DWP confuse everyone over benefits deaths

Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions has just published a response to a freedom of information request about how many disability benefits claimants died after being taken off disability benefits. The DWP had initially refused to disclose the information, until the Information Commissioner compelled them to respond. The purpose of the initial query was to see if the number of people removed from disability benefits who have died is larger than would be expected for a cross section of the population who are fit to work. The theory being that people who are so unfit to work that they die shortly afterwards are being refused sickness benefit. The theory is helped along by emotive stories like this;

But the DWP didn’t want to confirm that that was happening, so they did the evil thing and released figures in a way that can’t be realistically interpreted. They only published an absolute number of people who died, without any context to shed any light on whether or not that is a big number. Mwhahaha. In the absence of proper information, the newspapers have assumed that it’s probably bad (because that makes a good story), but the government can’t easily be held to account on it without the full information;

All we are told is that between 2011 and 2014, 2380 people died after being declared fit for work. That’s sad, but is that a big number or not? People die all the time, and perhaps this is an expected number of deaths. The DWP have not given information about how many people didn’t die, or any information about what the expected rate of deaths would be for the demographics of the people concerned. Without that information, we haven’t got a clue what the figures mean. It’s the equivalent of saying that last year Tesco sold 7000 bananas which were over ripe. Without knowing how many bananas they sold in total or what percentage of bananas were sold over ripe across all supermarkets, we just don’t know if this Tesco are doing well in the bananas sold perfectly ripe game. A wonderfully evil way of the DWP answering the question without actually giving away any information that can be used against them. Ben Goldacre summed it up perfectly;

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