Tag: Sheila Gilmore

Employment and Support Allowance – Another Mean Cut From IDS – Sheila Gilmore

Originally posted in the Huff Post, by Sheila Gilmore.

544840_330826693653532_892366209_nCruel cuts.

Policies developed on a false premise will inevitably run into problems. When these policies apply to people this can also cause great harm.

The Government’s policy on ‘sickness benefits’ is framed on the assertion that previous governments ‘dumped’ people on these benefits who never worked again. For their own good they needed to be re-tested on a new basis. Many people would then be returned to the labour market and spending on the benefit would be cut. The trouble is that numbers haven’t reduced much, and projected savings haven’t been made. But rather than review the basis on which their policy was built, it appears that the Government is simply going to cut by £30 per week the benefits of many of those its own test has found unfit for work for the time being. 

Like all good myths this has some elements of truth. Incapacity Benefit was used to deal with the problem of those displaced from industries like coal, textiles and steel during the 1980s. Job opportunities where they lived were limited, and many genuinely suffered from work related poor health . This was particularly true of older workers whose chances of a new job were always the slimmest. Under the Conservatives between 1978/79 and 1996/97, the total number of claimants more than doubled from 1.204 million to 2.569 million. This rate of increase slowed under Labour, with total numbers eventually peaking at 2.678 million in 2008/09 when ESA was introduced.

As this Budget rolls out I suspect we are going to hear a vigorous refreshing of the ‘people being callously dumped’ argument from Tory Ministers and backbenchers. However the truth is more complex. Even where total numbers have remained similar over a fairly long period, these are not by any means the same people. There is substantial flow both on and off benefit. Of those who are long term claimants , many have long term conditions making employment difficult, sometimes impossible.

 The Government insisted on rolling out the transfer of all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants to Employment & Support Allowance from 2011 , believing that the more stringent test applied for ESA would result in many existing claimants being found fit for work. In its first three years ESA was for new claimants only, with around 35% being found fit for work. The correctness of the testing process has rightly been the subject of much controversy , but applying the same test to those moving from IB produced a different result with only 23% being found fit for work initially.
One conclusion which may be reached is that in fact many people in receipt of IB actually were more unwell or disabled than the Government’s propaganda keeps suggesting . Not a conclusion it appears the Government wants to accept.

Even more crucially despite all the numbers being found ‘fit for work’, trumpeted by the Government as proof of their assertions, when you look at the total numbers in receipt of ESA, together those still on the older benefits, this number remains very high. The total number in receipt of ESA and IB is only 100,000 lower than in 2008/9.

Yet taking just the period between April 2011 and March 2013 some 234,600 former IB claimants had been found fit for work. With the toughness of the test also applying to new claimants, and the time-limiting of contributory ESA to a year for many , one would expect the total number of claimants to drop by more than the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants declared Fit for Work – but bizarrely it has dropped by considerably less.

With unemployment falling since 2008/9, one might hope that more people with health issues would have been able to find work.

Something unexplained is going on. Despite all the stress to individuals, the increasing cost and difficulty of administering the system (the migration process created a huge backlog in the assessment process), nothing much seems to have changed and savings not achieved. Are more people are becoming ill or disabled? This seems unlikely.

But what if the initial assumptions were wrong, and that there are not lots of ‘fit’ people sidelined onto incapacity benefits. Three quarters of those being ‘migrated ‘ from IB are not fit for work. The proportion of new claimants being found fit for work has fallen to 23%, and has been steadily falling . In addition I suspect that a good number of those declared Fit for Work, are simply not getting better, not getting jobs, getting less well and end up reapplying for ESA and being awarded benefit the second time round.

If we accept that most claimants actually face significant barriers to returning to work, we need to be putting more effort into both giving them the help they need, and encouraging employers to take people on. This was what the Work Related Activity Group was intended to do, but for many the support offered is minimal . People are invited to ‘work focused interviews (in letters that contain severe warnings about the consequences of not attending) and are then sent away for a year in some cases. Box ticked but no help given. Some are referred to the Work Programme which has very poor outcomes for this group, not surprising given that those attending say that all the emphasis was on the mechanics of job search with little reference to their heath.

