More than a thousand sickness benefit claimants died last year after being told to get a job, we can reveal.
We’ve highlighted worries about the controversial medical tests for people claiming Employment Support Allowance which are being used to slash the country’s welfare bill.
The Government has boasted that more than half of new claimants are found “fit to work” – failing to mention that over 300,000 have appealed the decision and almost 40% have won.
Instead, employment minister Chris Grayling (left) says this “emphasises what a complete waste of human lives the current system has been”.
We’ve used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that, between January and August last year, 1,100 claimants died after they were put in the “work-related activity group”.
This group – which accounted for 21% of all claimants at the last count – get a lower rate of benefit for one year and are expected to go out and find work.
This compares to 5,300 deaths of people who were put in the “support group” – which accounts for 22% of claimants – for the most unwell, who get the full, no-strings benefit of up to £99.85 a week.
We don’t know how many people died after being found “fit to work”, the third group, as that information was “not available”.
But we have also found that 1,600 people died before their assessment had been completed.
This should take 13 weeks, while the claimant gets a reduced payment of up to £67.50 a week, but delays have led to claims the system is in “meltdown”.
Mr Grayling admitted last month that 35,000 people are waiting longer than 13 weeks. Commenting on the deaths of claimants, a Department for Work and Pensions official said: “It is possible that the claimant had already closed their claim and then subsequently died, meaning that these figures may be overestimating the true picture.”
Of course, they’re bound to include some people who died of something completely unrelated to their benefit claim.
The 56-year-old, from Staveley, Derbyshire, worked for 40 years as a miner and telecoms engineer but stopped on doctors’ orders after an earlier heart attack and a string of strokes. His widow Sandra said: “When Dave was called in for a medical, he felt like he was back to square one.
“He was in a terrible state by the day he died. It was the stress that killed him, I’m sure.”
Stephen Hill, 53, of Duckmanton, Derbyshire, died of a heart attack in December, one month after being told he was “fit to work”, even though he was waiting for major heart surgery.
Citizens Advice told us it has found “a number of cases” of people dying soon after being found fit for work.
“There seems to be a clear link between the cause of death and the condition they were suffering from that led to the claim,” said Katie Lane, head of welfare policy.
“We have always supported the idea that people who could work and want to work should be helped to do that. But we are seeing a lot of seriously ill and disabled people being found fit for work.
“We have serious concerns about whether the test used to decide if people are fit for work is the right test.”
The work capability assessments are carried out by private firm Atos, on a £100million a year contract.
The firm made a £42million profit in 2010 and paid boss Keith Wilman £800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year.