New government figures have revealed that the proportion of disability benefit claimants who died in April was 15 per cent higher than the previous year, providing fresh evidence of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on disabled people.
The figures, secured by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams, also show a rise of eight per cent in the proportion of personal independence payment (PIP) claimants who died in March, compared with March 2019.
The figures emerged only days after Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed disabled* females aged between nine and 64 were 11.3 times more likely to have died due to COVID-19 than non-disabled females in the same age group, while disabled males* between nine and 64 were 6.5 times more likely to have died than non-disabled males.
The ONS figures, reported by Disability News Service (DNS) and later followed up by The Times and other newspapers – but previously largely ignored by the mainstream media – prompted calls for an inquiry into the causes of the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on disabled people.
They also led to calls for the government to take urgent action to protect disabled people from COVID-19 in advance of an expected second wave of the virus.
Despite the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) releasing the PIP figures to Abrahams (pictured), it has refused to provide similar figures for claimants of universal credit, income support, jobseeker’s allowance, and employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit.
Ministers suggested they might still provide figures for deaths of universal credit claimants, saying that an answer would be “provided as soon as it is available”, but dismissed her request for figures on the other benefits as they claimed the information “could only be provided at disproportionate cost”.
Abrahams said this was an “appalling response” from DWP ministers.
She said it was this response that prompted her to ask health and social care secretary Matt Hancock this week to carry out an “immediate analysis” of the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people living in poverty.
She also called on Hancock to ask work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey to release the other figures she had requested.
Abrahams pointed to the ONS figures, which she said also showed age-standardised death rates for the “limited a lot” group were nearly 200 per 100,000 for men and more than 141 per 100,000 for women, compared with 70 and 36 per 100,000 for non-disabled men and women.
She told Hancock: “When poverty is factored in, it will show even higher death rates for disabled people.”
Hancock claimed he was “absolutely determined to address the questions and the impact of COVID” on disabled people and claimed that Abrahams’ concerns would be addressed in work being led by equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.
A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office (GEO) said this work was linked to a Public Health England review of COVID-19 health inequalities, a report which was published last month but which – although it analysed factors such as deprivation, ethnicity, occupation and health conditions – did not include a single mention of disabled people or disability.
Asked if Badenoch would be looking at the impact of COVID-19 on disabled people living in poverty, and if she would ask DWP for data on disabled social security claimants who have died during the pandemic, the GEO spokesperson had not responded by noon today (Thursday).
Abrahams told DNS: “It’s just not good enough that DWP ministers dismiss my request for these data – they should know about the deaths of claimants in all circumstances to understand what this means for the social security system that is meant to be there to support them. I’m not letting this go.”
Meanwhile, last week’s DNS story has drawn an angry and frustrated response on social media.
@MrsHelenHurd1 said on Twitter: “Just because the media have conveniently lost interest doesn’t mean it is over.
“As a disabled woman I am terrified that the wilfully irresponsible behaviour of MSM [mainstream media] will kill us all, or was that the idea all along?
“What kind of a country have we become?”
One response on Twitter asked: “Where’s the public uproar?”
Another Twitter response, from @GoldenGraduate, said: “Not a shock at all, its been a cull from day one.”
Another, @AlexandraRants, said: “Yeah loads without the shielding status have been left with no choice but to risk going to the shops as supermarkets stopped offering priority slots to the vulnerable and only those with shielding status could get them.”
Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, although tweeting in a personal capacity, said: “Is anyone surprised by this?
“It’s why we need good data on all the factors that increase risk and action to mitigate all of them.
“So far we’ve seen an over-riding focus on health status alone. It’s much more complex than that.”
*Those in England and Wales who described themselves in the 2011 census as being “limited a lot” in their daily lives
**For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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