Taking away £30 pw of income won’t tackle these weaknesses of the system. Will there still be a Work Related Activity Group at all? The only difference from being on JSA will be less conditionality (although there is still some and examples of ESA-WRAG claimants being sanctioned).

Nor are we dealing here with people with minor illness. Charities report that 45% of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

While this change isn’t due to start until 2017 it won’t take long for it to apply to a substantial number of people . Around 700,000 apply each year for ESA, of which number around 60% proceed to full assessment (the others generally return to work before the process is complete). Currently around 14% of these go into the WRAG. That’s around 60,000 people affected every year.

37079_433060243430176_1848475368_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control

rich keep millons


I wrote
last week about the exchange in the Commons between Debbie Abrahams and Iain Duncan Smith regarding the Mortality Statistics Report released by Department of Work and Pensions. Debbie Abrahams asked a very reasonable question:

“The Government’s own data show that people in the work-related activity group are twice as likely to die than the general population. How can the Secretary of State justify £30-a-week cuts for people in that category?”

Duncan Smith gave a petty, vindictive and unqualified retort to avoid answering the question:

“The hon. Lady put out a series of blogs on the mortality stats last week that were fundamentally wrong. Her use of figures is therefore quite often incorrect. I simply say to her—[Interruption.] She has had an offer to meet the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), time and again, but she just wants to sit in the bitter corner screaming abuse.”

Adversarial style over meaningful content every time.

It’s certainly true that Conservatives advocate a limited ambition in politics, especially when it comes to maintaining the state support of even basic levels of human welfare. Small state fetishist Duncan Smith failed to provide a rational and evidenced response to a very reasonable question. He didn’t qualify why he thought that the blogs on the mortality statistics release last week were “fundamentally wrong,” either.

It has to be said that in light of the many official public rebukes that the Tories have faced for telling lies and using misrepresentations of statistics to justify their own value-laden, ideologically driven policies, and given the fact that the Government face a United Nations inquiry regarding the fact that their welfare “reforms” are incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it’s truly remarkable that Priti Patel and Iain Duncan Smith have the cheek to call disability campaigners “thugs” and state that all other accounts of the mortality statistics are “wrong”, or to imply that opposition MPs are “liars”, when they are faced with valid concerns and founded criticisms regarding the consequences of their draconian policies.

Moreover, being civilised, values of decency and legitimate concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled citizens were depreciated as mere matters of “subjective interpretation” and not as worthy subjects of political, rational or objective discussion.

The Mortality Statistics release from Department of Work and Pension “provides further commentary on the appropriate use of this information” – in other words, it informs us what we may and may not do with the “data”, and carries this pre-emptive caution:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics.

Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

The way that the statistical data was intentionally presented without context, clarification or meaning, but with a warning that we may not draw any inferences from it lends a whole new layer of meaning to the phrase “the disappeared”.

The question we ought to ask is why? Firstly, why is it the case that we are being told that there is no reliable data regarding the impact of the Government’s policies, including their reformed Work Capability Assessment?

And of course, what is being hidden beneath the excessively  bureacratic management of information?

What kind of Government doesn’t concern itself with the well-being of citizens that it is meant to represent? A basic expectation surely ought to be that Governments monitor the effects of policy, especially the sort of policies that are, by their very design, likely to have a negative impact on sick and disabled people.

Cutting lifeline benefits, and using punishment in the form of sanctions to leave people without money to meet basic survival needs is never going to have a positive, or, to use a toryism, “incentivising” impact on people who are deemed medically unfit for work. The Government know this. And everyone who claims Employment Support Allowance may only do so because a qualified doctor has provided an evidenced statement that those people are unfit for work.

And what justification can there possibly be for a Government that is persistently refusing to carry out a cumulative impact assessment on such extensive, far-reaching welfare “reforms”?

