWP this should be no shock to anyone. But this latest release is cleverly worded to omit ‘Fit for Work’ decisions. Since 2010, under the Coalition and Tory governments, disabled people have been adversely affected by welfare reform seeing a wide range of cuts to Social Security Payments, Social Care Packages, the Bedroom Tax, benefit Caps and the cruel Sanction regime.

Any responsible government would by now have instigated a Cumulative Impact Assessment and made changes to address the needs of those they claim to want to protect. We should not just focus on the WRAG group of deaths but all of them – as one is too many, any death related to withdrawal of vital incomes could be preventable, most notably the Work Capability Assessment…

What this government does not compute is that many chronically ill and sick people will not be able to work. And those who do have myriad of barriers to overcome. With Universal Credit being rolled out across the UK, and with further cuts to people’s income who are unable to work or are ‘in work’, the future looks bleak for many. Bogus assessment reports and unscrupulous contractors all perpetuate the governments ideology that ‘work pays’ when it has been shown that this is not the case – particularly for disabled people.

Irresponsible and unaccountable 

This is not the first time the deaths of claimants on ESA has come under scrutiny, and it probably won’t be the last. But these shocking figures are an indictment of the DWP, and of a government which is becoming less and less accountable by the day. As Ward summed up:

The DWP refuses to adjust policy to reduce the stress on claimants and make sure the right outcome is given 100% of the time… We need to break this myth that ‘work is a health outcome’. It only applies if you are healthy to begin with. Disabled people in the UK are being terrorised by their own government, particularly those with severe mental health conditions. This should not be accepted as the ‘norm’ for a civilised society nor should it be ignored and dismissed. Claimants are constantly being told they have to take some responsibility; while the government ignores its own responsibility to its citizens who need state support.

These figures show the DWP and government are indeed ignoring their responsibilities; while claimants are dying in their thousands.

Get Involved!

– Support Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Mental Health Resistance Network, fighting for disabled people’s rights.

Featured image via Matthew Murdoch – Flickr and UK government – Wikimedia

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