The Department of Work and Pensions has a long track record of misusing statistics, making unsubstantiated inferences and stigmatising claimants, and it’s clear these are tactics used to vindicate further welfare cuts.
The Tories have peddled the lie that he UK was “on the brink bankruptcy” and claimed the solution to is to cut government spending with a painful programme of austerity cuts. Of course, the UK economy was growing in 2010 when the Tories took over and was subsequently plunged back into recession by Osborne’s austerity policies, which have meant that the economy has not grown at all under the coalition; and for much of their tenure has been contracting. Despite the fact that Osborne was officially rebuked for this lie, the Goebbels-styled repetition propaganda technique employed by the conservatives has embedded this lie in the minds of the public. However, our current problems are the result of a global financial crisis that we and not the banks that caused it, continue to pay for.
Austerity is a smokescreen – the Coalition has used the deficit as an excuse to do what they have always wanted to do: shrink the state, privatise the NHS, and hand out our money to the wealthy minority. We cannot trust them.
It’s become clear that the Tories have seized an opportunity to dismantle the institutions they have always hated since the post-war social democratic settlement – institutions of health, welfare, education, culture and human rights which should be provided for all citizens. The Tories also attempt to destroy fundamental public support for the health, education and welfare of its people by a divisive scapegoating of vulnerable groups, perpetuated via the media, and by offering and inflicting only regressive, punitive policies and devastating cuts.
The Official statistics watchdog (UKSA) has found that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have repeatedly made false claims about the numbers of people living on disability benefits.
Ministers claim that the majority of people claiming disability living allowance (DLA) were given benefits for life, and without any supporting medical evidence. This is untrue.
According to DWP press releases:
“More than 50% of decisions on entitlement are made on the basis of the claim form alone, without any additional corroborating medical evidence.”
However, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) found that the real percentage of claims passed without supporting medical evidence was just 10%.
The DWP also claimed that “Under the current system of Disability Living Allowance, 71% of claimants get indefinite awards without systematic reassessments.” However the UKSA found that in the last two years, just 23% and 24% of claimants were given indefinite awards of DLA.
The DWP accept that their claims were “ambiguous” and “had not been re-checked by the Department’s analysts, as is the usual practice.”
The findings were uncovered by an investigation by Channel Four News following complaint by the charity Parkinson’s UK.
Parkinson’s UK policy advisor Donna O’Brien said:
“People with Parkinson’s who claimed DLA have told us supporting medical evidence was crucial due to a woeful knowledge of the condition amongst assessors, and it is absurd that the Government was trying to imply that anyone going through the system had an easy ride.”
This is the third time in the past year that Iain Duncan Smith has come under fire for the use of false statistics to justify cuts to benefits.
Last year Duncan Smith was rebuked by UKSA for misuse of benefit statistics. He claimed that 8000 people who had been affected by the benefits cap had “moved back into work.”
The UKSA found that this figure was “unsupported by the official statistics.”
Another statement by Duncan Smith later in the month also drew criticism and a reprimand. The minister said around 1 million people have been stuck on benefits for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”.
However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting their assessment.
Grant Shapps was also rebuked by UK Statistics Authority for misrepresenting benefit figures – Shapps joined his fellow Conservatives in the data hall of shame. In March, the Tory chairman claimed that “nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance (ESA).
The figures, he said, “demonstrate how the welfare system was broken under Labour and why our reforms are so important”. The claim was faithfully reported by the Sunday Telegraph but as the UK Statistics Authority has now confirmed in its response to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore (the complainant), it was entirely and intentionally fabricated.
In his letter to Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith, UKSA chair Andrew Dilnot writes that the figure conflated “official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA”.
Of the 603,600 incapacity benefit claimants referred for reassessment as part of the introduction of the ESA between March 2011 and May 2012, just 19,700 (somewhat short of Shapps’s “nearly a million) abandoned their claims prior to a work capability assessment in the period up to May 2012. The figure of 878,300 refers to the total of new claims for the ESA closed before medical assessment from October 2008 to May 2012.
Thus, Shapps’s suggestion that the 878,300 were pre-existing claimants, who would rather lose their benefits than be exposed as “scroungers”, was entirely wrong. As significantly, there is no evidence that those who abandoned their claims did so for the reasons ascribed by Shapps. However, he did at least honestly reveal his own prejudices regarding disabled people, at least. But he did so without a trace of shame and remorse.
At the time Iain Duncan Smith dismissed the findings, saying that he “believed” that he was “right”, anyway. It seems that Iain Duncan Smith has some disdain for evidence-based policy.
“I believe this to be right, I believe that we are already seeing people going back to work who were not going to go back to work,” he said.
This is a remarkable claim, given that the Department for Work and Pensions does not track the destination of people no longer entitled to benefits. Simply measuring how many people no longer claim benefits does not accurately reflect the numbers of those actually moving into employment. The DWP off-flow figures will inevitably include many having their claim ended for reasons other than securing employment, including sanctions, awaiting mandatory review, appeal, death, hospitalisation, imprisonment, or on a government “training scheme” (workfare).
In 2011, the Work and Pensions Select Committee warned the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needed to take more care when releasing and commenting on benefit statistics, to make sure media stories were “accurate.”
It seems unlikely, however, that accuracy will replace Duncan Smith’s “gut feelings” and ideologically-driven rhetoric – which is aimed at presenting excuses for the steady reduction of support for the most vulnerable citizens – any time soon.
Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone