The DWP estimates that the level of Incapacity Benefit fraud is less that 0.3% – the lowest of any means tested benefit. Disability benefits have always had a low level of fraud but I have never seen a DWP press release mentioning this – not even a tweet from the increasingly vigorous @dwppressoffice. Less surprisingly the Department chooses not to highlight that its own errors in administering the benefit cost six times more than fraud.Fraud and error in the benefit system: 2011 to 2012 revised estimates https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fraud-and-error-in-the-benefit-system-201112-revised-estimates
Instead we have the Department pumping out a statistic that implies large numbers of people are ‘on the fiddle’.DWP Press Office 27th Jan 2014 “Latest analysis shows almost a million people who applied for sickness benefit have instead been found fit for … Continue reading The BBC has made an admirable attempt at a balanced report of the DWP Press release in a report entitled “Million sickness benefit applicants ‘fit for work’”.Million sickness benefit applicants ‘fit for work’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25886638 The story is however misleading and factually inaccurate from the second sentence because it is based on the DWP press release and the accurate but ill-explained numbers within.EDIT: 28th Jan 2014: After being contacted by the ourselves and others the BBC story has been substancially improved. We recognise that it is not possible to get stories right first time every time … Continue reading
Work Capability Assesment: A bad test in 2008. In 2013 a different but still bad test.
The number of new claimants found “fit to work” when the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was first introduced in 2008 was 64%; today it is 39%.SA: outcomes of Work Capability Assessments January 2014 Figure 1 ; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/esa-outcomes-of-work-capability-assessments-january-2014 The number put in the Support Group, who are not expected to work again, was 10% and is now 39%.these numbers differ substantially from the overall “fit for work” rates as many people do not go through the WCA process The reason for such large differences in outcome over the past 5 years is that the test has been changed substantially. It was changed because every analysis has shown that the Asessment finds substantial numbers people “fit-for-work” when they simply are not.
That huge numbers of people have been found “fit-for-work” unfairly is not controversial;
- it is the view of the GPs, who report suicides and worsening mental health amongst their patients as a result of the test and have called for it to be scrapped ;GPs call for work capability assessment to be scrapped http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/may/23/gps-work-capability-assessment-scrapped
- It is the view of charities, especially mental health charities, who deal with people failed by the test;Work capability assessment review doesn’t go far enough, charities say;http://www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/work_capability_assessment_review_doesnt_go_far_enough_charities_say.aspx
- it is the view of the Government who initiated successive reviews and huge yet inadequate changes to the test andWork capability assessment reform too slow, says independent review;http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/nov/20/work-capability-assessment-reform-slow & Ministers ‘ignored advice on … Continue reading
- it is the view of the courts, who amongst other things have highlighted the unfairness to people with mental health problemsCall to halt fitness-for-work test for disabled people as court upholds ruling; http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/05/call-halt-fitness-for-work-test-disabled
No-one believes that being found “fit-for-work” today and being found “fit-for-work” in 2008 is comparable. Everyone believes that these assessments were unsound in 2008 and most believe they still are.
In adding test results together from at least 3 different versions of the test from 4½ years the DWP has added apples and pears and as far as the press is concerned got scroungers – 1 million of them.
Remember this is a count of test results – not people. A person can take the test several times in 4½ years so we don’t even know how many people the 1 million number actually represents. It also includes the huge number of decisions later overturned on appeal. So we also don’t even know how many “correct” decisions are included in the 1 million.
Fewer people being found ‘fit for work’ – but DWP chooses another story.
The DWP press release was prompted by the publication of the 3-monthly release of Assesment statistics. These showed that year-on-year fewer people are being found “fit-for-work” and more people are being given long term benefits as part of the Support Group. This begs the question as to why the Government choose to add 4½ years of flawed assessment results together and use the resulting flawed number as the basis for its press campaign? Why did they choose to include the 100,000+ ‘fit to work’ decisons later overturned on appeal? Why was “almost 1 million found fit-to-work” the message the DWP choose to push towards the front page of newspapers?
Thankfully I have no ability to read DWP ministers’ minds but you may guess at the answer yourself.
Real damage, no responsibility
I read the release rolling my eyes and didn’t want to want to write this blog going over territory explored in some detail in the Truth and Lies campaign (Myth 2: They are ‘on the fiddle’ if you are interested). But I decided to write it because of the emails I received after the press coverage. They came from people who have gone through the Assessment process, people who are disabled and feel the benefits system is against them. More importantly they felt that their communities – even their churches – are judging them badly because of beliefs encouraged by stories like this.
The DWP won’t be receiving another rebuke from the UK Statistics Authority today. The number in the original release (but not in much of the reporting) does appear to be, in a narrow and haphazard sense, accurate. The unpleasant narrative is fed; nastier and straight forwardly untrue stories will flow from these statistics. Ministers will again express surprise and say they have no control on what the press doesFor example see Evidence to DWP Select Committee 9th Dec 2013 http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/dwp-ara-w-sofs/ with these numbers once they are released; while @dwppressoffice re-tweets the stories.See @dwppressoffice twitter-stream 27th Jan 2014 Disabled people deserve better than this and Christians and Churches should stand alongside them and demand that they receive it.
|Fraud and error in the benefit system: 2011 to 2012 revised estimates https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fraud-and-error-in-the-benefit-system-201112-revised-estimates
|DWP Press Office 27th Jan 2014 “Latest analysis shows almost a million people who applied for sickness benefit have instead been found fit for work.” https://www.gov.uk/government/news/million-new-esa-claimants-found-fit-for-work
|Million sickness benefit applicants ‘fit for work’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25886638
|EDIT: 28th Jan 2014: After being contacted by the ourselves and others the BBC story has been substancially improved. We recognise that it is not possible to get stories right first time every time and it is encouraging that the BBC is willing to debate and improve its articles when challenged.
The BBC reports “more than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews”. This is straightforwardly untrue. They left before the ATOS interviews but we believe this is a reporting of (now corrected) information from the DWP. We are asking the BBC to correct this. As ESA is a benefit for people with short and long term health complaints it is expected that large numbers of people will leave the benefit before the ATOS interview which occurs around 3 months after the benefit is first claimed. Quoting from the statistical release “the DWP has published research that investigated why some cases closed before assessment. It found that: an important reason why ESA claims in the sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was due to individuals recovering and either returning to work, or claiming a benefit more appropriate to their situation.”
|SA: outcomes of Work Capability Assessments January 2014 Figure 1 ; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/esa-outcomes-of-work-capability-assessments-january-2014
|these numbers differ substantially from the overall “fit for work” rates as many people do not go through the WCA process
|GPs call for work capability assessment to be scrapped http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/may/23/gps-work-capability-assessment-scrapped
|Work capability assessment review doesn’t go far enough, charities say;http://www.mentalhealthtoday.co.uk/work_capability_assessment_review_doesnt_go_far_enough_charities_say.aspx
|Work capability assessment reform too slow, says independent review;http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/nov/20/work-capability-assessment-reform-slow & Ministers ‘ignored advice on inhumane fit-for-work tests’ http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/16/ministers-ignored-advice-fit-for-work-tests
|Call to halt fitness-for-work test for disabled people as court upholds ruling; http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/05/call-halt-fitness-for-work-test-disabled
|For example see Evidence to DWP Select Committee 9th Dec 2013 http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/dwp-ara-w-sofs/
|See @dwppressoffice twitter-stream 27th Jan 2014