BY NICK SOMMERLAD ON APRIL 4, 2012 11:00 PM IN HEALTH
More than a thousand sickness benefit claimants died last year after being told to get a job, we can reveal.
We’ve highlighted worries about the controversial medical tests for people claiming Employment Support Allowance which are being used to slash the country’s welfare bill.
The Government has boasted that more than half of new claimants are found “fit to work” – failing to mention that over 300,000 have appealed the decision and almost 40% have won.
Instead, employment minister Chris Grayling (below) says this “emphasises what a complete waste of human lives the current system has been”.
Here’s another waste of human life.
We’ve used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that, between January and August last year, 1,100 claimants died after they were put in the “work-related activity group”.
This group – which accounted for 21% of all claimants at the last count – get a lower rate of benefit for one year and are expected to go out and find work.
This compares to 5,300 deaths of people who were put in the “support group” – which accounts for 22% of claimants – for the most unwell, who get the full, no-strings benefit of up to £99.85 a week.
We don’t know how many people died after being found “fit to work”, the third group, as that information was “not available”.
But we have also found that 1,600 people died before their assessment had been completed.
This should take 13 weeks, while the claimant gets a reduced payment of up to £67.50 a week, but delays have led to claims the system is in “meltdown”.
Mr Grayling admitted last month that 35,000 people are waiting longer than 13 weeks. Commenting on the deaths of claimants, a Department for Work and Pensions official said: “It is possible that the claimant had already closed their claim and then subsequently died, meaning that these figures may be overestimating the true picture.”
Of course, they’re bound to include some people who died of something completely unrelated to their benefit claim.
But there are plenty of tragic cases – such as that of David Groves (above) who died from a heart attack the night before taking his work capability assessment.
The 56-year-old, from Staveley, Derbyshire, worked for 40 years as a miner and telecoms engineer but stopped on doctors’ orders after an earlier heart attack and a string of strokes. His widow Sandra said: “When Dave was called in for a medical, he felt like he was back to square one.
“He was in a terrible state by the day he died. It was the stress that killed him, I’m sure.”
Stephen Hill, 53, of Duckmanton, Derbyshire, died of a heart attack in December, one month after being told he was “fit to work”, even though he was waiting for major heart surgery.
Citizens Advice told us it has found “a number of cases” of people dying soon after being found fit for work.
“There seems to be a clear link between the cause of death and the condition they were suffering from that led to the claim,” said Katie Lane, head of welfare policy.
“We have always supported the idea that people who could work and want to work should be helped to do that. But we are seeing a lot of seriously ill and disabled people being found fit for work.
“We have serious concerns about whether the test used to decide if people are fit for work is the right test.”
The work capability assessments are carried out by private firm Atos, on a £100million a year contract.
The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid boss Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year.
The response to our FOI request:
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request of 16 February 2012. You asked:
Can you please provide me with the number of ESA claimants who have died in 2011?
Can you please break down that number into the following categories:
• Those who are in the assessent phase
• Those who have been found fit to work
• Those who have been placed in the work related activity group
• Those who have been placed in the support group
• Those who have an appeal pending
The table below provides data on the numbers of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants where the Department holds information on a date of death being recorded in 2011 and whose latest Work Capability Assessment (WCA) date (or activity towards assessment) was before the end of August 2011, the latest data available.
In total, between January 2011 and August 2011, some 8,000 claims ended and a date of death was recorded within six weeks of the claim end. This represents about 1% of the total ESA caseload in May 2011 (the latest caseload data available). The table below shows the position of these claims when they were closed.
Those in the Support Group receive unconditional support due to the nature of their illness, which can include degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability.
Note it is possible that the claimant had already closed their claim and then subsequently died, meaning that these figures may overestimate the true picture. Care should therefore be taken when interpreting these figures.
WCA Outcome at most recent assessment and number of claimants with a recorded date of death
Assessment not complete 1,600
Work Related Activity Group 1,100
Support Group 5,300
All figures have been rounded to the nearest 100.
Data on the number of ESA claimants that have died following a fit for work decision is not available, as the Department does not hold information on a death if the person has already left benefit.
The Department does not hold information on the number of claimants who died whilst an appeal was in progress.
We then asked for:
The total Employment and Support Allowance caseload figures most comparable with the ones in the FOI request, eg Jan-Aug 2011, showing how many ESA claimants are put in support group, WRAG group, fit to work or claim ended.
Clarification on whether these figures are only new ESA claims or whether they include the transfer from Incapacity Benefit?
Clarification on the six-week cut off figure – why was that selected?
We were told:
As at August 2011 there were around 730,000 people receiving ESA. In the three quarters Jan-Sep 2011, 380,000 people left ESA. It is not possible to provide the further detail you request.
These figures only cover new ESA claims – claims from IB recipients are not included.
The six-week figure is used routinely within the department when looking at where people go after leaving benefits.
However, there are more figures on the outcome of Work Capability Assessments on the DWP website here and here.