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50 charities say govt using ‘dangerously misleading statistics’ on benefits


3:50 pm - July 30th 2011

by Richard Exell    


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There’s been one good thing about the DWP incapacity benefit statistics – the response it’s provoked from disabled people and disability organisations.

Take a look at these excellent posts from Batsgirl and Latent Existence.

And now there’s a particularly important intervention from the Disability Benefits Consortium – a coalition of fifty charities and campaigning organisations.

The DBC statement argues that the government is using ‘dangerously misleading’ statistics – for a consortium that includes some of the most respectable and well-established charities in the country this is strong language.

Here’s the statement in full:

Government statistics [1] have fuelled claims this week that high numbers of benefits claimants are ‘faking’ [2]. But a coalition of over 50 charities [3] suggest this is dangerously misleading and contributing to hatred and violence towards disabled people by portraying them as cheats and scroungers. Hayley Jordan, from the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) and MS Society, says:

“Hours after an important committee of cross-party MPs condemned irresponsible and inaccurate portrayal of benefits claimants, DWP statistics led to more reports wrongly labelling people as ‘faking’. Disabled people are very disappointed that the Government is refusing to ensure accurate reporting and may be contributing to stigmatisation, victimisation and exclusion.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released figures on Tuesday which suggest that only 7% of claimants for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the new benefit that replaced Incapacity Benefits, were unable to do any sort of work. This led to claims that 75% of sickness benefits claimants are “faking”.

But the figures were released just as a report from a committee of MPs [4] decried misleading media coverage, and the false assumption that the tests are designed to ‘weed out’ benefits cheats:

“Media coverage of the reassessment is often irresponsible and inaccurate and we deprecate the pejorative language which some sections of the press use when referring to benefit claimants. Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to “weed out benefit cheats” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government’s objectives.”

The committee report also highlights that the number of appeals is rapidly increasing, with people going to the Tribunals Service set to double over three years. 436,000 people will appeal in 2011/12 and this costs the taxpayer a staggering £50 million per year.

Independent reviews, charities, and the Work and Pensions Committee have all now told the Government that the figures for new ESA benefit claims mask the true level of capacity to work and that the assessment system used is ineffective, over-expensive and is denying many disabled people the support they need to get and keep work. But the facts are lost in ‘fakers’ claims which reappeared the same day the committee report was launched due to DWP publishing further statistics on the same day. This led committee chair, Dame Anne Begg MP, to write to the Minister [5] stating:

“By what I assume was a coincidence…The coverage of the statistics in some newspapers, notably the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, was a particularly egregious example of the way they can be misused.”

Charities are also concerned that welfare reform is supposed to deliver help to disabled people to get/keep work but support appears to be rescinding. Government misleading statistics on claimants was also published the same day as it was revealed the number of disabled people using ‘Access to Work’ had sadly fallen [6]. Neil Coyle, of the DBC and Disability Alliance, says:

“The Government must ensure appropriate support is available to disabled people to get and keep work. It is very worrying that some support has dropped in the last year. Sadly, the language to describe disabled people needing support has become more offensive and this also contributes to barriers to work as employers suspect genuinely disabled people of faking or being ‘work-shy’.”

Notes:

[1] See: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/newsroom/press-releases/2011/jul-2011/dwp086-11.shtml

[2] For examples please see:

[3] The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) is a national coalition of over 50 different charities and other organisations committed to working towards a fair benefits system For more information go to: http://www.disabilityalliance.org/dbc.htm

[4] Department of Work and Pensions Commons Select Committee letter to Employment Minister on release of benefit claimant statistics: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/letter-to-chris-grayling-benefit-payment-statistics/

[5] For a copy of the full letter visit: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/letter-to-chris-grayling-benefit-payment-statistics/

[6] Access to Work helps employers and disabled people with the costs of adapting work premises or providing accessible software for example and is a net contributor to the Treasury. For more information go to: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/Employmentsupport/WorkSchemesAndProgrammes/DG_4000347

(Full disclosure: the TUC is a DBC member).

There have been some excellent posts on the lefty sites – such as this particularly brilliant one from Declan Gaffney.