When it comes to “knowledge” and “evidence,” the most significant struggle in what passes for Conservative epistemology is simply nothing more than wrestling with a grasping and malicious stranglehold over control of the terms of discourse. Those who can frame a controversial issue or concept in terms they prefer have the advantage in shaping and controlling public opinion.

There is existing empirical evidence (“data” if you prefer) of the correlation between the Government’s punitive policy regime and its negative effects, including increased mortality. As I argued with the Telegraph journalist Tom Chivers last year, the media have presented a record of evidence of tragic, individual cases where Government policy has clearly been correlated with deaths.

Though Chivers questioned the inferences and experiences of disabled people and disability campaigners back then, and though he stated how abysmally “unclear” the previous mortality statistics release was, remarkably, he didn’t once question that or investigate why.

Many studies have also clearly linked Tory policies with evidence of extremely adverse consequences of Tory policies. But Conservatives don’t take kindly to challenge, preferring to discredit those who criticise policy, and threaten them rather than stepping up to adopt a dialogic, democratic, transparent and accountable approach to Government.

Additionally, MPs, including Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Debbie Abrahams, Sheila Gilmore, Anne Begg, and Glenda Jackson, amongst many others, have raised concerns regarding people’s awful experiences of the negative impact of the Tory “reforms” as well as the mortality statistics, meticulously citing the evidence of case studies, often from their own constituencies. Those cited cases are recorded on the parliamentary Hansard site.

As well as via the use of early day motions (EDM) and adjournment debate, the many problems concerning the consequences of the welfare “reforms” are also addressed rigorously by the Work and Pensions Committee, through formal inquiries, (again, see Hansard record,) which are also informed by witnesses and empirical evidence.

I’ve also gathered some evidence here: Suicides reach a ten-year high and are linked with welfare “reforms” and here: Remembering the Victims of the Government’s Welfare “Reforms”

The Tories have dismissed such collective accounts of individual cases as “anecdotal evidence,” whilst also dismissing any attempt to cite quantitative data – statistics – as “wrong” simply to divert criticism of their policies and diminish public sympathy and concern.

I’m wondering where the empirical evidence is for Tory notions, such as a “culture of worklessness” or the “something for nothing culture”. Or for “making work pay”. The Tories tend to adopt a pseudo-positivist stance, claiming credibility via their ideological assumptions and by making invalid inferences from statistics when it suits them, and dismissing other accounts as merely “subjective”, yet no-one conflates the fact-value distinction more than the rigidly ideologically bound, staunchly neoliberal Conservatives, who produce every discussion as if there are no alternatives to Conservatism at all.

Statistics tend to dehumanise, and exclude people’s own validating  accounts of experiences of the social phenomena they measure. In a democratic society, qualitative accounts – “the people’s voice” – ought to matter to the Government. The impact of such draconian, punitive policies cannot be reduced to abstract speculation regarding what inferences may and may not be drawn from statistics: this is about very real experiences, real lives and real people being damaged and some, destroyed, in a real world of real and brutal Tory policies.

I’ve argued elsewhere that the point-blank refusal to enter into open debate and to allow an independent inquiry into the deaths that are most likely correlated with Tory policy reflects a callous, irrational and undemocratic government that draws on an underpinning toxic social Darwinist ideology and presents a distinctly anti-enlightenment, impervious epistemological fascism from which to formulate justification narratives for their draconian policies, in order to avoid democratic accountability and to deflect well-reasoned and justified criticism.

The lack of rational responses from Iain Duncan Smith, or concern about the welfare of the sick and disabled people that he tellingly differentiates from “normal” people, and the message from his Department, urging us not to make inferences about the deaths of sick and disabled people is an oblique reference to the fact/value distinction. It’s a method called “framing”. Such concept control is a way of rigging the debate: You must talk about this controversial issue using our categories, terms, and definitions only.

Or a way of avoiding debate altogether.

 The fact/value distinction is the alleged difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be). Facts are one sort of thing, values another sort of thing, and the former never determine the latter. That’s the idea, anyway. But it isn’t considered to be very clear-cut when it comes to the “social sciences” such as politics and economics. I go further than the critics of logical positivism, and propose that it’s a false dichotomy anyway, especially where politics and policy-making are concerned, as these are invariably value-laden activities.

