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Protest marks tribunal deaths

04 October 2013


Concerned: speakers, including Mohammed Ansar and the Very Revd Dr David Ison, addressing the protest in Parliament Square

Concerned: speakers, including Mohammed Ansar and the Very Revd Dr David Ison, addressing the protest in Parliament Square

THE deaths of 10,600 people who had been through an assessment of their ability to work were noted at a protest meeting in Parliament Square on Saturday.

The event, 10,000 Cuts and Counting, was addressed by the Dean of St Paul's, the Very Revd Dr David Ison. It was organised by Occupy London and Disabled People Against Cuts, with support from groups including Christianity Uncut, a network of Christians campaigning against the Government's cuts agenda. About 100 people attended, demanding that the Government abolish the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

In October 2010, the Government started using the WCA to assess whether claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA, a benefit paid on grounds of incapacity and disability) were capable of work and ineligible for the benefit. The assessment is administered by Atos Healthcare.

Figures released in July by the Department for Work and Pensions show that, between January and November 2011, 10,600 deaths were recorded of people who had been through the Atos assessment. According to the department: "Some 10,600 claims ended and a date of death was recorded within six weeks of the claim end."

The department cautioned against drawing inaccurate conclusions from these figures. Most of those who died had been deemed eligible for the benefit (7100); 1300 had been judged capable of preparing to return to work. The remainder had not completed the assessment. Data are not available for the number of claimants who died after being deemed fit for work.

A note accompanying the data states: "It is possible that the claimant had already closed their claim and then subsequently died, meaning that these figures may overestimate the true picture."

There are currently 2.48 million people of working age claiming ESA and incapacity benefits, 82,000 fewer than in 2012. At present, 48 per cent of people who undergo a WCA are found fit for work. More than a third (37 per cent) of appeals against this decision are successful.

On Friday, Dr Ison described the testimonies of those who had undergone the WCA as "hair-raising. . . I was concerned about the plight of disabled people, but had not realised just how devastating it had been for many people.

"The call is to reform the assessment of people and bring it back where it was, under the umbrella of the NHS, so that you are asking the health professionals who know people personally to be able to deal with their situations."

Siobhan Grimes, a member of Christianity Uncut, said on Friday: "I hope more church leaders will follow the Dean's example by speaking out publicly about the death and destruction that the cuts are bringing." Ms Grimes was one of the Occupy protesters outside St Paul's last year. In October, with others, she chained herself to the pulpit of the cathedral (News, 19 October).

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