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People whose family members have died while going through the DWP/Atos work capability assessment are being urged to contact a disability specialist – who has been seeking international legal action against the austerity-enforced injustice.
Vox Political reported back in September that Samuel Miller had contacted the International Criminal Court in The Hague, intending to file a complaint against Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, the ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions, considered most responsible for “draconian welfare reforms and the resultant deaths of their society’s most vulnerable”.
Mr Miller got in touch over the weekend, but said that the result had been disappointing: “They stated that the International Criminal Court has a very limited jurisdiction. The Court may only address the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes as defined by Articles 6 to 8 of the Rome Statute.”
The Rome Statute is the document under which the ICC was established. Article 7, which covers crimes against humanity, states: “For the purpose of this Statute, “crime against humanity” means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
“(k) Inhumane acts … intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”
I thought this – Article 7 (k) – was a perfect description of what the DWP and its ministers are trying to achieve, and Mr Miller agreed. But he said: “Clearly the ICC is striving to discourage the filing of austerity complaints.”
There is a way forward. He added: “On a welcome note, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently acknowledged that austerity measures may violate human rights — which certainly is a step in the right direction.”
He’s right. The chair of the UN committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay said on October 23 that, although member states face tough decisions when dealing with rising public deficits, austerity measures are potentially violations of their legal obligations to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“All States Parties should avoid at all times taking decisions which lead to the denial or infringement of economic, social and cultural rights,” Pillay said, citing an open letter to States Parties from the committee earlier this year that clarified the committee’s position on austerity measures.
By ratifying the Covenant, member states like the UK have a legally binding obligation to progressively improve, without retrogression, universal access to goods and services such as healthcare, education, housing and social security and to ensure just and favourable conditions of work, without discrimination, in accordance with established international standards. These rights must be achieved by using the maximum of available resources.
Pillay pointed out that austerity measures are also a disincentive to economic growth and thereby hamper progressive realization of economic and social rights.
The committee had pointed out that social insecurity and political instability, as seen in parts of Europe today, were also potential effects of the denial or infringement of economic, social and cultural rights.
The poor, women, children, persons with disabilities, older persons, people with HIV/AIDS, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees were particularly at risk, the committee had noted.
Having identified the possibility, we come to the burden of proof. Mr Miller said: “My best hope lies in procuring coroner’s reports where the cause of death is found to be destitution and/or suicide.”
Inevitably, there is a problem. The UK Coronial system does not involve the collating of such information, nor does it look for national trends. The role of the Coroner is case specific, so wider information is not available. This is because the system of inquests into deaths was never intended to investigate whether those deaths were being caused by insane decisions of the government itself.
The law in relation to death certification may be amended in 2014 to provide for Medical Examiners whose role will be to examine such matters – but that is two years from now, and the DWP/Atos system could pile up another 7,600 bodies in that time (using the generally-accepted average of 73 deaths per week).
Mr Miller has written to the DWP, seeking a change of coroners’ duties to allow proper and robust reporting of trends such as stress-related deaths, suicides and/or destitution deaths of welfare recipients and recipients who perished shortly after being stripped of their benefits can be reported to both the DWP and the Ministry of Justice.
But I think we all know there is little chance of success there. This government is hardly going to hand over the tools by which its own ministers might end up in an international court. They’re insane, but they’re not stupid!
So people are going to have to do it themselves. We know about high-profile cases in which deaths have been blamed on Atos. Information about the others needs to be available now.
This is why I want to appeal for anyone who has lost a loved one because of the DWP/Atos work capability assessment system to get in touch with Mr Miller. He needs to know the verdict that was reached at the inquests into their deaths.
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I would strongly urge that anyone writing to Mr Miller keeps their correspondence to the point. It is to be hoped that he will receive a strong response, but this entails a large amount of work. It is therefore important to make that work as easy as possible, perhaps by putting the deceased’s name, address and the verdict at the top of your email.