THE BLOG

Release the Death Statistics on Benefit Cuts to Show Their Full Impact

14/07/2015 22:47 BST | Updated 14/07/2016 10:59 BST

Following last week's budget announcement of £12billion in benefit cuts, how many people will die as a result? Dramatic as it may sound, there is already solid evidence that deaths directly correlate to the harsh family benefits caps like those the government plans to introduce. But that evidence is being hushed up. And you can help it become public by signing the petition I've set up on Change.org, which appeals for its release.

I'm asking Iain Duncan Smith to stop blocking the publication of these death statistics from the past four years, which reveal how many people have died within six weeks of their benefits being stopped.

Between January and November 2011, 10,600 people died while claiming Employment and Support Allowance. Some, of course, would have sadly died anyway because they were ill or because - put bluntly - people die. Analysis showed that 1,300 of those deaths were in the 'Work Related Activity Group' - those expected to be well enough to return to work within a year. It's false to say - as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has - that the link between deaths and benefit cuts is tenuous.

The DWP has thought of all sorts of reasons not to release the post-2011 death statistics. Initially, they claimed the request would create an undue burden on its time and resources. This was later disproven when it admitted it could indeed provide some of the information within the Freedom of Information request cost limit of £600. Then, they said they were planning to publish the information at an unspecified time in the future - and only recently revealed that this was not true - the information to be released would show the deaths as a ratio, not the actual number of deaths that have occurred.

The DWP says it is irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim, and that mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population. But that one was disproven by those 1,300 people who were due to return to work within a year.

For years there have been reports of people committing suicide or dying from ill health soon after their benefits are stopped. As a partner of someone with a disability I have been through two benefit appeals and have also been a benefit tribunal representation - so I know from personal experience how stressful the system can be and the impact they have on families.

When freelance journalist and carer Mike Sivier appealed for the stats under the Freedom of Information Act - and won - the system-savvy DWP launched a counter-appeal to a higher authority to quash Mike's appeal.

Mike and I had never met - but I know injustice when I see it. I owe it to my partner and to the 870,000 families who currently claim child tax credits, who'll see them capped or cut, to take action. That's why I started my Change.org petition, and working with Mike am calling for the department to release its recent death statistics. It has already generated 237,000 supporters.

The Information Commissioner's Office has said there is no reason not to release the statistics. 237,000 of the British public are calling for the release of the statistics. But Iain Duncan Smith still won't release them. It hints at a nervousness about the full, harrowing impact of benefits cuts.

Overturning Mr Duncan Smith's attempt to keep the death stats a dark secret will be a win for David over Goliath - and a win for humanity over harshness.

For more information, or to sign Maggie's petition, visit the change.org petition here