Saturday, August 29, 2015

Work Capability Assessment doubles the Mortality Rate for those on Invalidity Benefits

Photograph: Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis

I've been trying hard to make some kind of sense of the figures released by the DWP about  the mortality of benefits claimants. It is difficult, not least because the figures are crude due to the fact that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) was forced to release them as a result of Freedom of Information requests, and the explainers around the figures given by the DWP is unhelpful to say the least.

FullFact has rightly criticised the conclusions drawn  by many news reports. Statistical interpretation is notoriously difficult, especially in the presence of complex data. Deniers will always use complexity and uncertainty such as Fullfact have found to obscure any adverse conclusion. The raw number of people who have died after being declared fit for work is muddied by right wing journalists, who calculate that some would have died anyway.

Here I have taken a different approach which by-passes the complexity, using the answer given by the DWP to Information Request 1 (p2) :

What is the total number of people who have died within a year of their Work Capability Assessment since May 2010?

This is a good question since it leads directly to the Mortality Rate of this particular group.

The Mortality Rate (MR) of a population is usually given as the number of deaths per 100,000 of a population per year.

Benefits claimants who have medical reasons to be off work, (receiving Incapacity Benefits, IB, Severe Disablement Allowance, SDA, and Employment and Support Allowance ESA), have a Mortality Rate of 1032/100,000/yr. (Figure 1 here)

The DWP paper (Table 1, p3) says that 2,017,070 people were given a Work Capability Assessment from May 2010 to Feb 2013. Within a year, 40,680 of that group died.

This particular population of benefits claimants therefore have an MR of
40,680 / 2,017,070 * 100,000 = 2017.

To be absolutely clear, the group of medically unfit benefits claimants who were given a Work Capability Assessment had a Mortality Rate of 2,017 per 100,000 per year.

The Age Standardised Mortality Rate for all medically disabled benefits claimants is 1032.

Therefore the mortality rate  for those who are given a WCA is as near as dammit twice that of the group as a whole.

The approach taken here side steps the claim that some of the deaths were going to happen anyway, or that their death was the reason that the claim was ended. We are taking a group, claimants who are on IB,SDA and ESA, and from that group selecting a sub-group who were given a Work Capability Assessment. This sub-group has a mortality rate almost exactly twice that of the main group. All other factors are the same except they were called in for a WCA.

Therefore there must be something about the WCA that caused the increased mortality.

The DWP and sources like Atos and its successor Maximus, will deny that the WCA is stressful, but any person who has had any professional contact with invalids whose source of income is at risk of being cut by 25% (which is what happens when you move from ESA to JSA) will know that DWP etc. are simply in denial. It is undeniable to any unbiased observer that stress, worry and anxiety is associated with the WCA process (whether or not they are found capable of work in the end), and  mental stress translates into physical stress which can increase the risk of death. There are anecdotal reports of suicide among those who have been judged fit for work.

Remember also that the result we have here is just the result of a WCA itself, not for assessments that conclude that the claimant is fit for work, and therefore must take a 25% income cut. We should expect that the MR for this group is far higher.

The conclusion of this simple analysis of one simple, robust set of figures is that the WCA doubles the risk of death for those who are subjected to it.

The onus is now on the DWP to prove this thesis wrong.

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