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Should we be pleased that the Department for Work and Pensions has finally graced a Freedom of Information request about the number of people who have died while claiming incapacity benefits (including ESA) with a response?


Disability campaigner Samuel Miller was the recipient of this kindness, bestowed only after he called in the Information Commissioner to demand it.

Needless to say, it doesn’t provide the information that was requested; it doesn’t even conform to the dates in his request.

Mr Miller had asked: “Can you please provide me with the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants who have died so far in 2012 only? I wish to bring to your attention that http://statistics.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd1/adhoc_analysis/2012/incap_decd_recips_0712.pdf is outdated, as it only provides mortality statistics up to November 2011.”

This referred to the now-infamous ‘ad hoc’ statistical release of mid-2012 which showed that an average of 73 people whose assessments were not complete or who had been put in the Work-Related Activity group of ESA had died every week between January and November 2011.

It was an update of this figure – derived from ‘Table 3’ of the ‘ad hoc’ report – that Mr Miller wanted, but the DWP has not given him that. He got an update of ‘Table 1’, entitled ‘IB/SDA and ESA off-flows with a date of death recorded at time of benefit off-flow”.

This covers the period of the financial year 2011-12, and therefore misses out eight months of the period with which Mr Miller’s request was concerned.

It covers all Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and ESA claims for that period and does not differentiate between them, so it is impossible to work out the number of ESA claimants who died between December 2011 and March 2012, which is the extent of the new period covered.

It also registers a drop in deaths from the previous financial year – from 41,750 to 39,860 – against a rise in the number of people losing benefit – from 728,740 to 949,330. If we were to try to use these figures, we would be claiming an average of 764 deaths per week (down from 800 the year before).

The DWP would be able to say there had been a drop in the number of deaths, and would have been able to ask why we have been complaining.

But these figures are an evasion.

As already mentioned, they are not relevant.

They do not cover the period following November 2011 to the end of 2012, and they do not differentiate between claimants who were receiving as much support as the state could give, and those the state said should be fit for work within a year or were still being assessed.

The new figures are, to be blunt, useless.

The DWP would claim that it has provided the information Mr Miller wanted but this is not true. His request was made in November 2012, for up-to-date statistics, and even the material provided to him only runs to the end of March in that year.

Mr Miller has put in a new request seeking figures for WRAG and Support Group deaths for 2011-12. Unfortunately he appears to have missed out the statistics for those who have died during assessment. If he receives a response (and I doubt it), it will again run to the end of March 2012 only, and will not give us an average we can compare with what we got from the ‘ad hoc’ release.

My opinion is that the DWP will continue to guard these numbers jealously until ministers are forced to give them up.

Let’s all hope this happens after my information tribunal takes place, sometime between now and mid-May.

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