Most of the regular readers of my blog will be aware of the DWP’s refusal to put into the public domain, the statistics of those people who were in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, who were deemed fit for work by way of the Atos Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and then subsequently died.
I, along with many other bloggers believe that the DWP don’t want this information out in the open because the figures are so high, that it will cause a public outcry and blow the governments claim that welfare reforms are working, out of the water.
You can read more about the actual tribunal here, over at Vox Political (Mike Siviers blog)
What I wanted to do, is focus more on the behind the scenes work and some of the bizarre things that happened at and before the tribunal.
I came across Mikes blog when searching for Atos WCA stories as a result of my niece (who suffers from Cushings Disease) having to undergo a WCA. I quickly realised that Mike had his finger on the pulse about all things political and decided to follow his blog.
Recently, as some of you will know, Mike had his request for the mortality statistics turned down on the grounds it was vexatious. Mike appealed this decision to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) who were persuaded by the DWP and upheld their decision not to release the statistics.
This is where I came in.
It’s fair to say that I was gob smacked when Mike blogged that his request had been turned down by the ICO.
I wanted to do something…..but what?
Mike blogged that he was thinking of appealing to the tribunal, luckily, because of my job, I am used to presenting cases to tribunals so I offered to help. Mike took me up on my offer.
Over the next couple of months Mike and I drafted a statement of case, researched case law, read up on the Freedom of Information Act and studied all the mounds of correspondence that Mike had been sent by ICO and DWP. We did all this by e mail. Both of us would regularly be up to the early hours of the morning in order to meet deadlines.
Eventually, Mike got a date for the tribunal hearing in Cardiff. I said that I would be happy to accompany him and as he is a 3 hour car journey away from Cardiff and I live in Cardiff, I suggested he stay at my house the night before and then he would be able to arrive at the hearing unflustered and unstressed.
I was looking forward to meeting Mike mainly because our political views were similar and I guessed we’d have loads to talk about.
Mike arrived at mine at about 6pm and after giving him a cuppa, I served him up my culinary speciality….Pork Italienne, washed down with a few glasses of chardonnay, followed by a fresh fruit salad and some Greek yoghurt!
We then had a quick run through of the case in preparation for the hearing the next day.
Then a really weird thing happened…. there was a knock at the door and when I opened it, I was confronted by Jenny Willott, LibDem MP for Cardiff Central, who used to be on the Work & Pensions Committee (she’s currently involved with Business, Innovation & Skills) who was canvassing for the local elections.
So, her, Mike and I had a very interesting chat about Atos, WCA and the tribunal hearing. Jenny made Mike and I promise to let her know the outcome of the hearing. I told Mike I thought it was an omen that she turned up on the doorstep!
We left for the tribunal and arrived half an hour before the tribunal start time of 10.00am
After arriving, we booked in with the tribunal clerk and as we were waiting, the tribunal judge and one of the tribunal members arrived.
So now we waited; every time I heard the door from the corridor open, I would crane my neck to see if it was the DWP or ICO representative.
As the time moved nearer to 10.00am; I remarked to Mike that DWP and ICO were cutting it a bit fine.
With that, a young woman entered through the corridor door. I wondered if it was either the DWP or ICO representative, turns out she was a trainee reporter for the Western Mail and Echo, the local newspaper for the South Wales area.
What was interesting is that this lovely lady, who was born in Israel, followed Mikes blog and stated that she was well aware of how the government hid things from people and how that had been going on in her country. She said that after reading details of the hearing on Mikes blog, she had nagged her editor to let her cover the story.
She had a quick chat with Mike and I and then a few more people tuned up, three of Mikes friends and a young chap who wanted to view an ICO tribunal as he had one of his own coming up. Once the tribunal clerk had got a press pass for the journalist, cleared it with the judge that the young man who was preparing for his own tribunal could observe and take notes, it was time to go in.
I asked the tribunal clerk if the DWP/ICO had arrived yet, but she said it didn’t look as if they were coming.
After the tribunal, Mike and I had a well earned drink and then it was time for him to make his way back home.
I sincerely and truly hope Mike gets the details he has requested because he deserves to after all the hard work he’s put in.
I also hope that these details are released so that once and for all, there will be irrevocable proof that this governments welfare reforms are not working and need to be scrapped.
UPDATE the Western Mail & Echo will not be publishing the article until the tribunal decision is issued.