The DWP is continuing to use delaying tactics to block publication of ESA death statistics, whilst claiming that they intend to release them at an undisclosed future date, we can reveal. This is the same claim that the DWP have been making for well over a year and the refusal to publish the figures is now the subject of a further challenge by Benefits and Work.
In July 2012 the DWP released a set of statistics which campaigners argued showed that around 73 people were dying every week after being found fit for work or placed in the work-related activity group.
The figures covered the period up to November 2011. Blogger and activist Mike Sivier then made a Freedom of Information Act request for updated figures for 2012. This request was refused and Sivier finally managed to get the case before an information tribunal in May 2014.
However, the tribunal ruled against Sivier on the grounds that he had urged readers of his blog to submit similar requests for the information, saying that ‘There is strength in numbers’. This action, in the view of the tribunal, made the request a vexatious one which could properly refused.
Nonetheless, the tribunal also found that had Sivier not tried to get others involved, his request would have been reasonable and even adding that “We have considerable sympathy for the Appellant”.
Based on this decision, Benefits and Work made an application to the DWP for exactly the same information contained in the original request and drawing the DWP’s attention to the tribunal’s findings.
That request was made on 15 May 2014 and should have received a response by 23 June. In fact, we received absolutely no reply to the request or to a subsequent reminder to the DWP. We then asked for a review of the DWP’s apparent decision to refuse to respond to our request.
On 10 September we finally received two responses from the DWP, one to our review request and one to the original enquiry.
The DWP apologised for the delay in replying but offered absolutely no explanation for their repeated failure to do so.
In relation to the request for the information about ESA deaths the DWP pointed out that they published the total number of deaths in July of this year.
However, those figures do not give a breakdown of how many of the claimants were found fit for work or how many had been placed in the work-related activity group. The response went on to say that:
“We can confirm that we do intend to publish further statistics on this topic and these will answer a majority of your questions. As the statistics are intended for future publication this information is exempt from disclosure under the terms of Section 22 (Information intended for future publication) of the FOIA. “
However, the DWP added that “We do not have a definite publication date at this stage but we will pre-announce the agreed date here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/announcements”
We have now requested a review of this decision and made it clear that if we do not receive a response within the statutory period we will immediately forward the correspondence to the Information Commissioner without further notice. We’ll keep readers posted.