The following article was written by Dan Bloom for Mirror Online. Click here for original.
Tens of thousands of people are calling on the Government to reveal how many benefits claimants died after being found fit for work.
The government is refusing to release the figures despite being ordered to by a watchdog.
A searing ruling by the Information Commissioner said chiefs had acted unreasonably after not publishing any figures for 3 years.
But instead of giving in, the Department for Work and Pensions is fighting its own watchdog to get the decision overturned.
Furious benefits campaigners now want to know what the government is trying to hide.
Retired welfare advisor Maggie Zolobajluk, 63, launched a petition which 60,000 people signed in a few days.
The pensioner told Mirror Online she was left in despair after watching how Government welfare cuts hit her clients in Sutton, Surrey.
“Why doesn’t Iain Duncan Smith want to publish these figures?” she said. “It gives the impression he’s got something to hide.”
Ms Zolobajluk worked for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau for 7 years while the Government were introducing their welfare reforms.
The changes saw some people told to find work despite having chronic illnesses – some of whom died before getting their benefits back.
Tragic Mark Wood starved to death in David Cameron’s constituency four months after his benefits were cut – weighing just 5st 8lbs when he was found.
And ex-nurse Jacqueline Harris, 53, took her own life after she was ruled fit to work despite having slipped disks in her back and severe pain.
Ms Zolobajluk said: “I could see what was happening in the community. It was so predictable. These cuts came in and left people feeling helpless.
“People are being penalised if they appeal because they have to go on jobseeker’s and it’s a merry-go-round while they wait.
“I’d have people who’d come in because they’d been thrown off the housing register because they weren’t deemed as overcrowded despite living in a house with nine adults.
“The pressure we were under as volunteers, the number of people coming who you could no longer help – it was awful.
“I got quite upset about it. If I see something I have to say what I feel.
“I don’t like bullies, and I don’t like seeing people in situations where there’s nothing I can do to help them.”
The request to release the figures was made under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner Mike Sivier.
He asked how many people who died between November 2011 and May 2014 had been found ‘fit for work’, or told they could move towards getting work.
The DWP refused his request because chiefs said they were already preparing to publish the information in their own time, and it’d be unfair to rush them.
But Information Commissioner Christopher Graham ruled: “It is not reasonable for the DWP, having had enough time to extract the information and prepare internally for publication, to seek further time to provide the information.
“The previous statistics published were around 2 years old at the time of the request.”
He ordered civil servants to publish the data within 35 days of his ruling on April 30.
Instead the department has appealed to an information tribunal, as the Mirror detailed last week .
Ms Zolobajluk’s petition asks the tribunal to refuse the request and force Iain Duncan Smith’s department to publish the data.
The last benefit death figures in 2012 showed 80 people had died within six weeks of being told they could move towards finding work.
A DWP spokesman declined to say why chiefs are appealing the verdict.
She added: “It’s irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”.
Edited slightly to remove some political bias.