Thousands of people have died within six weeks of being found ‘fit to work’ by the Government’s disability benefits test, departmental figures show.
The Department for Work and Pensions battled for months not to release the numbers, with its chief minister Iain Duncan Smith at one point telling Parliament they did not exist.
But the statistics, released on the order of the Government’s transparency watchdog, show that between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,380 people died after their Work Capability Assessment told them they should start looking for work.
The figures related to claims for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefit as well as IB/SDA.
The DWP’s mortality report says that a causal effect cannot be assumed from the new numbers.
“These isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment,” it says.
The DWP, which is responsible for the benefits system, initially rejected a freedom of information request by campaigning journalist Mike Sivier on the grounds that it would publish them in future.
But Mr Sivier won an appeal to the Information Commissioner (ICO), an official body which judges whether government departments are acting in a fully transparent way.
The ICO said the Government had no good reason to withhold the figures.
Mr Duncan Smith later caused confusion when he told Labour MP Debbie Abraham in Parliament: “She knows very well that the department does not collate numbers on people in that circumstance.”
The figures were released this morning.
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, which represents civil servants, said the work capability assessment should be scrapped.
"What lies behind these figures is a cruel climate generated by some politicians and sections of the media that seeks to demonise those in need and undermine public confidence in our welfare state," he said.
"The government should listen to the very real fears of sick and disabled claimants that its policies are making matters worse, not better, and it should not have taken freedom of information requests to uncover these statistics.
"The wholly privatised work capability assessment is clearly unfair and unsuitable and should be scrapped, with jobcentres given the proper resources to provide the support sick and disabled people need and deserve."
In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests were causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately.
“There are certainly areas where it's still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded.
The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism.
In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out.
The WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship
Some payments for the ESA benefit were cut in the Chancellor’s recent budget, with Mr Duncan Smith arguing that the previous cash level created a “perverse incentive”.
Homelessness charity Crisis last year warned that an increase in sanctions for the ESA benefit was in danger of contributing to a rise in homelessness for disabled people.
A DWP spokesman said: "The mortality rate for people who have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit has fallen over a 10-year period. This is in line with the mortality rate for the general working-age population.
"The Government continues to support millions of people on benefits with an £80 billion working-age welfare safety net in place."
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