Disabled activists have called for ministers to face a criminal investigation, over their apparent failure to hand a crucial coroner’s report about the discredited “fitness for work” test to their own independent expert.
Earlier this week, a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation revealed that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and employment minister Chris Grayling appear to have neglected to pass on a legal letter written by a coroner in the wake of the suicide of a disabled man, Stephen Carre (pictured), in 2010.
The letter said Carre’s death had been triggered by being found “fit for work”, and it called for a review of the policy not to seek further medical evidence from a GP or psychiatrist if a claimant had a mental health condition.
The coroner’s letter was the second to have been uncovered by DNS that warned about the failure to seek such evidence as part of the work capability assessment (WCA) process, and was written more than three years before a similar report into the death of Michael O’Sullivan, from north London.
The letter relating to Stephen Carre was sent to the Labour work and pensions secretary, Yvette Cooper, but only arrived on 30 March, just a few days before the start of the 2010 general election campaign.
There appears to have been no official response to the letter from ministers, who also failed to pass it to Professor Malcolm Harrington, the independent expert they recruited to review the WCA, while they pressed ahead with plans to roll out the test to incapacity benefit claimants the following year.
Following the revelations, disabled activists have spoken out about the Stephen Carre case, while the SNP’s disability spokeswoman has warned that it “raises fresh questions for the government to answer”.
Rick Burgess, co-founder of New Approach, which was set up to campaign for the WCA to be scrapped and replaced, said: “This means since 2010 successive British governments have operated a policy that they knew to be lethal towards disabled people.
“That is the very definition of democide. Legally it is corporate manslaughter and morally it is murder.
“It makes the need to end the WCA more pressing than ever, as well as a need for current and former cabinet ministers to be tried in a court for crimes against humanity.”
Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWcampaign and petition, said: “The WOWcampaign’s intense sadness at the deaths of many disabled people, including Stephen Carre, contrasts with the outrage it feels over the government’s refusal to even consider compelling evidence that its cruel policies were a causal factor in these deaths.
“Yvette Cooper was the minister responsible for the policies that led to these deaths but the heartless ConDem government expanded and strengthened them with zeal, even though this evidence had demonstrated that the WCA was not safe and that the deaths of some claimants as a result of this test was foreseeable.”
He added: “I hope that the UN and the Equality and Human Rights Commission will carefully review what appears to be an attempt to bury evidence that does not ‘fit the narrative’ and trust criminal proceedings will be brought against all politicians involved.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It seems this is yet another case where DWP ministers, in particular Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith, were happy to totally ignore the fact that [the WCA was] responsible for the death of a disabled person and ignored the findings of a coroner which should not only have been a major part of the Harrington review but which should have been acted upon immediately.”
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the latest tragedy was “all the more shocking because, had the government acted appropriately, further deaths and untold distress could have been prevented”.
She said: “The family of Stephen Carre and everyone subject to the pernicious work capability assessment need a clear explanation of why this was allowed to happen.
“Despite the reviews, nothing substantial has changed and this deeply flawed system continues to punish the most disadvantaged members of society. We demand it is scrapped.”
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said: “This attempt to hide and cover up the life and death consequences for disabled people of these ideologically-driven policies is just confirmation of what we have been saying for the last five years.
“They ignored Professor Harrington’s recommendations, which were pitifully weak, and then he was removed from his role.
“The picture is clear that WCA is responsible for many deaths and suicides. IDS is the man responsible and needs to be sacked or removed from his post.
“The WCA is not fit for purpose and needs to be scrapped immediately.”
Disabled researcher and campaigner Mo Stewart added: “This is even more disturbing evidence that confirms the research of the past six years that the WCA is bogus, unfit for purpose and is causing preventable harm, as DWP ministers continue to resist all evidence against it.”
She said that research about its welfare reforms that the government attempted to suppress would be identified in her forthcoming book, Cash Not Care – The Planned Demolition of the Welfare State, to be published early in 2016.
Another disabled activist, Lisa Egan, said: “There have been so many suicides. So many terminally-ill people who’ve been found fit for work and died of their condition while allegedly fit for work. A couple of people who’ve starved to death.
“And the government just don’t care. A hundred more stories could break of people dying and they still wouldn’t care.
“If our lives meant anything, they’d have fixed the system by now. But we’re just useless eaters.
“The right-wingers are up in arms about the depth of a bow [by Jeremy Corbyn] at a remembrance event.
“What they should be writing about for Remembrance Day is how the veteran David Clapson starved to death after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.”
Natalie McGarry, the SNP’s disability spokeswoman, said: “We have long known that the WCA process is deeply flawed, but the fact that Iain Duncan Smith and his ministers failed to pass on these official legal warnings about the system raises fresh questions for the government to answer.
“If Professor Harrington’s review had been able to highlight Mr Carré’s tragic case, maybe the government would have been able to learn vital lessons and cases such as that of Michael O’Sullivan could have been avoided.
“Following these revelations, the UK government must now be wholly transparent about Mr Carré’s case and the impact of work capability assessments on people with disabilities.”