Recently, the discussion around the numbers of people who die after being found fit for work has come up on twitter again. This is because of the release of a government report, as a result of a freedom of information act, dated 9th July 2012.
The headline figure on twitter is that 10 600 people have died within six weeks of their WCA claim ending, in less than one year. This comes from page 6 of the report, where the number of deaths within six weeks of a claim ending is broken down into those for whom the assessment had not been completed (2 200), those who had been put in WRAG (1 300) and those who had been put in the Support Group (7 100). These provide an update to the figures that the Daily Mail received to their FoI request back in April. The figures then were for Jan-Aug 2011, whereas the latest figures are for Jan-Nov 2011.
This number of deaths sounds pretty big. It’s 11 000 people in one year; a lot of people, in a short period of time; a lot of people who are very sick.
But alone these figures do not tell us much. We can hype them up, say it’s a huge and alarming number and the government needs to do something about it, but before we do that we need to put them into context. After all if it were 11 000 people out of an overall group of 11 million people, that would be a very low death rate and not something to be upset about.
We need to know at what rate working-age people normally die. Then we can compare death rates for those waiting for ESA assessments, those in WRAG and those in SG to what they would be if these groups were made up of average members of public. That’s the best way to find out how alarming these figures are.
Every year, 225 in every 100 000 working-age people die.
Using data on the number of people in WRAG , SG and still under assessment in each quarter from November 2010 to February 2012 – to calculate the number of man years in the respective groups from Jan 2011 to Nov 2011 – and the number of deaths, adjusted to be per 100 000 and per year, the comparable figure is 573 for the assessment phase, 537 for WRAG and 6910 for SG.
People who have applied for ESA die at a rate 2.5 times higher than for the average working-age population. People in WRAG die at 2.4 times the expected death rate. People in SG die at over 30 times the expected death rate.
These are seriously ill people, putting to lie the government’s assertions that people on ESA are festering or abandoned. It is not just those whom the government recognises to be ill; it’s also those who are applying for ESA or have been deemed fit for ‘work-related activity.’ This is very simple data and it would be dangerous to read a lot into it, but the one message this data gives on its own is a very simple one: people receiving ESA are genuinely ill. The government needs to stop peddling this myth that people on ESA do not need to be there.
 Sommerlad, N., 32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit, 4th April 2012, Daily Mail. http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2012/04/32-die-a-week-after-failing-in.html
 Office of National Statistics. This is the average death rate per 100000 for males and females between 15 and 64. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-265234