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An evidence session on Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments was held by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday – and was notable for the fact that the ‘expert’ hired to review the system claimed to know nothing about the thousands of deaths taking place because of the current system.
Dr Paul Litchfield OBE was hired to take over from Professor Malcolm Harrington to carry out the fourth annual independent review of the assessment process. It seems Prof Harrington was replaced amicably, but evidence has come to light that he was not happy with political decisions that ran against his findings.
A claim that the government was taking “appropriate steps” in areas singled out for improvement by Prof Harrington was disproved when it was revealed that almost two-thirds of the 25 recommendations he made in his year one review were not fully and successfully implemented.
The government also claimed, repeatedly, that Prof Harrington had supported the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to ESA. When fellow blogger Sue Marsh contacted him for confirmation, he responded: “I NEVER—repeat–NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast. I then said that I would review progress of that during my reviews. The decision was political. I could not influence it. IS THAT CRYSTAL CLEAR?”
The vehemence of his response suggests some friction with his former employers at the very least – and over “political” decisions.
Now we have Dr Litchfield, who claims to have no information about the staggering number of people who have died after going through the assessment system he is being paid to review. Doesn’t that seem – at the very least – a little odd?
He could have, at least, looked up the government’s own statistical release ‘Incapacity Benefits – Deaths of Recipients’ from July 2012. It is long out-of-date and pressure on the government for fresh figures has been stonewalled for two years, but it does show that 10,600 people died between January and November 2011 – including an average of 73 people every week, when the system claimed they were still being assessed or should be getting better. These figures are believed to be inaccurate measures as the government does not monitor deaths of people who have been refused the benefit – the vast majority of claimants.
It seems we are dealing with another Tory yes-man, hired not to improve ESA, but to make it and the government look good.
Dr Litchfield’s attitude is revealed on the video record of the meeting, which is available on the Parliament UK website, starting two hours, 11 minutes and 41 seconds into the recording.
Committee member Debbie Abrahams (Labour) had just received a Tweet stating: “Litchfield doesn’t want to come out and say scrap WCA because 10,600 dead or he’ll be out of a job, slime bag.”
Turning to Litchfield, she said: “I’ve just been contacted by someone who is commenting on the number of people that are dying every week as a result of being found fit for work after an assessment. I don’t know if you’d like to comment on that?”
The response – from the man who is supposed to have every scrap of information about ESA, let us remember – was as follows: “I don’t have any information of that type; I haven’t seen numbers on that. Clearly every case would be a tragedy.”
That is infuriating for campaigners – one of whom contacted Vox Political and stated: “The wicked toad said he had no knowledge of the deaths. What a lie, how evil – it’s common knowledge, it’s DWP’s own figure, it’s been brought up many times in House of Commons debates… They should sack him and not believe a word he says… no impartiality whatsoever.”
It seems the tragedy, in this case, is the hiring of Dr Litchfield.
Thanks to Katy Marchant for flagging this up.
Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike
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