Today following the disgraceful behaviour of the Tory Government in dragging their feet over the publication of data of people on benefits, who were declared fit for work, and subsequently died - Labour MPs including Gordon raised urgent questions about this in the House of Commons.
Below is the opening statement from Labour's Debbie Abrahams and then also Gordon's question to the Government Minister Priti Patel.
Debbie Abrahams: (Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister to make a statement on his commitment of 24 June to publish Department for Work and Pensions data on the number of people in receipt of employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit who have died since November 2011, including those found fit for work.
The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel): The Government intend to publish mortality statistics, but before doing so the statistics need to meet the high standards expected of official statistics. Once we have completed that important work, we will publish them.
Debbie Abrahams: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
I am disappointed that the Prime Minister is not here in person to explain why he has not yet honoured his commitment of 24 June to publish the data. On 30 April, the Information Commissioner ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions should publish data on the number of people in receipt of employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit who have died since November 2011, including those who had been found fit for work.
The Government have since appealed the decision, stating in their appeal that the publication would be “contrary to the public interest” and that the publication of mortality statistics is “emotive”. To date, more than 240,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Government to publish the data.
As the House will be aware, on 24 June the Prime Minister was asked, at Prime Minister’s questions, by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) about the publication of the data. He said: “let me reassure the hon. Lady that the data will be published; they are being prepared for publication as we speak. I think that it is important that we publish data, and this Government have published more data about public spending than any previous Government.”
I have since raised this issue in two points of order, at a Westminster Hall debate on 30 June, by writing directly to the Prime Minister and by tabling a named day written question to him, which his office decided to transfer to the Department for Work and Pensions and to which I received a non-answer yesterday from the Minister for Employment.
I have some specific questions. First, when will we see the data published, including on those who have been found fit for work, given the Prime Minister’s comment of nearly four weeks ago? When are they being prepared for publication? Secondly, will the Minister commit to publishing the actual numbers of deaths, as well as the DWP’s proposed age standardised mortality rates, as they did in 2012 when the actual number of deaths was published?
Thirdly, will the Minister inform the House how much the Secretary of State’s Department has spent on staff and legal fees in the decision to refuse the initial freedom of information request and now to contest the Information Commissioner’s ruling? Fourthly, will the Secretary of State reconsider his decision not to publish the details on any of his Department’s 49 peer reviews into social security claimants who died, including, most importantly, changes his Department has brought forward as a result of them?
Finally, what assessment has been undertaken on the potential impact on the health status of those on incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance, given the measures introduced in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill?
Just four weeks ago, the Prime Minister promised urgent action. Now is the time to deliver—to be open, transparent and publish the numbers the public and Parliament are calling for. Without that, this House is brought into disrepute.
Gordon Marsden: DWP Ministers tried to sit on information from internally generated data which suggested that one in five deaths of benefit claimants had been linked to sanctions. Perhaps we can be forgiven our scepticism about the Minister’s definition of autumn: after all, this Government publish their autumn statements in December.
More important, what steps will the Minister take to look into cases that have led from morbidity to mortality? In my constituency, the failure of Atos to pay home visits to severely ill people on some occasions has caused real health problems. A constituent of mine had motor neurone disease, but failed the assessment for employment and support allowance.
Priti Patel: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned Atos. We, of course, terminated that contract. It was part of the Labour legacy that we were there to clear up. As for the data, they will be published, and they will be published before the autumn.