From the TUC

Deeper in the Bilge

27 Jul 2011, by in Society & Welfare

There’s been more coverage of yesterday’s Work Capability Assessment statistics and if the Mail got me upset last night, today’s Express is my nominee for the One Notch(*) prize:


I’m not going to repeat the rebuttal arguments I set out yesterday, but let’s just address that Express claim. They get their figure by adding 39% found fit for work to 36% who withdrew their claim. Let’s start with the questionable claim that those found fit for work are “faking”; most will be people who have health conditions but the DWP decided they weren’t severe enough to qualify for ESA – I don’t know what to call that, but it certainly isn’t “faking”.

Yesterday the DWP’s own research into unsuccessful claims was published. It undermines the imputation of malingering, especially in withdrawn claims:

The most common reason people gave for withdrawing their ESA claim was that their condition had improved and so they had closed their claim, either returning to work or claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

Some people told the Jobcentre about this, others simply let their claim drop. Some people’s claims ended because they said they never received the forms, some found the form intimidating, some decided that a period on ESA would look bad on their employment record or CV. Not many failed to attend meetings, but those who did included people who couldn’t afford the bus fare or had other transport problems, people who had no one to go with them. Some people who had let their claim drop couldn’t face the hassle of re-instituting their claim and there were some people with “marginal” claims, who had usually claimed on the advice of a relative or an Adviser at the Jobcentre – the researchers claim that

people receiving JSA are routinely diverted onto ESA by advisers when a limiting health condition becomes apparent.

Yesterday I noted that many of the people found fit for work successfully appeal against this decision. Even some of those who don’t appeal might be successful if they did – the DWP research found that some people who didn’t appeal made this decision for reasons that had nothing to do with whether they were actually fit – such as being too stressed or not having sufficient resources.

Not only are those who fail to get ESA not faking it,  what I found most worrying is the finding that some particularly vulnerable people are withdrawing their claims or being turned down. The researchers noted that this group includes

people with acute conditions, and people with mental health or drug and alcohol problems which made it difficult for them to stay on top of paperwork and attend appointments reliably. Other people in this group had experienced life events (such as bereavement or homelessness) which reduced their ability to cope in the short-term. Some were socially isolated; for instance people living alone, people who rarely left home because of their condition, and those who did not speak much English, meaning they also tended to lack access to adequate advice or support.

Stories like those in the Express are indirectly responsible for the growing number of hate crimes against disabled people. Disability organisations recently sent an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith, complaining that the government’s policies and language are inciting hatred and violence towards disabled people by portraying them as cheats and benefits scroungers. I know from conversations with fellow disabled people that some are worried that members of the public are already following this lead.

The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of benefit claimants are honest; tough new tests and demonising language are excluding people who really need this support and turning the weakest in our society into a new class of media monster. Trade unionists particularly have a duty of solidarity here: we’ve gone through a similar process for decades now, if anyone should understand what’s going on here it’s us.

(*)  If you’re wondering about the One Notch Prize – it’s for newspapers that look at the competition and decide that, however low others may have gone, they can always go that one notch lower!

3 Responses to Deeper in the Bilge

  1. Jayne Linney
    Jul 27th 2011, 2:59 pm

    It has been said before by many people but if such negative and abusive comments and so called ‘facts’were being aimed at BME communities there would be uproar. I’m sure that SOMEONE would be taking some form of legal action; I wonder if there any Solicitors out there brave enough to take a up a case for disabled people?

  2. More bilge on disability benefits | ToUChstone blog: A public policy blog from the TUC
    Jul 28th 2011, 12:21 pm

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