The report that in just over 2 years up to February last year no less than 2,380 disabled claimants died within 2 weeks of being assessed as fit for work and then having their benefit either reduced or stopped altogether, is beyond shocking. It is arguably the most damning statistic yet of the sheer callousness and brutality of this government towards the most helpless victims in our society. But there are further profound issues behind this dreadful story. The most important issues are holding to account those who are responsible for this utter tragedy and even more important still, the power to stop this lethal policy in its tracks. On both there is at present a vacuum.
Iain Duncan Smith by any measure of integrity ought to resign, but he almost certainly won’t. And Parliament should have the power to trigger an immediate emergency debate, in this case demanding the policy be suspended until there had been a rapid inquiry into the work capability assessment with recommendations (if that is the result) that the policy be stopped or drastically changed, and the government if it lost the vote should be obliged within (say) 3 months to implement the recommendations in full. Neither of these power currently exists, and it would require an almighty change in the whole process of government accountability for these powers to be granted, or rather forcibly extracted from the Westminster establishment. A few of us however are laying plans for a Commission on Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Reform to bring this about.
There is another ugly side to this story. Some of us have been demanding these figures for a very long time. I myself initiated a debate in the House 3 years ago in response to the death of a constituent in just these circumstances. The DWP refused in answer to PQs to give the figures, almost certainly at the instigation of IDS. It is highly significant that we only now know the figures as a result of a Freedom of Information request which the DWP rejected, but the Information Commissioner to his credit overruled that block. The DWP then had the gall to argue that they had always intended to publish the figures anyway! Moreover the Information Commissioner’s ruling was delivered in April, and still it has taken the DWP 4 months to implement it, no doubt waiting till the dog days of August to release the information to try to ensure its minimum impact.
This is a terrible shameful example, not only of human cruelty to the severely disadvantaged, but of the complete breakdown in morality of the Cameron/Osborne/IDS government. We now need that Commission on Parliamentary Democracy very badly.