As the DWP continues to refuse to publish employment and support allowance (ESA) death statistics, Iain Duncan Smith accused Labour MPs of being ‘absurd’ and ‘disgraceful’ for asking about them. Meanwhile, a petition demanding their publication now has over 225,000 signatures.
ESA ‘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, even though they have now been instructed to do so by the Information Commissioner.
MP Marie Rimmer asked IDS this week:
“Following the shameful failure of the Front-Bench team once again to answer a question today, may I ask again why the Government are refusing to publish—even though the Information Commissioner has instructed them to do so—the up-to-date statistics relating to the number of people who have died, having been found fit for work at their face-to-face assessment?”
“I find it absurd that Opposition Members deliberately try to misrepresent what happens under such schemes. I remind the hon. Lady that it was her Government who introduced the employment support allowance and the work capability assessment, and at no stage did they say that that led to people committing suicide. People in that situation are often in a very delicate and difficult position, and I find it disgraceful that she is going round making such allegations.”
However, another Labour MP, Debbie Abrahams then asked
“Why does he refuse to publish the details of the number of people who have died within six weeks of their claims for incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance, including those who have been found fit for work?”
IDS then replied with what appears to be an outright lie:
“As I said to the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer), I find it unbelievable that she, the hon. Lady and others have spent all their time trying to make allegations about people going about their work. She knows very well that the Department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance. It deals with individual cases where things have gone right or gone wrong and reviews them. It is a crying shame that Labour Members want to go out every day scaring and frightening people. It is no wonder they lost the election.”
However, whilst IDS and the DWP may be able to keep the appeals process against the order to publish the statistics going for many years, they may struggle to withstand the pressure from the public and sections of the media.
A petition on the change.org website calling for the publication of the figures has received over a quarter of a million signatures and the issue has attracted the attention of newspapers including the Mirror, Independent and Guardian.
Eventually the damage caused by speculation about what is being kept hidden may outweigh the damage likely to be caused by publication. Until then, campaigners will keep asking questions and demanding answers.