The DWP have launched a last minute appeal against an order by the Information Commissioner that they must publish controversial claimant death statistics. There is now a strong possibility that the figures will never be published.
Employment and support allowance ‘death statistics’ cover the number of ESA claimants who have died soon after being found fit for work, as well as those who died after being placed in the work-related activity group.
A previous release of ESA death figures caused such controversy that the DWP have since refused to publish updated statistics.
The decision by the Information Commissioner to order publication more recent figures was made in February of this year. But it was withheld for months, before finally being sent on 30 April to the DWP and to Mike Sivier, the campaigning blogger who has been pursuing the figures for years.
The DWP had 28 days in which to submit an appeal to a freedom of information tribunal, which they did yesterday with less than two hours to spare.
Unfortunately, this is far from the final stage in the proceedings if the DWP are determined to avoid publication. If they lose at the tribunal they can then go on to the high court, the court of appeal and the supreme court.
In addition, the government are now considering changing the law to give ministers an unchallengeable power to veto any freedom of information disclosure they choose.
The move comes after ministers were obliged by the supreme court in March of this year to publish the so called ‘black spider’ letters Prince Charles wrote to government ministers.
Even without such an absolute veto, however, successive governments resisted the Guardian for 10 years and spent £400,000 of taxpayers cash on legal fees in resisting the original freedom of information request.
Given that there unlikely to be anyone with pockets deep enough to take the DWP all the way to the supreme court to get these figures released, it seems certain the DWP can prevent their publication if they choose.
Read more on this in Mike Sivier’s Vox Political blog