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Friday 2nd
posted by Morning Star in Features

MO STEWART writes on the reasons why the government refuses to publish the updated benefit-related death totals of employment and support allowance claimants

INDEPENDENT academic evidence provided by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor Martin McKee identified long ago that the austerity measures introduced by the Conservative-led coalition government in 2010, which accelerated the punitive welfare reforms, were adopted as “a political choice and not a financial necessity” when introduced “without any ethical approval.”

The spin, the political rhetoric and the power of the mighty Tory press — who were only too happy to aid inflammatory media coverage to suggest that the majority of out-of-work disability benefit claimants were “scroungers” — collectively helped to guarantee that many people would die during the welfare reforms and the more severe austerity measures. And so they have.

The psychological security of the welfare state had to be destroyed in order to discredit anyone claiming welfare support, so that hostile public opinion could be used to help justify its planned total destruction.

With US corporate co-conspirators waiting in the wings to profit from the shameful political attacks, the coalition government spent five years successfully demonising chronically sick and disabled welfare claimants when aided by the Tory national press.

The biased press reporting was exposed as long ago as 2011 in an academic report by University of Glasgow Professor Nick Watson and colleagues. The paper identified “the changes in the way the media are reporting disability and how it has impacted on public attitudes towards disabled people.”

The research also exposed findings including the fact that “people with mental health conditions and other ‘hidden’ impairments were more likely to be presented as ‘undeserving’.”

When it comes to introducing new government policy, which is guaranteed to negatively impact on millions of lives, it is necessary to have some academic might behind the policy decisions.

In the case of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), it routinely commissions so called academic research which, when examined by independent scholars, is quickly demonstrated as being bogus and is totally discredited as an example of “policy based research” and not “evidence based research” in keeping with genuine academic inquiry that is not commissioned by the government.

In other words, the DWP’s commissioned “policy based research” will report anything the department needs to justify the adoption of a planned new policy.

This is how the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) began life in 2008, as used by the DWP to resist access to the employment and support allowance (ESA) benefit for anyone too ill or disabled to realistically engage with paid employment.

The discredited DWP research was funded by Unum Insurance — the same US corporate insurance giant that has advised the government since 1994 and that recommended the use of the bio-psychosocial (BPS) model of assessment for the WCA. This guaranteed that claimants of the ESA could be rejected.

The BPS model disregards diagnosis, prognosis, prescribed medication and the claimant’s past medical history. In other words, the WCA disregards all medical evidence which demonstrates that the claimant is ill.

The ESA was a new benefit which replaced incapacity benefit (IB). All 2.68 million IB claimants were to be migrated to the new ESA but would first be reassessed using the WCA.

The political claim was that the WCA was necessary to offer financial support only to those in greatest need, and to identify all those committing benefit fraud in order to reduce the DWP welfare budget.

This made for good soundbites but was totally untrue as the DWP’s own published figures identified that benefit fraud by claimants of disability benefits was only 0.7 per cent, with DWP administrative errors listed as costing 1.1 per cent of the welfare budget while banner headlines in the tabloids claimed that 75 per cent of all IB claimants were fraudulent.

This is how the government manipulates the British public via false claims in the press. It works very well as prosecuted disability hate crimes climbed by 213 per cent during the coalition government’s term in office.

As for reducing costs to the public purse, this was another work of fiction. The WCA was provided by an unaccountable corporate giant, at an additional cost to the public purse of £510 million per annum. The costs of the appeal tribunals rose to in excess of £66m per annum, and the costs of the additional DWP administrators who were necessary to make this false assessment a reality is unknown, but is likely to be very high.

When it comes to accepting detailed evidence, the DWP disregard any research not commissioned by them. Distinguished academic research by the University of Liverpool’s Dr Benjamin Barr and colleagues exposed in 2015 that the WCA was linked to an additional 590 suicides of ESA claimants with a mental health diagnosis. The research was rejected by the DWP.

Originally published in July 2012, DWP statistics showed that 10,600 people had died between January and November 2011 when claiming ESA, and where the date of death was within six weeks of the claim ending.

The DWP attempted to resist publishing any more statistics, but was ordered to publish details of ESA mortality totals between December 2011 and February 2014 following a ruling by the Information Commissioner.

The figures which were reluctantly provided amount to a total of 81,140 IB and ESA claimant deaths between December 2011 and February 2014, linked to the WCA, with a total of 2,380 people who died after being removed from ESA when found “fit for work,” which is an average of 90 unnecessary deaths per month following a flawed DWP assessment.

The DWP get-out clause was that the ESA mortality totals, published without any further detailed evidence, could not be identified as providing a direct correlation between the WCA and the death of ESA claimants, often within a few short weeks of having experienced the WCA.

So, the DWP can disregard the inevitable damage to health created by the WCA which removed the psychological security of guaranteed financial support for very ill people, and profoundly disabled people, who are unable to work.

The relentless DWP propaganda, as splashed across the tabloid front pages at regular intervals played its part in the negative psychological impact on chronically ill and disabled people who were not capable of paid employment, but whose existence when dependent upon welfare benefit was perpetually challenged, which added to their distress as the public support for disabled people deteriorated.

As from 2008, when the ESA was introduced to replace IB, the entire concept of welfare was changed. The WCA presumes guilt of the claimant, presumes that all claimants are bogus and, with few exceptions, anyone in receipt of the ESA was required to have endless repeated WCAs regardless of a diagnosis which identified a permanent health condition from which the claimant could never recover.

This is the US system of resistance to funding private income protection insurance, as adopted by the DWP on route to the long-ago planned demolition of the welfare state and, in order to remove any future political challenge, the DWP has refused to publish the updated ESA benefit-related death totals.

  • Mo Stewart is an independent researcher, retired healthcare professional and author of Cash Not Care. More details on her book can be found at