A disabled former Liberal Democrat MP has refused to criticise the Tory work and pensions secretary for covering up a report that linked the “fitness for work” test with a disabled man’s suicide.
Stephen Lloyd, who narrowly lost his Eastbourne seat at last year’s general election, was a supporter of many of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms during his five years as a coalition MP.
And now, in an email interview with Disability News Service (DNS), Lloyd (pictured) has refused to condemn the cover-up – even though his party is no longer in power – and has defended coalition cuts and reforms that cut billions of pounds a year from spending on disability benefits and services.
Asked whether he stood by his backing for Duncan Smith, which he expressed several times as an MP, Lloyd said: “I actually believe that IDS is genuinely committed to helping disabled people into work, where possible.”
He suggested that the blame for any failure of Duncan Smith’s policies lay instead with the chancellor, George Osborne.
When DNS drew his attention to a trio of news stories that demonstrated the harshness of Duncan Smith’s policies on out-of-work disability policies and showed he had covered up a report that linked the work capability assessment (WCA) with the death of a man who took his own life, he refused to criticise the work and pensions secretary, although he said the three stories were “appalling”.
He claimed he was not a “supporter” of Duncan Smith but believed that his “basic premise is to set up a system that tried to get people who have been out of work for a long time through disability into work”, which he said was “not easy”.
The three stories show that Duncan Smith failed in his legal duty to respond to a coroner’s report into the death of 41-year-old Stephen Carre, who took his own life in January 2010 after DWP rejected his appeal against being found fit for work.
In November, government-funded research concluded that the programme to reassess people claiming IB using the WCA could have caused 590 suicides in just three years.
But when DNS asked why Lloyd refused to criticise Duncan Smith over the cover-up, he refused to comment further, or to express any concern about the deaths that may have been caused by the failure to respond to the report.
And when asked if he had made a single political decision that he regretted during his five years as an MP, he said, “not really”, before talking instead about the failings of the government contractor Atos in carrying out the WCA.
When asked if this meant that he believed he had not made a single political mistake in five years, he again declined to comment further.
Asked about the billions of pounds of support cut by the coalition to spending on social care, disability living allowance and personal independence payment – that have led to thousands of people having to hand back their Motability vehicles – as well as increased sanctions for those on out-of-work benefits, and cuts to disabled students’ allowance, he refused to say which of those he supported.
Lloyd, who is still active politically for the party in Eastbourne and also works as business innovations director for an international communications company based in Eastbourne, was widely praised for his constituency work during his five years as an MP.
He was the first MP to launch a much-copied scheme to support the creation of 100 apprentices in his constituency in 100 days, and ensured his constituency team represented disabled people in more than 100 tribunals to appeal against being turned down for employment and support allowance, personal independence payment and disability living allowance, with a success rate he estimates at more than 80 per cent.
He pointed out that hardly any MPs bother to ensure their staff attend such tribunals to advocate for their disabled constituents.
He said: “This was something I very specifically set up, though there was no allocated budget, training or emphasis that we should do this.”
He was a member of the work and pensions select committee and of several disability-themed all-party parliamentary groups, where he was, he says, “a constant advocate for equality of opportunity for disabled people”.
And he said that, as a constituency MP, he did all he could to “fight for people who clearly were assessed inaccurately”.
He said: “I do not think it wrong that people should be assessed – some after many years – as to their suitability for work, but [I] was a constant critic of Atos’s poor record.”
He added: “Leaving people for years on the assumption they will never work is inherently wrong, in my view.
“If after assessing they can be helped into work that has to be a good thing. The key – where my team came in – was to make the assessments fair.”