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About the author
Richard is an regular contributor. He is the TUC’s Senior Policy Officer covering social security, tax credits and labour market issues.
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Reader comments


“By what I presume was a coincidence”-of course it was not a coincidence.Another point I would make is that Special Advisors at the DWP are ex-Tax Payers Alliance bods and their former colleagues are every so ready to represent an “independent” voice not just in the tabloids but have an almost permanent seat at the BBC.The latter point is all the more ridiculous as they know absolutely nothing about disabilty or the benefit system.

2. Luis enrique

I posted this link on the BBC thread, but here it is again. Paul Gregg gets behind the numbers:
http://cmpo.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/disability-benefit-claims/#entry

3. Charles Wheeler

The media distorting the facts for political purposes? Surely not!

The whole POINT of the tabloid campaign against disability benefit claimants has been to distort reality, to discredit the benefit and soften up public opinion to cuts in welfare. Encourage the view that the ‘undeserving’ vastly outnumber the ‘deserving’ and a more punitive approach to welfare becomes politically acceptable. Thus, every case of benefit fraud makes the front page, while the many thousands of cases of genuine claims being denied are ignored, creating an ‘availability bias’ which builds and reinforces the public perception that disability benefits represent a scroungers’ charter.

In actual fact, very few people would spend their lives feigning disability for the sake of
£30 above Jobseekers’ Allowance – as the real figures on fraud prove. The truth is that, for most people who suffer chronic sickness or disability, the loss of employment (alongside the break-up of a relationship) is probably the most demoralising aspect. Nobody in their right mind would choose to enter the Kafkaesque world of the benefit claimant and sit at home watching daytime TV. The propaganda simply makes no sense.

Of course the 7% figure is a nonsense. The reason fewer claimants are eligible for benefit is not because most were ‘faking it’, but because the criteria have changed, leaving many thousands of severely disabled people in a work/benefits limbo – deemed ‘fit to work’ by Atos but functionally unemployable. Meanwhile, even those assessed as unable to work will be ineligible for support if they have a working partner. As most partners of severely disabled people have to work BECAUSE their partner can’t work this creates the kind of Catch-22 Joseph Heller might have found too cruel to satirise.

These reforms effectively scrap incapacity benefits for all but a tiny number of those too severely disabled to be able to work, living with a non-working partner, leaving many facing destitution as they have to contemplate coping with a loss of income of £80-100 a week. Many will be forced to move from adapted accommodation to find lower cost housing, but with low-cost wheelchair-friendly accommodation in short supply this will not be easy. Many more will find themselves effectively house-bound, or with no option but to go into institutional care (which will end up costing the taxpayer more).

The whole thing is obscene. But the only way to justify placing the disabled in the front line (even as executive pay continues to accelerate – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13588114) is to tar the disabled with the brush of the ‘undeserving’.

Why is anyone surprised because this Tory led Coalition is built on the foundations of lies and deceit.

The sick, disabled and vulnerable are just a by-product to these ministers and it wont be to long before they ruin our National Health Service so that we suffer in pain with many passing away due to lack of proper health care.

It is almost like the Tories are inflicting revenge upon this nation for allowing the Labour Party to Govern this country for so long. This is probably pay back time by making people really suffer Big Time.

5. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

The whole POINT of the tabloid campaign against disability benefit claimants has been to distort reality, to discredit the benefit and soften up public opinion to cuts in welfare. Encourage the view that the ‘undeserving’ vastly outnumber the ‘deserving’ and a more punitive approach to welfare becomes politically acceptable. Thus, every case of benefit fraud makes the front page, while the many thousands of cases of genuine claims being denied are ignored, creating an ‘availability bias’ which builds and reinforces the public perception that disability benefits represent a scroungers’ charter.

I’d also argue the £16bn that goes unclaimed (as compared to the £1bn lost as a result of fraud) is more of a feature than a bug.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/7144127/16bn-worth-of-benefits-unclaimed-every-year.html

Chronic illness can strike at any time of life, but it mostly comes with age towards the end of of someones working life. My Mother who worked all her life was made redundant at 58 and then came down with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. I myself was diagnosed with lupus/rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 51, my late sister also had lupus. She died at 48.
I would suggest that the increase in people claiming sickness benefits has more to do with an ageing population than benefit cheats. The only people being cheated are the people who are genuinely sick.


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