The department for work and pensions’ (DWP) Work Capability Assessments aren’t fit for purpose and should be scrapped in their current form, Unite urged today as shock figures revealed over 4,000 people died within six weeks of declared ‘fit for work’ by private health professionals paid by the department.
The figures released by Iain Duncan Smith’s department, after a Freedom of Information request, show that between December 2011 and February 2014, 4,010 people died after being told they should find work following a Work Capability Assessment. Of that figure, 1,360 died after appealing against a ‘fit for work’ decision.
Of the 4,010 who died after being told they were ‘fit for work’, 3,720 were in receipt of Employment Support Allowance, while 290 where on either Incapacity Benefit or its replacement, Severe Disablement Allowance.
The figures, released today (August 27) by the DWP, show that 80 people a month died between 2011 and 2014 shortly after being told they were well enough to get back to work.
Unite has accused the government of going to enormous lengths and wasting tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in legal fees to keep the figures hidden.
But the DWP insists there is no proof of a link between the assessment process and the deaths, and says it will not do further research to see if there is a connection.
What it can’t answer – and will make no statement on – is how all these people could die within 14 days of being assessed as being ‘fit for work’ by health professionals contracted by the department.
The department has only published the figures after refusing to do so for many months, despite a ruling by the Information Commissioner.
The DWP had refused several Freedom of Information requests, with Iain Duncan Smith telling Parliament his department did not have the figures.
“These figures are scandalous and again highlight the cruel and appalling regime run by the DWP,” said Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary.
“How on earth can over 4,000 people die shortly after being assessed as fit for work by health professionals contracted by the DWP?
“These disturbing figures show that there is something deeply wrong with Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Capability Assessments. It is clear that the system isn’t fit for purpose and in some instances is finding people ‘fit for work’ as they enter the final months of their lives.
“In its current form it is nothing more than an impersonal tick box exercise that takes no account of people’s complex medical conditions and only causes worry and distress.”
Steve added, “Whether or not someone is fit for work should not be determined by private sector companies driven by profit or targets imposed by ministers fixated on cutting the benefit bill. It should be trained NHS medical staff carrying out work capability assessments in a revised more human system.
“Iain Duncan Smith’s attempts to bury bad news are shameful. He needs to show some humility by scrapping the current Work Capability Assessments and ordering a review into the system’s cruel failings.
“It is cynical that Duncan Smith is refusing to be interviewed by the media on this subject. If he was a benefit claimant he would be sanctioned and lose some money for refusing an interview.”