Iain Duncan Smith and the Missing Mortality Statistics

Iain Duncan Smith is a man on the run, and with good reason, as an ever increasing number of damaging facts pursue him.

Iain Duncan Smith is a man on the run, and with good reason, as an ever increasing number of damaging facts pursue him.

On the 4 September he was scheduled for questioning by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, for his persistent misuse of statistics in relation to welfare. He cancelled, excusing himself on the basis that the department's annual report was not ready. The appointment was rescheduled for November 25, but again he requested this be postponed. The date is now December 9, but there is every chance he will try to avoid it again.

Of the various topics he could be questioned on the most serious comes from a Canadian-based academic, Samuel Miller, who through a protracted series of freedom of information requests and correspondences with the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), has revealed evidence that the department is refusing to release the mortality statistics for disabled people on welfare for 2012-2013.

On November 6 2012 Miller wrote to the department requesting statistics for the number of disabled people on welfare who had died that year; statistics which the department has previous provided in response to freedom of information requests for 2009-2011. Ten days later he received a response from the head of correspondence, Mr Goff Daft, saying "I am sorry that the information you require is not readily available. As this would take a considerable length of time to pull together I am unable, at this stage, to tell you when the next report will be available."

It took over seventh months and two further request for the data, before he received the following response on June 24th 2013 "The publication you refer to was released on (sic) Department's website as an ad-hoc statistical analysis publication. As such there is no intention of releasing an updated version of these statistics."

Miller says the department has the data, but refuses to release it. Unsurprising perhaps considering the unaccountable example set by Iain Duncan Smith's leadership, in which he has evaded select committee meetings, ducked the parliamentary debate on his bedroom tax, and hand-picked obsequious and power friendly journalists for his rare interviews. Despite this the DWP projects a flattering image of itself as open and transparent, Tweeting regularly with the hashtag "#opendata", and stating in a document called "DWP Open Data" that:

The department is committed to Open Data and improving the use that can be made of the rich source of data it holds on much of the population. Our mission is to embed a culture of transparency so that more and more data is released routinely for wider re-use.

These contradictions may make one question how the DWP's workers can tolerate conditions so foul and dishonest. An email reportedly from an anonymous DWP employee, posted on the anti-cuts disability group Black Triangle's website offers an insight:

"I am going through a divorce caused by my depression at what I am doing each day... I can't actually believe that I am working for these people - that I am partially to blame and part of what is being done to innocent people."

In this dire situation which Amnesty International has called "the abrogation of the human rights of sick and disabled people" blame should not be restricted purely to the government, Iain Duncan Smith, the DWP and its partner Atos, but also the corporate media, whose dishonest and self-censoring coverage of the welfare cuts has created a mass distorted worldview, which serves to rationalise economic attacks from a wealth elite, against the most under-represented sections of the population.

As a result the lead in speaking the truth freely has been taken by ordinary citizens, who often, but not always, are victims of the cuts. A lively underground internet media has developed with blogs such as DPAC, Black Triangle, WOWpetition, Jayne Linney, Mike Sivier, Samuel Miller, and innumerable other social media accounts, speaking in a free manner, alien to the otherwise delimited mainstream debate. This media is responsible for the select committee meeting being called, after Jayne Linney started a Change.org petition requesting it, and this media revealed the DWP's refusal to release disability mortality statistics, thanks to the work of Samuel Miller.

Iain Duncan Smith's upcoming appointment with the select committee on December 9 will be a test of the honesty of the British media. If our elected representatives are pressured to ask hard questions which represent the concerns of the population, and with reference to the evidence painstakingly gathered by citizen media, it may mark the moment this government's perceived moral basis and central argument truly collapses. That is, if it is reported, or reported with any honesty, at all.


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