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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Government to publish benefit-related deaths data 'no later than autumn'

Written by The Press Association

Data showing benefit-related deaths will be published "no later than the autumn", the Government has said.

Work and Pensions Minister Priti Patel reiterated the Prime Minister's assertion that the statistics are being prepared for release, adding they will be published "shortly".

Labour's Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) said David Cameron had promised urgent action four weeks ago.

Campaigners and MPs have argued the data helps show how many people die shortly after being found fit for work.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Ms Abrahams said: "Now is the time to deliver.

"Be open, transparent and publish the numbers that the public and Parliament are calling for. Without this it brings this House into disrepute."

In April, the Information Commissioner asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to publish the number of incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance claimants who have died since November 2011 until May 2014.

It added this should be broken down to several categories, including the number of claimants found fit for work.

MPs heard more than 240,000 people have signed a petition calling for the release of the data.

Father of the House Sir Gerald Kaufman accused Ms Patel of being "arrogant" as she delivered her reply to Ms Abrahams' question.

Tory frontbencher Ms Patel said the Government's position on publishing the data had not changed, adding: "I would just like to add as well it will be published very soon, no later than the autumn."

She also said: "We were the first Government to publish ad hoc statistics in this very area, which of course members opposite are shaking their heads to because they don't like the fact we published data previously."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (pictured) could be heard telling Labour MPs: "Don't lecture us about it, you never published a damn thing."

Shadow work and pensions minister Kate Green said there was "huge disquiet among disabled people as story after story surfaces in the media of disabled people being found fit for work and dying shortly afterwards".

She said: "The shenanigans in the DWP around the release of the statistics are concerning and puzzling if the department has nothing to hide."

She urged the minister to "come clean", asking: "Why is it taking so long?"

Ms Patel said the Government would be publishing the statistics "despite the scaremongering and the gross misrepresentation from the party opposite, scaremongering about suicides".

Tory David TC Davies (Monmouth) said any death was of course a tragedy, but added that "individual tragedies should not simply be rolled into a set of statistics and then plucked out by people who obviously have a political agenda to push".

The SNP's Christopher Stephens (Glasgow South West) asked if the DWP was still pursuing an appeal against the Information Commissioner's ruling and asked for a clear timetable for the data's publication.

Labour's Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) raised a case in his constituency, stating: "There's been a lot of promises made but nothing seems to be forthcoming."

He added: "I have to say this delay almost emanates from the Secretary of State, who I call the minister for delay. It's gone on for too long.

"I think it's high time that this matter was resolved. Stand up at that despatch box and say you are not going to appeal and you are going to get on with it."

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