FOR nearly five years the public has seemingly accepted the mantra that austerity is needed.
After gaining a majority in May’s General election, the Conservative Government has a clear democratic mandate to carry on cutting back on public spending – so we can expect another five years of cuts to the frontline services and the safety net we, as tax payers, provide for ourselves and others. But these cuts come at a cost – and, at times it seems that cost can be calculated in human lives.
It would, however, be unfair and wrong to say that the 2,400 people who died within two weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ (see Page 11) died as a result of the Department of Work and Pensions’ decision to withdraw or slash their benefits.
The vast majority of them didn’t. They died because they were sick, infirm and dying – and, therefore, were manifestly not ‘fit for work’ by any standard acceptable in the modern world.
The DWP says that: “The mortality rate for people who have died while claiming an out-of-work benefit has fallen over a ten-year period.”
This weak, mealy mouthed response to a shocking statistic completely misses the point and tells us nothing.
People will die while they claim benefits, just as they will while working, or crossing the road, or trying to do The Times crossword. The mortality rate is irrelevant.
What is relevant is how often Atos – the private French company the Government and DWP had paid to do their dirty work – apparently got it so badly wrong.
Between April 2011 and April 2012 Atos declared 203,000 were fit for work. That’s approximately 400,000 over the two year period that those 2,400 people died. In those terms, statistically, the deaths rate seems low. However, 10,600 people died within six weeks of being declared fit to work.
And how many were not dying, but genuinely were unfit for work?
Statistics suggest 30% to 40% of people who appealed their Atos assessment won their case. Shockingly, this figure rose to 70% to 80% for people with adequate legal representation.
What seems clear is that Atos clearly got it so wrong, so much of the time – a fact the Government acknowledged by changing provider and hiring Maximus to do the job.
We can only hope that they do this job far better than Atos.
For the true cost of austerity is often not human lives. It is sacrificing compassion and empathy – and if we sacrifice those attributes in the name of austerity, then we risk being dragged back to the dark days of Dickensian workhouses, and of slaves being quite literally worked to death.