The posting of this blog led to stories in both the New Statesman and Liberal Conspiracy. The issue had been strongly followed up by Sheila Gilmore MP among others and prompted a petition by disabled activists Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers demanding an inquiry into Iain Duncan Smith which attracted no less than 98,000 signatures. All of this has had an astounding resolution.
- May 9th Iain Duncan Smith was officially rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority
- May 17th The Work and Pensions Select Committee announced it will conduct an inquiry into Iain Duncan Smith's use of statistics as part of its annual assessment of the DWP Annual Report and Accounts (ARA). In preparation the committee plans to hold a session with the UK Statistics Authority to see how the department should correctly be using their statistics.
- May 30th Grant Shapps was also officially rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority
This month saw sweeping changes to the welfare system which impacted on disabled people. In particular Disability Living Allowance was replaced by Personal Independence Payments and the Bedroom Tax came into play, which disproportionately affects households with a disabled member.
Elsewhere Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit paid to those too ill or disabled to work continues to provoke controversy, with a discredited assessment (WCA) and a backlogged appeals process.
It was maybe not surprising then that, perhaps fearing a reversal of public opinion, ministers from the Department of Work and Pensions decided to act by releasing a number of press releases to support their actions.
This would not be a problem IF they were accurate. It would have still have been acceptable albeit slightly upsetting if, as is often the case, the statistics were "spun" in their favour. However what actually happened was in my opinion unprecedented and unforgiveable. We saw a string of stories which were completely untrue and highly damaging. I put that a line was crossed into organised propaganda.
It seems others may agree. The former chief economist of the DWP finally spoke out talking of "a consistent pattern of ministers trying to manipulate statistics to their own political ends". MPs have also called for an official inquiry into the manipulation of official statistics by the Committee of Work and Pensions.
In Order these are the Stories.
Over the Easter Weekend on March 30th, two damaging stories came out, one surrounding DLA and the other ESA.
- 1) Grant Shapps said 900,000 people had abandoned their claim for ESA RATHER than take the assessment.
“Current data does not allow anything conclusive to be said about the destinations of closed and in progress cases, nor to infer what would have been or would be the outcome of assessment."
“An important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation”
Unfortunately truth is irrelevant. The 900,000 figure has now entered benefit folklore and is brought up by the general public whenever disability benefits are mentioned as proof that many people are abusing the system and will abandon their claims if challenged.
Please see my previous blog post for more details.
- 2) Esther McVey, Minister for the Disabled appeared in an article for the Daily Mail. In this she gave a strong impression that many were claiming unnecessarily and even fraudulently. She also said there had been a rush on claims in the run up to PIP to avoid assessment.
She "says many who get DLA and are officially assessed "disabled" are no such thing: Only three per cent of people are born with a disability, the rest acquire it through accident or illness, but people come out of it. Thanks to medical advances, bodies heal."
This was just short of accusing DLA claimants of fraud and/or mindbogglingly ignorant. People who acquire disabilities later in life are just as disabled as those who are disabled from birth. Many such illnesses and disabilities are incurable and life long despite current medical science: for instance Parkinsons, MS, lupus, amputations, paralysis, blindness, schizophrenia, autism but to mention a few off the top of my head.
Furthermore she is being deliberately misleading as under the current system those who have more short term conditions will be given shorter DLA awards of 1 or 3 years.
She then went on to say:
The decision to introduce new tests has produced an extraordinary ‘closing-down sale’ effect, with rocketing claims as people rush to get their hands on unchecked ‘welfare for life’ before McVey’s axe falls on April 8.
Again, this has turned out to be untrue. While the total number of DLA claims has indeed increased, the number of DLA claims among working age people (ie those affected by the changeover to PIP) FELL. So this is in fact the direct opposite behaviour to that claimed by the minister.
- 4) On April 24th, Iain Duncan Smith gave a press release claiming that "one million who are fit to work have lived on benefits for 3 of the past 4 years".
Once again the headlines are untrue. The claimants are not "fit for work" nor even "capable of trying to find a job". Upon reading the articles it becomes clear that the figures include people who are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA.
By the DWP own figures on ESA "fit for work" decisions, these people have been found unfit for work. Unlike people in the support group though, it is felt that they will eventually recover at some time in the future. Right now though, they cannot work.
When the WRAG was first conceived of, it was felt that it would take 2-5 years for people placed in it to return to work. It is therefore perfectly feasible that WRAG claimants have been claiming ESA for 3 of the past 4 years without being "stuck" or fraudulent.
Once again figures are being used to stigmatise disability benefit claimants.
In 4 weeks, 4 misleading news articles.
In 2011 the Work and Pensions Select Committee severely criticised the way the government was releasing official statistics. It reported this was leading to negative views of long term disability benefit claimants not only in the tabloid press but the mainstream press as well. It noted that many newspapers had subsequently had to publish corrections.
At the time the minister replied "the government could not control the editorial approach of tabloids" and was often "bemused" by the stories which ran.
I would put that this excuse no longer washes.
Current ministers are releasing untrue statistics and making false statements. The proposed investigation must go ahead at the earliest opportunity and the practise stopped. A whole section of the population is being demonised for political gain. It must not continue.
A petition has been started by disability campaigners Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers to the Work and Pensions Committee asking them to commit to hold Iain Duncan Smith to account for his (mis)use of statistics.
It has had a huge response with 38,000 signatures at the last count.
You can read an article about it's success in the Guardian here (when it still only had 16,000 signatures).
To add your signature please go here. Thank you.