Bailing out the bilge
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 there’ve been some excellent posts on the lefty sites – such as this particularly brilliant one from Declan Gaffney. And now there’s a particularly important intervention from the Disability Benefits Consortium – a coalition of fifty charities and campaigning organisations. (Full disclosure: the TUC is a DBC member.)
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:
50 charities suggest Government is using ‘dangerously misleading’ statistics
Government statistics  have fuelled claims this week that high numbers of benefits claimants are ‘faking’ . But a coalition of over 50 charities  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  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  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 . 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’.”
 For examples please see:
- Only 7% deemed ‘too ill to work’ – Express
- 76% of those who say they’re sick ‘can work’: Tests weed out most seeking incapacity benefit – Mail
- 4 out of 5 ‘sick’ are fit to work – Sun
 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
 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/
 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/
 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