Whenever the Conservatives talk about “difficult decisions” or “tough choices”, they are in fact reflecting their own subjectivity and indulging Tory values, demonstrating their intentionality – and the capacity for a degree of free-will. Those “difficult decisions” have included the wilful handing out of £107,000 each per year to millionaires, in the form of a tax-break, and the intentional cutting of our social security down to the bone, the purposeful cutting of crucial public support services.

Sick and disabled people in this country have borne the brunt of the Tory directed austerity cuts. These cuts were the “tough choice” that the Tories freely made, ignoring less cruel and harmful alternative choices that could have been made. The Tories are masters at foreclosing possibilities.

Would you like to see some empirical data about Tory decision-making? Statistics? Facts and figures?  Here they are: Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy and here: Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

tough choices

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of propaganda to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Regardless of what kind of epistemology you may subscribe to, there are no “facts” that can ever justify the targeted political persecution of social groups in democratic societies. And the Tories know exactly what the impacts of their policies are likely to be. The level and extent of the stigmatisation and scapegoating of sick and disabled people in the media, coming from the Conservative camp to justify punitive cuts informs us of that.

Politics is invariably about values. That’s not a bad thing in itself. However, being open and honest about those values is crucial, and expected behaviour from a democratically elected government.

Human societies are not shaped by unchanging natural laws, despite what the Tories try and tell you. They are shaped by ideas of what ought to be. We make moral judgements about how to live and be. We have potential, intention and we make collective, cooperative decisions about how best to organise society. We progress, we change and evolve. 

Well, except during those times that we have regressive, authoritarian Right-wing Governments. 

Governments ought to face their moral obligations towards the well-being and interests of all citizens, to take responsibility for their ethical decisions and own their value-judgements. Rather than disguise them as shallow and meaningless “facts” to hide behind, as the pseudo-positivist Tories frequently do.

It’s truly remarkable that Tories loudly attribute the capacity for moral agency to people claiming benefits, for example, formulating punitive sanctions and “assessments” to both shape and question the morality of the poor constantly, yet stand outside of any obligation to morality and ethical behaviour themselves. It’s always someone else’s responsibility, never theirs.

Any claim to “value-freedom” in political decision-making does not and cannot exempt ministers from moral responsibility, or justify moral indifference.

A genuinely rational and morally responsible Government would hold an independent investigation into the reasons why people have died after being told they are “fit for work” when they clearly were not, and  commit to keeping data that effectively monitors and accurately reflects the impact of policy changes on citizens. A genuinely rational and morally responsible Government would be concerned about the possibility that their policies are harming people and causing deaths.

After all, this is a first-world liberal democracy, isn’t it?

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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Clause 99, Catch 22 – State sadism and silencing disabled people

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Here is the Hansard record of The Work Capability Assessments – Mandatory Reconsideration adjournment debate – it’s the 6th debate about Employment Support Allowance (ESA) tabled by Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, who has worked very hard to present her gathered and substantial evidence to an indifferent government about the terrible consequences of their sadistic sickness and disability “reforms”.

Section 102 and Schedule 11 of the Welfare Reform Act, (Clause 99) is the (State) power to require revision before appeal. People who wish to challenge a benefit decision will no longer be allowed to lodge an appeal immediately. Instead, the government introduced mandatory revision or review stage, during which a different Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision maker will reconsider the original decision and the evidence and, if necessary, send for more information.

We have campaigned since 2012 to raise awareness of Clause 99. During the Consultation period, I wrote a response to the government’s proposals, which many people used as a template for their own responses. I remember that Black Triangle, amongst others, ran a campaign also, and I remember that we ALL RAISED THE SAME CONCERNS.

In summary, the main concerns were that basic rate ESA was to be withdrawn during the mandatory review period, leaving sick and disabled people with no money to live on, whilst the DWP reconsidered their own “fit for work decisions” that were wrong.

