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How DWP has confused everyone by releasing the right data for the wrong question on benefits deaths.

People wanted DWP to say if sickness benefit claimants die after being found "fit for work". Sadly they asked for the numbers in the wrong way. Despite knowing what everyone was asking for, DWP acted like a literal evil genie, and replied "here are the numbers you asked for, and a puff of smoke..."


  1. DWP have played a blinder here. People wanted the government to shed light on whether the death rate, among sickness benefit claimants found "fit for work", is higher than the general population. To answer this question, they needed the death rate for people "found fit for work". Sadly the people requesting the information asked for the numbers in the wrong way. They asked for raw numbers of how many deaths there were. But that's not enough on its own: you need a denominator, the time period over which claimants were followed up, or (ideally) age standardised mortality rates. So DWP simply gave the numbers of deaths, exactly as they were asked, but no denominators or ASMRs, meaning the figures simply cannot be interpreted.
  2. Brilliantly, though, the DWP did release mortality rates (the type of figure we need) for lots of other classes of claimants, with lots of explanatory notes, and tables of data, essentially a PDF and an excel spreadsheet full of red herrings. This was a stroke of evil genius, because it confused lots of people. Since then, journalists, politicians, commentators, and bloggers, have been desperately trying to work out death rates for people found fit for work.
  3. But you cannot find this in the data that has been released.
  4. I repeat: the data that people want is not publicly available. Anyone making claims about death rates for people found "fit for work" is wrong, and displaying their ignorance. Those rates might be terrible, they might be fine. Nobody knows. But DWP could probably tell us, if someone asked them carefully and precisely for the death rates. Not the numbers. The rates. As I explain below.
  5. Debbie Abrahams is a Labour MP who has been chasing this
  6. To expand on this.... I believe DWP do an "alive/dead" data check on everyone on benefits (such as JSA, ESA) every 14 days, to make sure they don't send payments to dead people. If this is correct, then the thing DWP can easily generate, the thing we want, and so the thing to request in parliament or by FOI, is surely....
  7. "DWP recently generated ASMRs (age standardised mortality rates) for many categories of claimant, but not for the category of most interest: those who have been taken off IB/SDA after being found fit for work. Many of these individuals move on to claim other benefits (such as JSA), where data on whether they are alive or dead continues to be collected (on a 2-weekly basis, to ensure they are alive and therefore eligible to receive benefits payments. Therefore it will be similarly straightforward for DWP to calculate ASMRs for this category of claimants: individuals who have been found fit-for-work, and so passed from IB/SDA to other benefits. Please will you release these figures."
  8. Does that look right to people?