Many Commiserations On Your Unqualified Success
August 27, 2015
by Martin Odoni
I would just like to express my admiration and heartfelt condolences to Mike Sivier over on the Vox Political blog. After a very long, arduous and hair-tearing battle against the delaying tactics of the Department of Work & Pensions, to get the real numbers of deaths of people claiming incapacity benefits, today he won, as the figures were revealed to the world. It genuinely is a great achievement, managing to force one of the most stubborn, secretive and underhand departments in all of the British Government to give way. But has there ever been a more heartbreaking boon at the end of such a long and gruelling journey?
What the statistics today revealed is that, near-enough, ninety-two thousand people claiming Incapacity Benefits died in the space of a little over two years leading up to February 2014. Across the three years from January 2011 to February 2014, the overall death-rate was about ninety-nine per day. But it was just thirty-two per day in the first year. Overall, the acceleration in the two subsequent years means an increased death-rate of two hundred per cent. That is only people claiming Incapacity Benefits, please note, not people who had been on benefits of any other description; we are yet to learn how many of them have died of impoverishment by other means. Even more alarming is that over four thousand have died within just six weeks of being classified as ‘fit-to-work’, making a very bleak joke of the Work-Capability Assessments. (Four thousand, please note, is roughly the number of Britons who died at the Battle Of Marston Moor, and as that battle is always presented as one of the most important chapters in our nation’s history, it seems reasonable to suggest that today’s discoveries should be treated with similar gravity.)
Arguments could be made – indeed have been made – that the deaths cannot be reliably confirmed as caused by the DWP’s policies, as the cause-of-death in each case has not been recorded. But the astonishing rate-of-acceleration among the deaths since 2011 leaves little room for doubt; DWP policies, as they have kicked in, have clearly had a very substantial impact, and one for the worse. If the acceleration were caused by something else, for instance the recession, why did the death-rate not start accelerating a couple of years earlier, and why has it not slowed down again over the two years since the so-called ‘economic recovery‘ began?
The figures, in the end, are only numbers and so I suspect many people will take a while to grasp their full significance. Trying to imagine ninety-two thousand faces, and trying to assign a name to each one, is perhaps the only way of turning a number into humanity. But for over ninety thousand people? That would take a very long time. That is the point.
So often in recent times, when challenged on the heartless cruelty of his Sanctions Regime, the Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, has offered only pseudo-religious platitudes of, “I am doing what I believe to be right” or some variation. How can this possibly be ‘right’? How can he possibly carry on insisting that he is doing people good when thousands of them are literally dying as a direct result of his malevolence?
Duncan-Smith’s conduct towards the unemployed and the disabled while he has been in office has often been described as ‘bullying‘, but is that really an adequate word? He is not just reducing people to tears, he is not just imposing his will on them in an unfair and intimidating way, he is not just making them feel small. He is killing them, he knows that is the consequence of his deeds, and he carries on doing them, usually looking for more and more people to victimise by cutting away more and more lifelines. That is not bullying, it is not even persecution, it is a blood-vendetta.
It says a lot about Duncan-Smith’s priorities, and those of many in the wider public, that the rapidly-increasing rate of deaths among Britain’s most vulnerable people is likely to be seen in many quarters as a ‘price-worth-paying’, in the fight against ‘sponging’. Even if benefit fraud were really as prevalent as many imagine – in reality it is less than one per cent of the bill and has been around that level for a very long time – is culling people really ‘better’ than wasting money? Never mind that it is a false economy anyway as no net money is being saved as a result of all this, but how sick must our culture be when it has come to believe equations like that?
What Iain Duncan-Smith has done is preside over a completely pointless and utterly avoidable humanitarian disaster in one of the richest countries in the world, and then imagined he could keep such a disaster neatly brushed under the carpet. So while I congratulate Mike on lifting that carpet enough to reveal what we had all feared lay beneath it, I commiserate him on what it has taught us. If ever there were a victory to despair at, it is this one. However necessary it is to reveal ugly truths, that does not mean we have to enjoy them. Instead, they should be seen with the disgust that motivates us to correct them.
EDIT 28-8-2015: Correction – the number of people who died after being categorised as ‘fit-to-work’ is two thousand six hundred-and-fifty. The four thousand figure is taken from several media sources who counted a number of the claimants twice due to a misunderstanding of two groups of statistics. The real figure is substantially fewer, thankfully, but still terrifyingly high, and while it does not rival the death-toll at Marston Moor after all, it is still high enough for the Battle Of Bosworth Field nearly three times over.