Disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations have explained why they are backing a call for two former work and pensions ministers to face a criminal investigation for misconduct in public office.
Many of the country’s leading disabled campaigners have spoken out in the wake of the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary, after nearly six years in the post.
They want to see him and former employment minister Chris Grayling – now leader of the House of Commons – investigated by police over their failure to take action to correct fatal flaws in the work capability assessment (WCA).
Both men were warned of the risks posed by the WCA in the wake of the death of 41-year-old Stephen Carré (pictured), who took his own life in January 2010 after being wrongly found “fit for work”.
The coroner who held an inquest into his death subsequently wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), recommending that ministers reconsider their refusal to seek further medical evidence when a claimant of employment and support allowance (ESA) has a mental health condition.
But the two ministers failed in their legal duty to respond to the letter; hid its existence from the expert they commissioned to review the WCA; and decided to roll out the WCA to hundreds of thousands of claimants of incapacity benefit.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said Duncan Smith and Grayling should face a criminal investigation.
She said: “Their decision to ignore the coroner’s letter and serious concerns it raised and instead persist in rolling out the WCA has led to countless deaths and a huge amount of misery and distress to disabled people.
“We believe a criminal investigation is appropriate, as is a root-and-branch review of the last six years of government policy in relation to disabled people, which needs to include a cumulative assessment of the impact of cuts on disabled people, the scrapping of the planned cuts to the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), and a complete re-think on employment support for disabled people.”
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, also supported the call for a criminal investigation.
He said: “There have been coroners’ inquiries and academic studies showing a direct correlation between government policies and deaths of disabled people which have all been ignored by the politicians.
“The political process has failed disabled people, so this now needs to be tested in the courts as the only way of getting justice.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “DPAC would fully support all and any efforts to force IDS to stand trial for the many crimes against disabled people which he has happily committed for the past six years.”
Disabled activist Rick Burgess, a co-founder and former member of the WOWcampaign and New Approach, added: “If they are not put on trial there is nothing to stop subsequent secretaries of state also committing criminal acts, as the precedent will have been set that they are above the law, even in cases where avoidable loss of life has occurred.”
Disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale said: “The outcomes of IDS’s reign for disabled people are increased poverty and reduced opportunity, but also increased incidence of mental ill-health and suicide.
“For the latter, IDS bears full and direct responsibility. He talks of his passion and quasi-religious belief, and he has a point.
“It is his fervent conviction that disabled people need correction and punishment in order to become full citizens that has led to so much devastation and despair.
“Mostly these cases will remain private tragedies. But with the death of Stephen Carré we have incriminating evidence of how IDS and Grayling failed to act on a coroner’s concerns over the safety of the WCA, and put thousands of other lives at risk.
“We have a duty to bring these cases to light and try to bring justice for the families involved. And to ensure that IDS’s reign of terror is ended once and for all.”
Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWcampaign, pointed to Duncan Smith’s apparent admission – in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr – that the government had targeted voters who were unlikely to vote Conservative.
Jones said these cuts were likely to “cause death and destitution in our community”, which he said showed that ministers should be brought before the courts to “face justice”.
He said: “The failure to treat the death of Stephen Carré with due process by Grayling and IDS, apparently to allow them to recklessly roll out the flawed WCA test, tends to suggest a criminal disregard for the lives of disabled people and if misconduct in public office is where we have to start this quest for justice, then the WOWcampaign will do all it can to get justice for the thousands whose lives have been blighted by this brand of ‘Democidal’ Conservatism.”
Others to back the call for a criminal investigation include Professor Peter Beresford, chair of the service-user network Shaping Our Lives; Gail Ward, co-founder of the user-led Cross Border Alliance; disabled activist Merry Cross; and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
There was also support from Pat Onions, co-founder of Pat’s Petition, who said the call for Duncan Smith to face justice had brought back “painful memories of our friend and Pat’s Petition team member who died after being found fit for work under IDS and the WCA”.
She said: “When we look back at the early days of our campaigning and the struggle we have all had to get disability onto the agenda; when we think of how challenging it has been to get over a message about the inequalities in the complicated welfare reform; when we remember all those people who have been sanctioned, struggled on very low income, lived in fear of a brown envelope of reassessment, and whose days were filled with increased hopelessness and fear; then we think it’s about time that the people who didn’t listen were called to account.”
A DWP spokesman said: “The role of DWP press office is to deal with current departmental business. We wouldn’t comment on former secretaries of state or ministers.”