I know that our Consultation responses were ignored by the government. The changes were introduced anyway, despite our grave concerns. Since October 2013 people have to apply for mandatory reconsideration separately before they can lodge an appeal. We were also very worried that no time limit was established for the DWP to undertake and complete the mandatory review. Our concerns were fully justified, as it’s emerged that people are waiting 7-10 weeks for the mandatory review decision. Meanwhile, these people cannot appeal. And have no money to live on.

An added concern is that this system as it stands demands such a lot from people who may be very vulnerable, seriously ill and/or have mental health problems. Their difficulties are exacerbated by cuts in legal aid for welfare rights advice and cuts in local authority grants. There is a significant contraction of the availability of help for those who need it the most from advice agencies.

Last year, Lord Freud suggested people awaiting their mandatory review should apply for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and then re-claim assessment-rate ESA if they have to appeal. However JSA claimants have to be available for and actively seeking work, and this is beyond people with disabilities or health conditions. As a result, many are ending up without any support at all from the State, having been deemed too “fit” to be eligible for ESA, but too sick or disabled to claim JSA, because these people cannot meet the high level of conditionality or remain available for work.

These people are left with NO lifeline benefits for periods as long as ten weeks. It seems Penning is oblivious to the fact that DWP “decision-makers” are demonstrating quite clearly that their initial “fit for work” responses are plainly and fundamentally wrong, it seems that Tory Ministers have engineered a situation that places some of the most vulnerable disabled people in a nightmarish situation where bureaucrats tell them they are both fit and unfit for work. Both contradictory decisions are then used to withdraw lifeline benefits. That’s not only grossly unfair, it’s terribly cruel. It also demonstrates how completely arbitrary DWP “decision-making” is, in order to justify removing people’s support.

Even when it’s the case that someone manages to make a successful claim for JSA, they are greatly at risk of being sanctioned because of the high level of conditionality, and the requirement to be available for work, in order to remain eligible for the benefit.

Furthermore, there is growing evidence that the DWP are closing existing ESA claims when a person successfully claims JSA during the mandatory review period, on the grounds that it isn’t possible to have two ongoing claims for two separate benefits open at the same time. This effectively means that people lose their right to appeal for the reinstating of their ESA, as their original ESA claim has ended.

This is how disabled people, amongst whom are some of our most vulnerable citizens, are being treated, what kind of government would allow such an utterly unacceptable degree of absolute callous indifference into what was originally designed as a system of support? A system that is now punishing people because they are sick or disabled? And what sort of government ignores the evidence of the extreme suffering and distress they are causing people?

How can this government show no remorse whatsoever, or decent and normal concern in the face of so many accounts of such human suffering and desperation – and heartbreaking comments such as “one constituent sold off his few remaining possessions to survive.” 

Many are relying on already stretched food banks, whilst others are taking out high interest loans. This situation is being exacerbated by growing delays. As we’ve pointed out, the law needs to change so claimants can be paid ESA at the assessment rate during the reconsideration process. This shouldn’t actually cost any money, as it is paid at the same rate as JSA – that benefit officials suggest claimants should receive anyway. I know that Sheila Gilmore is pushing to see basic rate ESA reinstated. She is also demanding that a statutory time limit is set on how long reconsideration decisions take. But Penning remains adamant that this isn’t going to happen.

Sheila notes that this issue was raised with Ministers when the legislation was going through the House and in subsequent sittings of the Work and Pensions Committee, for example. In April 2012, the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council warned that the absence of a time limit could have the effect of “delaying indefinitely the exercise of the right of appeal to an independent tribunal”.  

Many of the key issues with the mandatory review can be seen summarised herehere and here. Sheila Gilmore and Anne Begg have covered these extensively during the ongoing Work and Pensions Committee ESA inquiry, as well as during the course of the many separate tabled debates.

Penning, I’m sorry to say, remained indifferent when he was confronted with evidence of the unforgivable suffering, the links to suicide, the links with high risk of homelessness, hunger, anxiety and stress, and the exacerbation of illness and mental health conditions in vulnerable people – this government’s policies are creating these extreme hardships. Bearing in mind this is meant to be our government’s support for very vulnerable sick and disabled people, his position is indefensible. So are his objections to answering these questions before. He said: “Actually, this is a bit like groundhog day. According to my file, this is the hon. Lady’s fifth debate on the subject. She said that it was the sixth; perhaps we missed one….

I am slightly concerned, because I said many of the things that I am about to say to her Committee only a few days ago. I hope that its members will pay attention to what I say, because during the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East I feared that the report might have already been written.” 

Perhaps if he told the truth, listened and did his job properly, there would be no need for us to raise the same concerns again and again.

I doubt I could be an MP, I probably lack the necessary constraint, I’m afraid the sneer in his words, given the gravity of the situation for so many sick and disabled people, would have possibly elicited an out of character, but unstoppable, spontaneous punch in his spiteful, indifferent face, such is my anger. And really it’s impossible to see the welfare “reforms” as anything other than callous, spiteful and scripted sadism and indifference to people’s pain and desperation. I’ve always loathed bullies.

Sheila Gilmore said she had been told by Mark Hoban previously – last September – that claimants could request “flexible conditionality”, to avoid the difficulties imposed by JSA conditionality criteria. However, DWP’s Director acknowledged in April – some seven months later – that “not all advisors had been aware of this”. As Sheila Gilmore responded: “It is hard to have confidence in the Department, given that previous assurances were clearly unfounded.

Penning said: “As a Minister in the DWP, I am absolutely determined that we will ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely; that it goes to the people who need it; that we put in place training for the right people…”

He seems to have overlooked the fact that most people claiming ESA have worked, paid income tax, and are still contributing proportionally more tax than those on the highest incomes pay, via VAT, Council Tax, the Bedroom Tax and an array of other stealth charges

And very clearly, the “people who need it” are NOT getting the support they need.

As Sheila Gilmore points out: “There is also an administration cost involved in a claimant receiving the assessment rate of ESA, ceasing to receive it, claiming JSA and then potentially claiming the assessment rate of ESA again. These are significant costs when multiplied by the number of people involved. In addition, if everybody claimed JSA successfully, they would receive benefit at exactly the same rate as they would have been getting on ESA, so if there are any savings to be anticipated, is it because ministers thought that people would, in fact, struggle to claim JSA during the reconsideration process, given that administration costs are likely to outweigh anything else? ”

“I am sure that cannot be the case.” she added.

I’m not bound by Parliamentary codes of conduct, as Sheila is. So I can say freely and categorically that it IS the case, and we anticipated this at the Consultation stage. Furthermore, the government know that WE know this, but they remain unremorseful, refusing to re-introduce assessment rate ESA, and to place a time limit on the reconsideration process.

Clause 99 has been introduced to make appealing wrong decisions that we are fit for work almost impossible. Sick and disabled people are effectively being silenced by this Government, and the evidence of a brutal, de-humanising, undignified and grossly unfair system of “assessment” is being hidden. More than 10,600 people have died  between 2010 – 2011, this a significant increase in mortality because of the current system, (the government have refused to release the data regarding ESA-related deaths since 2011 despite numerous Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests) and it is absolutely terrifying that our Government have failed to address this.

Instead, they have made the system even more brutal, de-humanising and unfair. What kind of Government leaves sick and disabled people without the means to feed themselves and keep warm? Clause 99 is simply an introduction of obstructive and Kafkaesque bureaucracy to obscure the evidence of an extremely unfair and brutal system. By creating another layer of brutality, the Government is coercing people into silence.

Successful appeals were evidence of an unjust system, and now, having made the process of appeal almost impossible, we have ministers trying to claim that suddenly the system is fine.

It’s FAR from fine.

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork.

I would also like to say a BIG thank you to Sheila Gilmore, Dame Anne Begg, Debbie Abrahams and all other MPs who work tirelessly in challenging and opposing the avalanche of social injustices and authoritarian policies this government have inflicted on those least able to fight back themselves.

Iain Duncan Smith used false statistics again to justify disability benefit cuts

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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.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone